‘Great Escape’ RAF Police at RAF Halton

Two RAF Police veterans who served at the time of the post WWII investigation into the German captors who shot dead 50 allied airmen after the ‘Great Escape’ have attended a special dinner at RAF Halton.

Retired Flight Lieutenant Ted Squires (92) and retired Corporal Denzil Flew (87) joined personnel from the RAF Police Special Investigations and Intelligence Branch (South). Together they marked the 70th anniversary of the commencement of the investigation into the murders of the 50 allied airmen following their escape from Stalag Luft III. This atrocity was committed at the personal direction of Adolf Hitler.

The escape, having been immortalised in the film ‘The Great Escape’, is a famous piece of WWII history, yet the post war investigation by the RAF Police is arguably lesser known. It was instigated at the culmination of the war at the behest of parliament. In June 1944 the Foreign Minister Anthony Eden announced the intention of the government to bring to ‘exemplary justice’ those guilty of what they believed to be a war crime.

Flt Lt Francis McKenna was originally charged with responsibility for the investigation and he flew to Germany on 3rd September 1945. Ted Squires knew both Flt Lt Francis McKenna, who led the original investigation, and Wing Commander Wilfred Bowes who commanded RAF Special Investigation Branch (SIB) at the time.

Francis McKenna would often stay with Ted Squires at Hamburg whilst he was conducting the investigations and passed on accounts of how the trial progressed. Recalling this period of time within his 21 year RAF career, Ted said: “I met Francis McKenna in the mess where he stayed during the trials; he was an ex- Blackpool policeman who flew occasionally as a flight engineer.

“He would come in and tell us about the trials and mentioned that Albert Pierpoint was one of the executioners who hanged 13 in one day, including the notorious Irma Grese, the Beast of Belsen. My role was to escort the prisoners who remained aloof throughout, I had no feelings about them whatsoever – it was all in a day’s work.”

The investigation was conducted over a three year period by members of RAF SIB in the challenging environment of post war Germany. Denzil Flew undertook escort duties at the trials transferring some of the condemned prisoners from Altona Prison in Hamburg to the Curio Court House.

“We didn’t realise the depth of what we were doing until later years,” he said. “The prisoners had a subdued but superior demeanour as if they were still the master race, so we didn’t communicate with them in any way. I do recall one of them escaping but being recaptured soon after. It was just a job that needed doing and they showed no remorse whatsoever.”

Despite the difficulties of conducting enquiries in an occupied country and the significant efforts of those involved to evade justice, the team eventually identified 72 men guilty of murder or conspiracy to murder, of whom 69 were accounted for. 13 former Gestapo officers were found guilty and subsequently hanged with lengthy prison sentences given to the remaining surviving offenders.

The 70th Anniversary dinner, attended by the Veterans, serving RAF Police and VIPs recognised a significant period in the RAF Police’s history and the justice secured on behalf of the allied nations who had lost airmen. Reflecting, Denzil concluded: “The work we did was no massive challenge as the British Government had everything in place to make sure the trials went smoothly.”