Link to “Airwar over Denmark” site

October 11, 2009

This link gives an account of Alan’s actual Stirling 1 W7514 as it was shot down over South Denmark.



The Great Escape

October 11, 2009

Alan was transferred to Stalagluft 3 at the end of 1942, and spent three years as prisoner of war in the camp. This camp had been set up to specifically receive Officers and was run and managed by the Luftwaffe, who had a degree of “respect” for the officers it held.

Alan Birley BatemanUnlike many other POW camps, Stalagluft 3 was run with a degree of civility, with the prisoners allowed to amuse themselves with the organisation of sports teams,gardening,  reading clubs, debating societies, and theatrical clubs, and many productions were put on in the “theatre” to keep the prisoners busy and amused. A “University behind bars” was created, with prisoners allowed to study, as Alan did, for his legal exams, with books and papers sent to him through the Red Cross. Whilst prisoner, Alan took his Law Intermediate exams, and subsequently qualified as a solicitor on his return to England. As can be read in Alan’s letters, films were sometimes shown, and a close and communal life and comradeship was forged among the detained prisoners.

I understand that all the above were encouraged to keep the prisoners engaged during their captivity, and their minds away from the task of escaping. However, Margaret informs me, that it was bred into every RAF officer from the start of their training, that it was their DUTY to try to escape from captivity, which explains the lengths the prisoners went to, to fulfill this end.

Alan was interred in hut 104, sharing the same hut as Roger Bushell (the mastermind of the Great Escape) and was a founder member of the North Compound. As well as creating tunnels, the prisoners were involved in many ingenious activities including the forging of official documents, the making of civilian clothes, the acquisition and storage of rations for those due to make the escape, and the research and creation of maps, essential for those who made it through the tunnels. Sharing hut 104, the nerve centre of these operations, Alan was involved in all aspects of the planning of the Great Escape.

In particular, I remember him telling me that on one occasion the plans for escape had been discovered by the “Goons” ( an affectionate term for the German guards) and that all rations that had been carefully acquired and stored by prisoners, for those due to escape to take with them, had to be eaten immediately! He told me of many occasions where “goons” had been offered chocolate or cigarettes as a friendly gesture by the prisoners, which had then “bought” the guard whom they could bribe for items they needed, as accepting gifts from prisoners could land the guard in deep trouble with his superiors.

Alan also took on the role of “penguin” in the construction of the tunnels, a role which involved him inserting a bag with drawstrings attached into each trouser leg, filled up with the excavations from the tunnels. He would then casually walk around the compound, gently releasing the drawstring and therefore allowing the contents of the bags to be scuffed into the dirt as he walked. This was important, as the soil colour from the tunnels was different from that in the compound, and would have drawn attention if it had been found.

I am proud of Alan and the activities he undertook whilst in Stalagluft 3. Many might have found the strain of finding themselves a captive POW enough on its own to cope with, but to study and pass legal exams, to be part of the Great Escape team and to live successfully in reduced circumstances as prisoner in a war that was far from its conclusion, with the many hardships that brings, and still appear in good spirits, is a tribute to Alan’s character and fortitude.

On the 24th March 1944, the “Great Escape” took place. Alan was not one of the first to enter the tunnel, as the agreement about who was to go first was made on the likelihood each individual had about his ability to reach England. As Alan had had a toe amputated, he was not given priority. However, after many, many men had entered the tunnel, Alan’s turn came, but as he was descending into the tunnel, the other end of it was discovered, and so he was quickly pulled out, and the entrance hidden again.

Maybe it was just as well, as the prisoners later found out that of their comrades that had escaped, 50 were captured, rounded up and shot on the orders of Hitler, as a deterrent to other would-be escapers.

I remember Alan telling me, that as a direct result of that action, a further tunnel was started in defiance of the killings, but that the camp was disbanded and the prisoners sent on the “Long March” before it could be completed.

True bravery and determination in the face of cruel adversary.


