In episode one of WWII’s Great Escapes: The Freedom Trails, Monty heads to Slovenia to retrace the largest known successful mass escape of Allied prisoners of the second world war.
In 1944, Australian Ralph Churches had been imprisoned in Stalag 18D, in what is now northern Slovenia, for three years. He was desperate to escape, and with his friend Les made contact with local Slovene partisans to formulate a plan. With the help of the partisans, Ralph, Les, and five others fled while working on a railway near to the camp. They returned just hours later to rescue 90 of their follow prisoners.
The group of escapees and partisans travelled nearly 200 miles through rough terrain – facing the elements, German patrols, ambush and betrayal. Capture meant death. It was only due to the partisans’ knowledge of the landscape and the help of ordinary, local people that the group made it to safety. They became part of the largest successful escape of the Second World War, yet almost no one knows of it.
Ralph passed away in 2014, but his son Neil flew from Australia to Slovenia to help Monty tell Ralph’s story and retrace his incredible journey. First broadcast Saturday the 16th of September 2017, at 8pm on Channel 4.
A Hundred Miles as the Crow Flies is Ralph’s first hand account of his daring escape – a tale of cunning, patience, incredible luck, courage and generosity.
“If you know you’ve got the opportunity to do the right thing and you choose not to do it, it’s going to hammer you for the rest of your life.”