J. KEMPER CAMPBELL
“Churchill’s Great Escapes: Seven Incredible Escapes Made by WWII Heroes” by Damien Lewis, Citadel Press, 352 pages, $27.
Disregard for our nation’s history is now acceptable to some segments of today’s society. Ignoring the sacrifices of those remembered on Memorial Day and D-Day diminishes every citizen. Damien Lewis is a British writer whose books will ensure that the generation that passes during World War II will not be erased from our memories.
His latest book, ‘Churchill’s Great Escapes’, describes the tireless determination of seven separate POWs who survived near impossible circumstances and managed to escape their Italian and German captors. Their stories are so remarkable that many readers would consider them fictional.
Fortunately, author Lewis has access to the official records of the British Special Air Service, an elite unit of “super-commandos” that Winston Churchill trained to wreak havoc behind enemy lines. He also interviewed living relatives of the men and examined their memoirs and personal papers.
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Finally, it includes a four-page insert of photos of the escapees, all of whom are now deceased, which authenticates the veracity of their accounts. Many readers will have similar vintage WWII images of fathers and grandfathers who were involved in the conflict.
The subjects of the escapes include Canadian and Irish soldiers as well as English soldiers. Enlisted men and officers who have attended renowned British institutes of higher learning are depicted. Most learned their survival skills during their rigorous special services training.
The thrilling details of each escape will be left to the reader, but several of the soldiers involved have repeatedly escaped after being recaptured. Their feats included diving from a burning bomber, navigating the Mediterranean Sea on a leaky boat, jumping from a moving hospital train while injured, and avoiding enemy patrols by disguises of fortune and subterfuge. Physical challenges included the arid deserts of North Africa and the frigid peaks of the Italian Alps.
None of the escapees would have succeeded without the help of the Italian partisans, the French maquis, the Greek resistance or the Bedouin nomads. Even a sympathetic German military doctor helped save one of the soldiers.
Readers who enjoyed Lewis’ previous book, “Churchill’s Band of Brothers,” reviewed in this space May 2, 2021 or the escape from the American Civil War in “I Held Lincoln,” reviewed May 30 2021, will find in this book a convincing example of history. value for future generations.
J. Kemper Campbell, MD, is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist whose father lived through the Battle of the Bulge and whose stepfather was seriously wounded in North Africa.