The Great Escape

October 11, 2009

Much has been written since the end of the war, about the exceptional exploits of the prisoners of Stalagluft 3, and their attempts to escape by means of constructing three tunnels, “Tom”, “Dick” and “Harry”, which were dug from underneath the accommodation huts, to beyond the perimeter fence, to allow some 80 or so prisoners to escape and try to reach England.  A  full account of the exploits of the tunnelers can be found here at http://www.historyinfilm.com/escape/real5.html, but I wish to recount Alan’s personal experiences within this blog.

I wish to start with some drawings found within Alan’s personal effects, and with which he used to illustrate speeches he gave after the war, about “The Great Escape”

The first drawing above shows the elaborate ventilation machines that the tunnelers made out of everyday objects that they could obtain from around the compound, or from guards whom they bribed. The ventilation chimneys and shafts were made from KLIM tins (tinned milk) and slotted together to make a long tube.

The second drawing shows the cramped conditions the tunnelers worked in underground, as they dug away, and subsequently shored up the sides of the tunnels with wooden slats, often taken from bunk beds.

The drawing below shows the underground workshop that was constructed to allow the tunnelers to work away from the gaze of the German guards.


Alan and fellow RAF colleagues

October 11, 2009

Alan and fellow RAF colleagues

Back row ; Sgt Howland. Sgt Readhead. SGT Seabrook. Sgt Morris. Sgt Coleman

Front row ; P/O Mahoney P/O Coldwell P/O Bateman P/O Shoemaker P/O Newport-Tinley

I believe this photo was taken during training, and according to Margaret Bateman, all the gentlemen in this photo, apart from Alan, died during the war. I would dearly love to hear from anyone who may have any information on any of these individuals, as Alan mentions many of them by name in his letters and diaries.


Letter to Alan’s family from Major Charles Zweigbergic

October 10, 2009

Below is the transcript of a letter found amongst Alan’s personal documents.

Transcript of Letter to Mrs Bateman from Major Charles Zweigbergic

106 Wick Hall

Furze Hill

Hove 2



Dear Mrs Bateman,

I have just recently returned from Germany as a repatriated prisoner-of-war. I met your son sometimes ago firstly at a hospital and then an Oflag, before he left to go to the big Air force camp.

It was in July 1942 when I arrived at Stadt Roda hospital that I first met your son who was undergoing treatment to his foot – nothing very serious, I can assure you. We soon became good friends. He was always most cheerful and was good company. The little hospital, run by British doctors, with a German medical administrative officer in charge was interesting in that its patients were drawn from all over the working camps in the district. We had French, Russians, Serbs, Poles besides British. Your son and the rest of the small group of officers derived much amusement and also real interest from this motley crowd.

We both arrived at Oflag 1XA/2 at the same time Dec 15th of last year – but after a time your son together with the rest of the airforce officers left for the airforce camp, so that I lost touch with him – however we exchanged addresses and resolved to keep in touch after the war.

I know it is a worrying time for you. All I can say is that the British prisoners-of-war are fine examples of indeterminable courage and cheerfulness, and your son is an enthusiastic leader of this spirit.

Yours truly

Charles Zweigbergic



Reverse of Alan’s letter cards

October 10, 2009

Reverse of Alan’s letter cards

Originally uploaded by justinehadden

This shows the reverse side of the letter cards that Alan sent home from Stalagluft 3.

Alan Birley Bateman’s letters home from inside Stalagluft 3, while held as prisoner of war between 1942 and 1945. These letters give a first-hand, fascinating insight into life in the camp, and covers the period of “The Great Escape”


Reverse of Alan’s letters

October 10, 2009

Reverse of Alan’s letters

Originally uploaded by justinehadden

This is the reverse side of the letters that Alan wrote from Stalagluft 3, showing his home address and details of the camp where he was being held.

Alan Birley Bateman’s letters home from inside Stalagluft 3, while held as prisoner of war between 1942 and 1945. These letters give a first-hand, fascinating insight into life in the camp, and covers the period of “The Great Escape”

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