“The Great Escape” – fact, fiction and Rabbits


Fans of the 1963 movie The Great Escape may find a little of extra interest to see whilst exploring southern Germany with 218 power.  An astonishing number of seemingly disparate scenes were filmed in and around the pretty town of Füssen, and the station itself was where the scene involving the death of David McCallum’s character Ashley-Pitt was filmed.

However, the true story on which the film was largely based also has links to the region, and specifically to routes and areas that the 218s have been synonymous with throughout their careers.  Although the camp, Stalag Luft III, was situated about 500 miles away – in the now-Polish town of Żagań, east of Cottbus and south of Poznań – two of the escapees actually made it all the way by rail to Bavaria.

Four days after the escape, on 29th March 1944, South African airmen Johannes Gouws and Rupert Stevens had almost made it to their destination – neutral Switzerland.  But they could not evade the Gestapo for long.  One was apprehended on a Lindau-bound express at Kaufbeuren, the other on a local train between Mühldorf and Rosenheim; history seems unclear which was which.  That they had dodged capture for so far and for so long was clearly against all odds, and it is tragic to consider that had the first managed to remain unidentified for just a little while longer on his train, then he would have reached Lindau, and actually been within clear sight of Switzerland and safety.


218415 at Füssen. In the film, the character of Ashley-Pitt collapsed in a heap about halfway down the length of the train, whereas one of the real escapees was apprehended just 25 miles away in Kaufbeuren. 17/01/15 (JW)

Of the 76 men who escaped the camp, 73 were recaptured, of which 50 were executed on Hitler’s direct orders.  Gouws and Stevens were to be among them.  Little is definitively known about their capture and what happened next, other than the fact that the Nazis are thought to have taken the cost of their cremation out of the money found on them when they were captured.  Urns containing their ashes were sent back to Stalag Luft III with only the date of 29th March 1944 and the location of München noted upon them.  Both men are buried in the Old Garrison Cemetery in Poznań.

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