The Channel 4 WWII’s Great Escapes series was the result of many many months of research and planning. The following books, amongst numerous others, proved invaluable in the production process (except one, which was written about the process itself) and are great resources for anyone wishing to find out more about Europe’s freedom trails, those that used them, and the men and women who made them possible.
SAS Operation Galia by Robert Hann
Two days after Christmas 1944, during the harshest winter in living memory, 33 SAS troops parachuted into the valley of
Rossano, Northern Italy. Carried out in broad daylight, the parachute drop was intended to deceive observing enemy forces into believing that a full parachute brigade of 400 men had landed behind them. Drawing on post-op reports and memoirs, this book is a fictionalised account written from the perspective of one of the rank and file parachutists who took part in the operation: the author’s father. Scrupulously researched and richly illustrated, Hann’s personal narrative brings to life the co-ordinated attemptsof the SAS and local partisans to engage and evade the enemy. For the first time,
Hann provides a detailed account of some of the devastating setbacks and triumphs of Operation Galia: one of the hardest fought and most successful operations of the Second World War.
Little Cyclone by Airey Neave
Andrée de Jongh was a young artist in Brussels when German troops marched into Belgium in May 1941. Her father dubbed her the ‘Little Cyclone’, because she was so determined to make things happen. Inspired by Edith Cavell, the British nurse shot dead by the Germans during the First World War, the 24-year-old de Jongh nursed wounded allied servicemen.
She then set up the Comet Line to smuggle trapped soldiers and airmen through France and across the Pyrenees into Spain. When the first group never arrived, the Little Cyclone did the job herself: she turned up at the British consulate in Bilbao in August 1941 with two Scottish soldiers and insisted she could bring many more. MI6 was convinced she was a German spy. But the Little Cyclone got her way and the escape line she created saved the lives of more than 800 Allied servicemen.
The Freedom Trail by Scott Goodall
The Pyrenean Mountain Chain forms the border between France and Spain and stretches for 270 miles (430 kilometres), from the Mediterranean Sea in the east, to the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean in the west. During the Second World War, between the years 1940-44, more than 33,000 civilians and 6,000 Allied servicemen were forced to tackle these peaks in an effort to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe and regain their liberty via neutral Spain.
The Freedom Trail isn’t just a history book about the actual escape route; it’s also a guidebook for those wanting to re-trace said route for themselves, complete with maps and charts for the five-day trip, historical references and landmarks, an equipment checklist and a colour photo gallery.
A Hundred Miles as the Crow Flies by Ralph Churches
After escaping a P.O.W camp with six others, Australian Lance Corporal Ralph Churches went back for his mates, all ninety of them. He got them airlifted to safety from behind German lines. He had help; the Slovene partisans, well organised and committed to ejecting the Germans. These partisans led the P.O.W.s to safety through the hills of Slovenia. A first-hand account of one of the great escapes of WWII, a tale of cunning, patience, incredible luck, courage and generosity.
Escaping Hitler by Monty Halls
Escaping Hitler features spies and traitors, extraordinary heroism from those who ran the escape routes and offered shelter to escapees, and great feats of endurance. The SAS in Operation Galia fought for forty days behind enemy lines in Italy and then, exhausted and pursued by the enemy, exfiltrated across the Apennine mountains. And in Slovenia Australian POW Ralph Churches and British Les Laws orchestrated the largest successful Allied escape of the entire war.
Mixing new research, interviews with survivors and his own experience of walking the trails, Monty brings the past to life in this dramatic and gripping slice of military history. In the book Goodall writes; “Walking the Chemin de la Liberté from end to end is a way of bringing this page of history back to life.”