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The Real Great Escape
“The Great Escape” is one of the best-known stories of the Second World War, popularised by the 1963 film starring Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough. But what few people realise is that the 1944 Great Escape was inspired by an even more audacious getaway, orchestrated more than 20 years earlier. In 1918, a group of 29 British officers escaped through a tunnel dug under the noses of heavily armed German guards at the Holzminden Prisoner of War Camp, situated south-west of Hanover, Germany. The men dug for eight months using just cutlery and bowls, before escaping in July 1918. Of the 29 men, 19 were caught but 10 reached Holland on foot. Their breakout is the subject of a new Channel 5 documentary, “The First Great Escape”, due to air on Sunday 23 March at 9 pm. It will feature interviews with historians and experts who have uncovered new evidence of what happened during the planning and execution of the escape, as well as rare archive photographs of the camp and the escapees, and dramatic reconstructions. Several of the escapees were RFC/RNAS pilots, whose photographs were provided by the Royal Aero Club Trust. They include 2nd Lieutenant J K Tullis (below left) and the senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel C E H Rathborne (below right), both of whom successfully escaped. High-resolution images of these and other items in the Collection are available, subject to terms and conditions.