Remembering Uncle John, the Great Escape and teaching football to the Charlton brothers
Dr John Howden of Paignton
- Credit: Submitted
Flight Sergeant “Jack” Love not only survived the War and four years in Stalag Luft 3 which was famous for the Great Escape, he also taught Jackie and Bobby Charlton at school and passed on his great love of football.
Shot down in his Welligton Bomber in May 1941, he was adamant not to languish his four years in captivity. He saw his incarceration as an opportunity to study and better himself.
As a bus conductor in Ashington before the War, he was a keen member of the Amateur Operatic Society, an experience which helped him to play an important part in the SECOND Great Escape from this prison camp, the first was made famous in the film “The Great Escape”.
Towards the end of the War, my wife’s Uncle John (as he was known to his family) and still a prisoner, enrolled in a special teacher-training scheme which was available to servicemen and quickly qualified as a schoolteacher.
After the war, he gained a post at Bedlington Grammar School teaching English and History and he shared his love of football with the two Charlton brothers. He teamed up with a dynamic local lady called Mrs Charlton and together they used the school facilities to run an after-school football club.
The film “The Great Escape” immortalised the 173 airmen who escaped from Stalag Luft 3 in 1944. On Hitler’s orders, 50 of these men were shot by the SS as an example to other prisoners of War and to deter any future escapes.
When the SS took over the running of the camp from the Luftwafer after the Great Escape, the guards became more violent and as the Russian Army drew closer in 1944, our airmen thought they would be shot by the SS. They thought they might as well die fighting so they dug a fourth tunnel – not to escape to the outside – but to the German Armoury. They were going to fight their way out.
As a cover, Uncle John was transferred into the officers’ compound to produce a Variety Show with plenty of loud fun and “dancing girls”. While this was being rehearsed, a fourth tunnel was being dug under the stage.
The fourth tunnel, called “George” (Tom, Dick and Harry featured in the first escape) was discovered in 2011 but it was not until now that the reason for this tunnel became known.
Great excitement after months of preparation, the show was to be staged on the Saturday night before Christmas. Everything was ready. But on the night before, prisoners were turfed out of their beds and forced to march under guard into Germany – this was known as the “Great March”. Thousands of allied prisoners were marched into Germany at this time to act as bargaining power for the Nazis to save their skins. Wearing just what they stood up in which was very little, many of our servicemen perished in the extreme cold of Christmas 1944.
Before his death in 1997, Uncle John began working on a book of his wartime stories with his grandson, Barry Love. This book has now been published by Fighting High Ltd, is called “March By Moonlight” and is available for £20 (including post and packing) at firstname.lastname@example.org
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