‘Great Escape’ POW’s incredible WWII diary surfaces, sold at auction

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The remarkable World War II diary of a Royal Air Force officer who played a part in the famous “Great Escape” breakout from the Stalag Luft III POW camp has been sold at auction in the U.K.

RAF Flt. Lt. Viv Phillips help build the tunnel used in the mass prison breakout, which was immortalized in the 1963 Hollywood blockbuster “The Great Escape.” The diary, along with Phillips’ war medals, was auctioned to a private U.K. buyer for $17,827 on Friday.

Sold by Phillips’ nephew, the journal contains anecdotes, sketches, cartoons and poems, according to the auction house, Hanson’s Auctioneers, which handled the sale. The prisoners drew names out of a hat to choose which of them would escape from the POW camp in March 1944. Philips’ name was not chosen, so he was not part of the escape itself, which may have saved his life – 50 of the 76 prisoners who escaped the POW camp were shot by the Gestapo after their recapture.  Another 23 were recaptured and imprisoned again by the Nazis. Only three of the escapees made it to freedom.

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Phillips, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal for his role in the escape, died in 1997.

The diary recounts life at the infamous Stalag Luft III, where Phillips was a POW from 1943 to 1945. (Hansons Auctioneers)

The diary recounts life at the infamous Stalag Luft III, where Phillips was a POW from 1943 to 1945. (Hansons Auctioneers)

“Everything in the journal reminds me of the film – the sketches of the camp, the humor and the stories of how the inmates joined forces to build a tunnel to escape Stalag Luft III,” said Adrian Stevenson, a militaria expert at Hansons, in a statement obtained by Fox News.

An RAF navigator, Phillips was captured after his bomber was shot down during a raid on Amsterdam Power Station in 1943. His incredible escape from the plane is recounted in the journal.

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“He was in the camp from 1943 to 1945 and describes how prisoners smuggled sand from the tunnel in their trousers,” explained Stevenson. “The inmates had to dispose of tons of sandy soil as they dug out the tunnel. He was in charge of men dispersing the sand and later became a tunnel carpenter.”

Phillips (left) and a fellow a fellow RAF officer with a Lockheed Martin Ventura aircraft in the background.(Hansons Auctioneers)

Phillips (left) and a fellow a fellow RAF officer with a Lockheed Martin Ventura aircraft in the background.(Hansons Auctioneers)

The diary also contains an “In Memoriam” page devoted to the Allied prisoners killed in the escape from the POW camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

March 24 marks the 75th anniversary of the prisoners’ escape.

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Phillips was involved in the 'Great Escape' mass prison breakout immortalized in the Hollywood movie of the same name.

Phillips was involved in the ‘Great Escape’ mass prison breakout immortalized in the Hollywood movie of the same name.
(Hansons Auctioneers)

Wartime artifacts offer a fascinating glimpse into life at the infamous POW camp. The United States Golf Association’s Golf Museum in Far Hills, N.J., for example, contains some rudimentary golf balls made from prisoners’ boots at Stalag Luft III. The balls were used on a makeshift golf course built by POWs.

Last year, an extremely rare World War II Spitfire fighter plane flown by a pilot who later took part in the “Great Escape” was recovered from a remote Norwegian mountainside.

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Adrian Stevenson, a militaria expert at Hansons Auctioneers, with the diary. (Hansons Auctioneers)

Adrian Stevenson, a militaria expert at Hansons Auctioneers, with the diary. (Hansons Auctioneers)

Specially equipped for long-range reconnaissance, the Royal Air Force Spitfire AA810 was shot down on March 5, 1942, during a mission to photograph the German battleship Tirpitz. The Spitfire’s pilot, Flt. Lt. Alastair ‘Sandy’ Gunn, bailed out from the plane but was captured by German forces. Two years later Gunn was part of the “Great Escape” breakout. Recaptured shortly after the breakout, the Scot was among the 50 escapees executed by the Gestapo.

Fox News’ Emily DeCiccio contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers



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