A young POW in the most audacious breakout of WWII
- Louise Williams
15th July 2017
John 'Willy' Williams was a medical student and passionate surfer turned Squadron Leader and Second World War ace. In the Australian tradition, he insisted on fighting his war in non-regulation attire and led his squadron into air combat over Libya and Egypt dressed in sandals and shorts. Shot down in the Western Desert in 1942, he ended up a POW in Stalag Luft III near the German–Polish border.
John was among the seventy-six POWs who tunnelled their way out of the supposedly escape-proof camp under the Germans' noses in what later became famous as the Great Escape. John and former schoolmate Reg 'Rusty' Keirath, together with two other POWs, made it to Czechoslovakia and were captured by the Gestapo. Hitler was so enraged by the Great Escape that he personally ordered the secret execution of fifty of the seventy-three captured men, in flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention. John, Rusty and their two friends were driven by the Gestapo deep into the forest near the town of Most and shot; John was just twenty-four years old. Despite the later war crimes investigation into the Great Escape murders, no one was ever brought to justice for the murders of the Most Four.
John’s niece Louise Williams has pieced together his life, from his upbringing in the Depression to his exploits in the air and the missing details of the tragic escape. It is a powerful and intimate story of one of the most dramatic episodes of World War II.