Officers Only

  laurie53 17:52 29 Apr 2009
Locked

One of the men involved in the Great Escape has just died

click here

What I find outrageous is that despite having helped, he was not allowed to take part, not because of any human failing, but simply because he was not an officer!

Different times, different "mores" I know, but even back then this was taking class distinction a bit too far.

  Forum Editor 18:44 29 Apr 2009

this was taking class distinction a bit too far"

Maybe, but it wasn't unusual.

My father came from a Welsh coal-mining village, and was down a pit when he was fifteen. He did the proverbial 'dragging himself up by the bootstraps' thing, and got accepted as an officer cadet at RAF Halton. He ended up in Bomber Command, and said he encountered no end of prejudice because he spoke with a broad South Wales accent. Being young and keen to get on he decided to cultivate an upper class 'wizard prang old boy' persona, and ended his career as a Station Commander with a fairly distinguished service record. I only remember him with the cut-glass accent. He always said that the way things were in the RAF in those days you stood a better chance of promotion if you sounded right.

Different times, as you say.

  dagbladet 19:39 29 Apr 2009

I can categorically state - straight from the thoroughbreds mouth as it were - that while things undoubtedly have moved on enormously, it aint(sic) totally changed.

  laurie53 20:03 29 Apr 2009

Absolute nonsense.

While Alex Lees might only have been a "foot soldier" (and it's the foot soldiers who get to go from street to street, cellar to cellar killing people and being killed) by far the majority of non commissioned prisoners in any Stalag Luft (hence the nam) would have been NCO aircrew, including pilots, navigators and gunners.

It wasn't the getting home that disrupted the German war effort, but the getting out, thereby tying up large numbers of troops, and I suspect that your statement that the Germans put less effort into recapturing ordinary soldiers would cause much hollow laughter in the British Legion.

  Bingalau 22:36 29 Apr 2009

I think the reason officers were put in separate establishments was something to do with the rules of the Geneva Convention.. I may be wrong of course as the Germans were as class conscious as the British.

  Forum Editor 23:13 29 Apr 2009

to be commonsense to incarcerate officers in conditions of greater security for two reasons:-

1. You deprive your enemy of the benefit of military leadership.

2. There's a propaganda value attached to holding large numbers of enemy officers.

If I was a military commander faced with the choice of recapturing (or continuing to hold) an officer or a foot soldier I would go for the officer every time - it's a no-brainer.

  laurie53 08:03 30 Apr 2009

"officers were put in higher security establishments at least some of the time."

That is simply because officers were more likely to escape, nothing to do with class, just mental attitude, one of the reasons why they were officers.

However, ORs did escape too, some of them making "home runs", including two RN ERAs who persuaded`the Germans to transfer them out of Colditz, and then escaped.

"the Germans would have lumped officers and men together regardless of what the 'rules' said about it."

As`pointed`out, this is against the Geneva Convention.

While the Germans did not really subscribe to this, they could not take the the risk of their much more revered "Officer Class" being imprisoned with their ORs in retaliation.

  laurie53 15:05 30 Apr 2009

"recapturing (or continuing to hold) an officer or a foot soldier I would go for the officer every time -"

Contrary to the hype, the majority of the allied pilots taking part in the Battle of Britain, "the Few" were not officers but ORs.

Had I been a German commander at the relevant time I might have expended quite a lot of effort into ensuring they never had any chance of once again getting behind the controls of a Spitfire or Hurricane, whether they were officers or not.

  Woolwell 17:22 30 Apr 2009

Stalag Luft III was primarily an air force officers camp. A later extension was added for NCO's. Alex Lees was an Army driver who would not normally have been sent to a Stalag Luft. He was sent there as part of a gardening party and therefore would not have been part of the main escape group. As a gardener he had ideal cover for spreading the sand. I do not believe that the fact that he was not part of the escapees has anything at all to do with rank but more to with the fact that he would have been unable to join, without causing suspicion, with those who where going to go through the tunnel. Alex Lees was clearly a brave man.
click here

  Diemmess 18:02 30 Apr 2009

A couple of points:
The name Stalag was more usually applied to the other ranks. Oflag had it been a camp primarily for Commissioned Officers.
The Luft part is self explanatory.

People like Lees would be employed as servants in an age where "everyone knew his place."
I'm sure Alex L preferred working with Allied prisoners, he made himself useful indeed.
There was a whole bunch of supporters who helped with forged documnets and false uniforms, and all the necessities for others to have a real chance for escape.

Germany had a tradition of "Chivalry" and protocol for its own regular troops and expected the same from its prisoners. The SS and Nazi supporters were the savages who were eventually the principal cause of their own downfall led by Hitler time and again overruling the professional assessment by his generals of a battle situation

  laurie53 19:21 30 Apr 2009

Woolwell; Diemmess

You make good points, but you are making Alex Lees the specific.

No matter who, gardener or Pathfinder navigator, you were not permitted to join the escape party unless you held the King's commission.

Alex himself said "I wasn't eligible to go through the tunnel because it was for officers only."

Nothing to do with being a gardener or a "servant".

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