I am one of those lucky ones who survived the war, and I can remember my emotional experiences, and those of my friends, as if they had happened yesterday. For many of us the horror, the injustice, and the cruelty can never be forgotten or forgiven; but I have tried to write without too much bitterness’ – Bob van der Stok
On the night of 24th March 1944, Bob van der Stok was number 18 of 76 men who crawled beyond the barbed wire fence of Stalag Luft III in Zagan, Poland. The 1963 film, The Great Escape, was largely based on this autobiography but – with van der Stok’s agreement -filmmakers chose to turn his story into an Australian character name Sedgewick, played by James Coburn.
His memoir sets down his wartime adventures before being incarcerated in Stalag Luft III and then – with extraordinary detail – describes various escape attempts which culminated with the famous March breakout. After escaping Bram van der Stok roamed Europe for weeks, passing through Leipzig, Utrecht, Brussels, Paris, Dijon and Madrid, before making it back to England. He reported to the Air Ministry and two months after escaping, on 30 May 1944 he returned to the British no.91 Squadron. In the following months he flew almost every day to France escorting bombers and knocking down V1 rockets.
In August 1944 he finally returned to his home. He learned that his two brothers were killed in concentration camps after being arrested for resistance work. His father had been tortured and blinded by the Gestapo during interrogation. He had never betrayed his son.