Thursday 27 Nov 2014
The prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III was made famous by the Steve McQueen Hollywood blockbuster The Great Escape. Now, a remarkable Second World War diary has been uncovered that gives an astonishing – and one of the most detailed – insights into what life was really like for the men in the camp.
BBC Inside Out, on Monday 23 and Monday 30 November, 7.30pm, BBC One North West, tells the story of Flight Lieutenant Ted Nestor, who was sent to the camp after he was shot down over Germany on a bombing raid in 1943. He died 19 years ago and his diary remained locked away in a drawer until recently when a family friend realised its significance.
Ted, who was born in Waterloo near Liverpool, writes about the "Great Escape" in code, as if it were a horse race, describing how just prior to the escape the men were "under starter's orders".
In a later entry, which he titles "The Escape", he records in detail the size of the tunnel, where the exit was and how they learned that many of the escapees had been killed. He wrote: "On May 25, the cremated remains of 29 of the deceased officers were returned to camp."
Inside Out follows Ted's daughter, Sharon Cottam, on an emotional journey back to the camp where she finds out more about her dad, including the revelation that he was a hero after saving the life of his pilot when their plane was shot down.
Sharon, from Hazel Grove, Stockport, says: "There's an awful lot I don't know about my dad, which is quite sad, really. But I think now is a great opportunity to learn more about him and what he went through for himself, his family and his country."
As well as The Great Escape, Ted's diary also chronicles daily life in the camp – from how they distilled their own alcohol from fruit sent by the Red Cross, to weather charts recording daily temperatures.
It is filled with cartoons, jokes, drawings, paintings, photographs, poems and written observations about daily life. One cartoon shows the soldiers in training, being given advice on how easy escape would be, whilst another shows the reality with barbed wire, guard dogs and armed guards.
Amanda Mason, curator of Captured – The Extraordinary Life Of Prisoners Of War, at Imperial War Museum North, says: "This is a really nice example… they (diaries) were intended to be used as a sort of scrapbook, so this one has got camp money in it, little bits of German leaflets and propaganda that they picked up and photographs of life in the camp. It's so great that he kept it all those years because it's such a wonderful record of one man's experience as a prisoner."
In the second Inside Out film, on Monday 30 November at 7.30pm, BBC One North West, Sharon learns more about her dad as a war hero.
Digital viewers outside the North West can see Inside Out on digital satellite and on the BBC iPlayer.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.