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Conditions Worsen

Heroes Remember

Over the course of the summer of ‘43, '44, conditions got worse and worse. They crowded more prisoners in on us. They eventually decided, and this happened actually just before the great escape, they suddenly said, "Okay, we've got a new compound built, and we're going to move all the Americans." Well, many of the Americans had worked on the tunnel, and they were kind of reluctant to go, but they had no option, so they were moved to another compound. And then, over the course of the summer, we were suddenly finding out, well, sorry, the Red Cross food parcels are not coming through, as well. So, this, this next few weeks we're only going to have half a parcel a week, and then a few weeks later, we're down to a quarter of a parcel a week. And then the Brits came or, at least, I guess it was the Swiss, came up with a suggestion. They said, "You know, we've accumulated masses of food parcels here in Switzerland, and most of the camps are scattered across Poland, prisoner of war camps. Why don't you allow British prisoners to drive trucks who can come into Switzerland, pick up the Red Cross food parcels, and then take them to the camps." So, they did, they bought that, and for several months we had food parcels reinstated, which was a great boon to us. But over the winter months, it finally got to the point where times were really tough because we weren't getting any coal for the stoves, we no longer had bed boards to burn, and food was virtually non-existent, or if it was, it was a rotten turnip soup or some horrible thing such as that. And then, suddenly, we began to hear a lot of activity because we had a radio secreted. A small walking group had been taken outside of the camp and given the chance to get some exercise, and they bribed the two guards that were with them and said, "There's an aircraft came down, close by. We'd just like to have a look at it." And, so, the guards said, "Well, what are you going to give us for making that kind of a privilege." And they said, "Oh, we got lots of cigarettes or chocolate, whichever you like." And, so, they said, "Okay, you can have a few minutes to look at the aircraft." When they got inside, they quickly found that the radio was still in there, intact. They dismantled it and hauled it back to the camp and reassembled it, and we had daily BBC news. And they would listen to the radio and then they'd send a courier with the read out message once the particular barrack block had been cleared that there had been no Germans nearby.

Mr. McKiel discusses dwindling food and fuel supplies, and an unexpected windfall.

George McKiel

Mr. McKiel was born in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, on May 15, 1924. His mother was a war bride, and his family moved to Devon, England, when he was quite young. Mr. McKiel joined 405 Squadron, Bomber Command in 1943, and was shot down and captured shortly thereafter. He spent 2 years in a Polish prisoner of war (POW) Camp, Stalag Luft 3, where he helped 76 officers escape in the Great Escape. After his liberation, Mr. McKiel returned to Canada and eventually earned a PhD in Cancer Research. These credentials have allowed him to consult on Nursing issues as far away as Australia. Having recently returned to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Mr. McKiel is already involved with seniors' health programs in his community.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
George McKiel
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Bomber Command
Air Force
405 Squadron
Flying Officer
Air Bomber

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