Friday, 6 February 2015

Thomas Barker Leigh: Australians in Stalag Luft III and the Great Escape

This piece originally appeared on on 9 May 2014.

Great Escaper Thomas Barker Leigh was a former ‘Trenchard Brat’; he joined the 32nd Entry at No. 1 School of Technical Training (Apprentices) at Halton and passed out in 1938.

The Halton Apprentices’ Association has installed a number of beautiful commemorative stained glass windows at St. George’s Church, RAF Halton. The four corners of the 32nd Entry’s window illustrate the Rose of England and the beech trees of Halton. From the top of the window to the bottom is shown the King’s Crown for George V, Edward VIII and George VI, The RAF Eagle, the Entry dates and number, the apprentice wheel on a laurel wreath and banners showing the trades, the two wings and the apprentices unwritten code, “Honour”.

I think that unwritten code is particular apt when applying to someone involved in the Great Escape.
The Escape window commemorates the 3 former 'brats' who took part in the Great Escape but were caught and later executed: Flt. Lt. William Jack Grisman, 23rd Entry- Navigator, Flt. Lt. Edgar Spotiswoode-Humphreys, 25th Entry - Pilot, and Flt. Lt. Thomas Barker Leigh, 32nd Entry - Air Gunner.

The Halton archivist kindly allowed me to 'borrow' the Great Escape and 32 Entry window. They are just a small handful of the many stained glass tributes. Others who want to see these and all of the windows (and many have descriptions of the iconography) can go to Click TRIBUTE and then stained glass windows.
I have lots more to discover about Thomas Barker Leigh and his fellow Australian escapers but I have been working on this quietly for over a year now and it will keep me busy for some time yet.  I am keen to get cracking on a worthy tribute to these men! Happily, my publisher is also keen and is looking forward to the results of my Stalag Luft III/Great Escape research. Book No Four is in production, Book No Five is almost finished, so now I can really start focusing on Book No. Six!
If anyone has stories of Australians in Stalag Luft III they would like to share with me, please get in touch.

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