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Shot Down

A Secret Diary of one POW's long march to freedom

(6 customer reviews)
Authors: Alex Kerr
210mm x 140 mm

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Alex’s Wellington, a twin-engine bomber, was shot down over Germany in 1941. At first hospitalised with hopes of repatriation, he unexpectedly found himself a prisoner in a German POW camp. Throughout those trying four years he was held captive, Alex kept a secret diary. This book reproduces his diary entries in a fascinating account of all aspects of life in a wartime prison.

He describes being part of the infamous ‘Long March’ during which he and his comrades were strafed by Allied aircraft; 60 POWs were killed and 100 wounded. Alex escaped the march with a mate, passing through the front lines between the British and German forces to commandeer a German mayor’s car and drive back to Brussels to take the next aircraft to freedom.

Alex’s charm and optimistic outlook will buoy the reader throughout, and the camaraderie between he and his captive comrades is always entertaining. This is an authentic World War II adventure — from being shot out of the sky, to incarceration and the ultimate triumph of escape and the end of the war.

Alex Kerr

Alex Kerr

Having previously served in the Citizens Military Force, Alex Kerr enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in April 1940 in the first course of pilots in the Empire Air Training Scheme. After undertaking training in Australia and Canada he arrived in the United Kingdom in December that year. In April 1941, he was posted […]

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6 reviews for Shot Down

  1. Having previously served in the CMF, Alex Kerr enlisted in the RAAF in April 1940 in the first course of pilots in the Empire Air Training Scheme. After undertaking training in Australia and Canada he arrived in the United Kingdom in December that year. In April 1941, he was posted as a pilot to No. 115 Squadron RAF, flying Wellington Bombers. In May 1941, on his fourth operation, Alex was shot down over Hamburg. Badly wounded and unable to get out of the escape hatch, his life was saved by his rear gunner, who pushed him from the burning aircraft. Alex managed to open his parachute before losing consciousness. During the next four years as a prisoner of war, Alex studied and passed exams for a Certificate in Social Studies (Oxford University) and a Bachelor of Science in Economics (London University). Alex spent his 21st birthday in a POW camp, where a Canadian prisoner named Calvert gave him an egg for his birthday, a rare treat. During his time as a prisoner, Alex was involved in three escape attempts, one of which included the construction of a ‘record breaking’ tunnel. He succeeded on his third attempt. During his years of captivity, Alex kept a diary on which the book Shot Down is based. It’s an incredible story. In his foreword, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (retd) described the book as a fascinating read and at the same time a careful and accurate record of life in the POW camps. There is no doubt that Alex Kerr’s strength and courage are an example to us all.

  2. Hard core aviation enthusiasts may turn away from this memoir because it is a largely an account of captivity. That would be a mistake. The book includes enough training and operational details to satisfy any aviation nut – Alex’s account of his last op is sheer, nail-biting, storytelling magic. Shot Down is also an incredibly rich life story that even offers a gentle lesson in making the most of difficult circumstances. It is also a significant addition to Australian military, aviation, and prisoner of war history. Uplifting and recommended. Read it.

  3. Shot Down is also a testament to optimism and, looking back, Alex believed his inherent optimism enabled him ‘to bear the vicissitudes of incarceration with fortitude’. Alex would be too modest to claim it, but I think his fellow prisoners’ ability to cope with seemingly limitless confinement would have been enhanced by his natural buoyancy. – Aircrew Book Review

  4. Two photos in particular caught my attention and it really is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. These two perfectly illustrate the physical toll exacted by captivity. The first was taken in December 1940 after the nineteen-year-old had been awarded his wings. ‘A pilot at last!’ reads the caption. It reveals a young, innocent looking man, with eyes full of hope and expectation of a decent flying career. The second, of Alex and Joan on their wedding day in August 1947 (more than two years since he absconded from the marching column), is such a contrast. The groom was only 26 yet looks years older. Is that grey touching his forehead? Any residual baby fat had long since fallen from his still gaunt cheekbones. And his eyes. What they had seen.

  5. this memoir is an important addition to Australian military history. Not just because of some of the particular aspects, which I will touch on below, but because there are significantly fewer accounts by Australians taken prisoner by the Germans. – Kristen Alexander

  6. Twenty-year-old Sergeant Alex Kerr had been operational with 115 Squadron RAF as a second pilot for less than a month when, on 10 May 1941, a night fighter attacked Wellington R1379 KO-B. The West Australian was seriously wounded, KO-B was mortally damaged, and the crew had to bale out. After months in German hospitals, Kerr was incarcerated in Stalag IIIE, Kirchhain, then Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug, and Stalag 357, Thorn and later Fallingbostel. In the final months of the war, he trudged across Germany in the Long March. After narrowly escaping death when the column was strafed by Allied aircraft, he and a mate escaped to Allied lines and freedom. Based on his wartime diary, Shot Down includes enough training and operational details to satisfy any aviation enthusiast—his last op is sheer, nail-biting, storytelling magic. Kerr also recounts little known aspects of captivity in Europe. For example, at Stalag IIIE, he and 51 other prisoners tunnelled out of Kirchhain; he was on the run for 10 days. The breakout was the largest, most successful escape attempt to date, yet, surprisingly, little has been written about it. Kerr’s account is thus a valuable addition to escape literature and, because of Australian involvement, our military history. So too is his description of life in Stalag Luft III. Rather than the officer-centric focus of the usual Wooden Horse or Great Escape narratives, Kerr offers a rare NCO perspective of that famous prisoner of war camp. Shot Down is a fascinating memoir, told with a uniquely Australian voice. Recommended. Definitely a five star read.

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