DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
UXBRIDGE: History buffs can make a great escape to Uxbridge Secondary School later this month to learn more about one of the more fascinating incidents of World War II from acclaimed author Ted Barris.
An Uxbridge resident for more than 25 years, Barris’ latest book, ‘The Great Escape: A Canadian Story’ was released last year to critical acclaim and commercial success, claiming the Libris award for the Canadian Non-fiction book of the Year. On Wednesday, Oct. 15, Mr. Barris will be speaking about the events depicted in the book, starting at 7 p.m., at Uxbridge SS, located at 127 Planks Lane.
The change of venue from the typical presentations at the Uxbridge Historical Centre to Uxbridge S.S. will hopefully lead to more people attending to hear more about the harrowing tale of The Great Escape.
“I’ve noticed in my time in Uxbridge since 1987, and I’m sure this is true in many communities that societies and community groups are aging and sometimes struggle to attract young blood,” Mr. Barris said in an interview with The Standard. “Hopefully this hybrid can be a boost for both groups, the high school and the Historical Society.”
Since the book was released late last year, Barris has conducted many presentations about the events that took place on the night of March 24, 1944, when 80 Commonwealth airmen crawled through a 360-foot-long tunnel, code-named “Harry.” Most slipped into the darkness of a pine forest beyond the wire of Stalag Luft III, a German POW compound near Sagan, Poland. The event would later become known as “The Great Escape.”
“There is a lot of energy circulating about this book and people really want to hear about it,” explained Mr. Barris. “It seems to have hit a hot button.”
Well known as a 1963 film of the same name, the true story of The Great Escape detailed in Mr. Barris’ book, tells of how the event was in many ways a Canadian affair, as he will detail in a presentation that contains between 70 and 80 visuals at Uxbridge SS on Wednesday, Oct. 15.
“The movie is based on the story but the characteristics and nationalities of the characters in the film are largely Hollywood-based. Hollywood never lets the facts get in the way of a good story. But, if not for the movie, I don’t think the success of the book would be so great,” added Mr. Barris.
Mr. Barris also noted that while those who took part in The Great Escape came from across the British Empire, many of the key players in the caper were Canadians including two of the tunnel diggers, the forger, the person in charge of diverting the guard’s attention, the scrounger as well as the intelligence chief.
Another difference from the film, is that those that escaped were not killed as the movie depicted, as Mr. Barris will explain in more detail on Oct. 15.
“The prisoners didn’t realize that when the German High Command - essentially Hitler’s henchmen - changed the rules in the fall of 1943 that escaped prisoners would become property of the Gestapo, that everything changed from being sport, and a cycle of escape and recapture to being life and death. It’s not very pleasant, but it’s history,” Mr. Barris told The Standard.
More than 70 years after the events took place, The Great Escape continues to grip audiences around the world, and Mr. Barris noted that new details are constantly emerging.
“The children and grandchildren of the POWs are still searching and asking questions. It’s a continuous search for information. Another book will be released soon about the Australian aspect of the event, and it will continue to be examined retold as more details come to life.”
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