STALAG LUFT III, Sagan SILESIA October 1942
At Stalag Luft III, Richard lived in East Compound, but he likely moved to North Compound where all the British lived.
When Douglas Bader moved out of Stalag Luft camp all breathed sigh of relief. Bader had continually jeopardised the groups escape routes by ‘goon baiting’ and making various escape attempts himself.
“Over the next few years, Bader made himself a thorn in the side of the Germans. He often practised what the RAF personnel called “goon-baiting”. He made so many escape attempts that the Germans threatened to take away his legs. In August 1942, Bader escaped with Johnny Palmer and three others from the camp at Stalag Luft III B in Sagan. Unluckily, a Luftwaffe officer of Jagdgeschwader 26 was in the area. Keen to meet the Tangmere wing leader, he dropped by to see Bader, but when he knocked on his door, there was no answer. Soon the alarm was raised, and a few days later, Bader was recaptured. He was finally dispatched to the “escape-proof” Colditz”
Richard on escaping
“Obviously there was an Escape Committee. Pricky Day, Wing Commander, super chap, was in charge of all the escape side. He had been there from the first. After the war Pricky Day flew out to Germany to read at the German Commandants funeral
(The German Commandant was Friedrich Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau.) A marvelous man. Kindly but strict. All respected him. ‘If we said we would or would not do something to him, we kept our word. He did the same'”.
This happened in the the early days on the football field, and in fact it was the only successful escape. Sometimes they got a man out during the parade. Disposal of sand very tricky because of camp snoops, who went round with sticks to prick the earth testing for holes and dumpings of fresh earth. They mainly got rid of sand around perimeter fence.
The Great Escape
There was a great expansion of the camp towards the end which meant that some were moved to a new camp nearby. Marvellous virgin land for the escapers (old hazard with unknown tunnels). In the new camp they made a tunnel to the other side of the fence, and 50 escaped one night. (Pricky Day one of them). 48 were recaptured, 45 taken to the forest and shot. 3 saved because their names sounding usefully aristocratic like Churchill etc. The German commandant was horrified. His own life in jeopardy, he was posted to another place.
Wiki says of 76 escapees, 73 were captured. While Hitler wanted all to be executed including the architect of the camp, fifty were executed singly or in pairs. Bob Nelson is said to have been spared by the Gestapo because they may have believed he was related to his namesake. His friend Dick Churchill was probably spared because of his surname, shared with the British Prime Minister.
Communication with the outside world
Men had made a make shift wireless through which they sent and received news. RK sent coded messages back throughout the time there. Long after the war in Leslie Allwoods drawing room, (Lesley Allwood was Ross Kellett’s solicitor partner in Hood Vores and Allwood, East Dereham), Leslie introduced a friend of his called Hedley White to Ross Kellett. Hedley White said, ‘I know that name. Was there a Kellett in the bag?’ Yes, said Ros, my brother Richard in Stalug Luft III. Hedley White explained that during the war he had received coded messages from a Kellett throughout the war. He knew the name but the code was wrong so no one could understand what the message was. I cannot remember if I ever told Richard this story, which I must have heard years later from Leslie or Pam.
Post script to
British actor Rupert Davies had many roles in productions at the theatre in the camp; his most famous roles on film and TV may have been Inspector Maigret in the BBC series Maigret that aired over 52 episodes from 1960 to 1963 and George Smiley in the movie The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
This portrait of Richard looks like it was drawn by Henri Picard, one of the murdered 50. (Identified by Marilyn Walton)
2019 March, 75th Anniversary of The Great Escape
On the 75th Anniversary of the Great Escape, with Michael I took a display to Aldeburgh Cinema, who were celebrating the 75, a fund raiser for the RAF, with a live screening of the film with some innocuous banter before hand.
I also made contact with a Stalagluft web site and received this fascinating information from Marilyn Walton (who I discover is a graduate of The Ohio State University and is an editor for the U.S. Police K9 Association, a children’s book editor, and contributor to WWII and police K9 magazines. She is the author of ten books.)
———- Forwarded message ———
From: Marilyn Walton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2019 at 23:58
Subject: RE: [Stalag Luft III] Contact
To: Rachel Kellett <email@example.com>
This is from my book, From Interrogation to Liberation. His name comes up in a lot of POW literature I’ve read over the years
Here is a segment from that same book I wrote:
The liberation officially began when the highest-ranking prisoner of war, U.S. Army Colonel Paul “Pop” Goode, captured at Normandy, and British RAF Group Captain Kellett left the camp before midnight and strode into Headquarters of Combat Command A, 47th Tank Battalion, with a message from a German commander requesting the creation of a neutral zone surrounding Moosburg. The Germans had been negotiating with the attacking army, attempting to arrange a peaceful surrender of the camp in exchange for securing several Isar River bridges that led back to more secure lines. The proposal was rejected outright, and the Germans were given until 9:00 a.m. the next day to submit an unconditional surrender or be attacked at that hour.
As artillery shells flew over the camp during negotiations, the German guards initially gave every indication they would fight, but very quietly they had left in trucks during the night of the 28th. The majority of the guard force was pulling out leaving only a skeleton force behind. One kriegie climbed a watch tower that morning to verify it was abandoned, and the few remaining German guards deserted their posts and turned their weapons over to their former prisoners. On April 29th, at 6:00 a.m., the men could hear the booms of heavy cannons and guns in the distance. Shortly after daybreak, a group of American kriegies near the main gate watched two German staff cars with red crosses painted on their sides drive up. Goode and Kellett climbed out and strode into the camp. “You guys better find a hole,” Goode warned, “The war is about to start.” Goode had brought a piece of white bread back into the camp after his breakfast of bacon and eggs on the outside. He shared it with Clark and others who had not seen white bread for three years. To the grateful men it was like cake. As they enjoyed it, they heard the desperate Germans blow up the two local bridges over the Isar River.
I am particularly impressed to hear that Richard was involved at that most dangerous time, between the Germans leaving and the liberation of the Camp. Remember Primo Levi’s 10 days? Right at the end 1945 Richard was at first Deputy Commander to SBO (Senior British Officer), before being promoted to SBO.
1943 – Rugby – 1943 – East Compound – Team “Artie-Arties” vs. “Camp Services” – John Madge, far left. Group Capt. Kellett, far right, would later represent the RAF during negotiations during liberation at Stalag VIIA in Moosburg. Courtesy Ian Sayer sent to me by Marilyn Walton.
August 2019 – Richard keeps re-appearing in my life. This time, a project inspired and led by Jack Waterfall to celebrate the Heligoland project, 80 years on, I met Richard James, who put me in contact with the Stalagluft Facebook page, and so I met Ben van Drogenbroek, who posted up this image of RIchard. Where are the others now, and their relations? Fearless Frank?