Review: Impossible escapes, incredible stories | Book Reviews and News

“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. To ignore the sacrifices of those remembered on Memorial Day and D-Day diminishes each citizen. Damien Lewis is a British writer whose books will insure that the passing World War II generation will not fade from our memories.

His latest book, “Churchill’s Great Escapes,” describes the indefatigable determination of seven separate prisoners of war who survived nearly impossible circumstances and managed to escape their Italian and German captors. Their stories are so remarkable that many readers would deem them fictional.

Fortunately, author Lewis has access to the official records of the British Special Air Service, an elite unit of “super-commandos” which Winston Churchill formed to wreak havoc behind enemy lines. He has also interviewed living relatives of the men and reviewed their personal memoirs and papers.

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Finally, he includes a four page insert of photos of the escapees, who are all now deceased, which authenticates the veracity of their narratives. Many readers will have similar World War II vintage pictures of fathers and grandfathers who were involved in in the conflict.

The subjects of the escapes include Canadian and Irish as well as English soldiers. Both enlisted men and officers who attended renowned British institutes of higher learning are represented. Most learned their survival skills during their rigorous training for the special services.

The thrilling details of each escape will be left for the reader but several of the involved soldiers escaped on multiple occasions after being recaptured. Their exploits involved plunging from a flaming bomber, navigating the Mediterranean Sea on a leaking boat, jumping from a moving hospital train while wounded, and avoiding enemy patrols by makeshift disguises and subterfuge. Physical hardships included the arid deserts of North Africa and the freezing peaks of the Italian Alps.

None of the escapees would have succeeded without the aid of Italian partisans, French maquis, the Greek resistance, or Bedouin nomads. Even a sympathetic German military doctor helped save one of the soldiers.

Readers who enjoyed Lewis’s previous book, “Churchill’s Band of Brothers,” reviewed in this space May 2, 2021 or the American Civil War escape in “I Held Lincoln,” reviewed May 30, 2021, will find this book a compelling example of history’s value for future generations.

J. Kemper Campbell, M.D., is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist whose father experienced the Battle of the Bulge and whose father-in-law was seriously wounded in North Africa.

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