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Historian John Taylor reveals some of the heroic exploits of local men shot down behind enemy lines

Wartime Escapees: Great escape was full-time

SHOT DOWN: A Halifax Mk111 bomber similar to the one flown by Jack
Pilot: Heinz Rokker
DEADLY: A Junkers fighter which shot down Jack

In a previous article mention was made of Captain Gerald Knight RAF who during the First World War escaped from an enemy prison camp and made it back to England.

He was the son of a former Rector of Bow Brickhill church and it was somewhat ironic that during the same period - not many miles from Bow Brickhill - was a camp for German prisoners of war.

Indeed several made bids for freedom with one being recaptured emerging from a wood at Battlesden and another in Hockliffe.

As for British POWs another to have experienced incarceration in a German camp was Ernest Marchant who in 1924 set up a solicitor's in Bletchley's Red House.

He would cycle from his home at Woburn Sands, having secured an arrangement to use the toilet facilities at Fenny Stratford station.

Ernest was born in North London on May 12, 1887. Enlisting in the army at the outbreak of the First World War he married Elsie Cotching 'a rare golden-haired beauty' and after military training with the Public Schools Battalion served with the 18th Royal Fusiliers - the Public School Fusiliers.

He became a musketry instructor but after the Somme and seeing a friend returning wounded - for the second time - he asked for a posting to the front.

Aged 26 he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 17th Middlesex and at the assault on Beaumont Hamel on November 13 was one of the few to penetrate the German lines.

A grenade put an end to his war and on being taken prisoner he was escorted to the German rear.

As a POW Ernest kept himself occupied by writing, producing and performing in camp shows - and making two attempts to escape.

Even after the Armistice in 1918 he was still a prisoner and with no prospect of early release he and two others got under the wire and reached Denmark in an open fishing boat, almost dying of exposure.

Ernest would eventually be joined in the firm by his two sons and he died aged 80 in 1967.

These days, as made famous by several films, more well-known are stories of prison camps during the Second World War and with British bombers over enemy territory it was inevitable many allied airmen would come to sample their dubious hospitality.

In the later stages of the war one was Jack Bromfield, of Albert Street, Bletchley.

Among the crew of a Halifax III bomber of 158 Squadron he was shot down on January 5, 1945 during a raid to Hanover.

Despite injuring his ankle on landing Jack remained on the run but on January 13 was captured and sent to a prison camp.

The bomber was shot down by night fighter ace Heinz Rokker (who with 65 kills was awarded the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves).

Incredibly, the former adversaries were reunited when Jack, who still lives in Bletchley, stayed with Herr Rokker in Germany.

Another Bletchley airman prisoner was Thomas Cloran whose Lancaster was hit by flak over France in 1944.

Preparing to bail out he saw a young engineer holding back. Realising he had no parachute Tom held on to him and they jumped together.

Sadly the engineer lost his grip and fell helplessly to earth.

On landing Tom made his way to a farmhouse where two old ladies agreed to hide him but his injuries and burns were so severe they had no choice but to surrender him to the Germans.

After treatment Tom wrote to his wife: "Out of hospital, much better, don't worry. Food is good thanks to Red Cross, kiss the children - be home soon."

Many months of captivity followed and he would be interned in a camp in Poland for 12 months until the long trek made by all the POWs held in eastern Europe before the Russian advance.

At the end of the war Tom returned to his home in Staple Hall Road and took up his former employment.

And as for the two old ladies - they were shunned by villagers who thought they had betrayed the airman.

Hearing this, Tom returned to Poigny le Feret near Paris to set the record straight. One of the ladies had died but the other, Mdme Langdale, was still being ostracised until Tom revealed the real reason for their action.

He began a grocery store and delicatessen in Bletchley Road, later becoming a supermarket manager in Reading.

Perhaps the most harrowing experience was that of Lance Corporal Stan Corby of Oxford Street, ordered to be shot by Himmler. He was captured during the Italian campaign spending 18 months in Stalag 4c in Czechoslovakia.

Following his fourth escape attempt the execution order was imposed but listening to a secret wireless set he and other inmates knew the war was almost over and with little to lose they hid a revolver and shot their way out of the camp.

They were rescued by the Americans and flown home.

After seven weeks leave Stan returned to army life.

In concluding there is one story that neatly links the experiences of a British POW during the First World War with the liberties won by those who sacrificed their own freedom or life during both wars.

In April 1947 at St Mary's Church, Bletchley, Muriel Ellingham married William Mason, the son of Mr and Mrs J Mason of Edgware.

The couple were invited to spend their honeymoon with a family in Belgium after a chance meeting during the First World War by Muriel's father who, as a liberated POW, was making his way through Liege with a friend, when a family offered him hospitality. The friendship continued through the years and when the Belgians heard his only daughter was to be married they extended their invitation to the newly weds.