Former Sgt. Tom Jackson a 419 squadron Halifax pilot is thought to be the last living Canadian to be part of the real Great Escape. He was on his 27th operation
along with crew to Stettin on board
Halifax JB912, when the heavy bomber was brought down.
From his interview with the Vancouver Province of November 11th 2007, I have gleaned the following story.
Tom Jackson had joined the air force looking at it as the best way he could contribute to the war effort. At only 25 years old he was captain of a four engine heavy bomber,
responsible for not only the aircraft but also the lives of the other six men that made up his crew. It had been this responsibility that caused him to bring the
damaged Halifax back from over the cold waters of the Baltic Sea to over the nearest land.
Has he told the reporter for the article “it was the worst experience you my life” the date was April 20th , Hitler’s birthday. Maybe it was this or just the general feeling
of the German people towards airmen that dropped bombs on them every night. He found himself in the hands of the SS and being interrogated with a gun pointed to his head.
After his ordeal with the SS he was being transferred to the PoW camps through Berlin, a heavily bombed city and one which he himself had
targeted twice. At the train station while he and possibly other airmen prisoners were awaiting transport an angry crowd made their way toward the prisoners. They
were described as menacing and the airmen’s life’s were definitely in danger from this crowd. It was at this point where a German officer used his gun to warn off the mob.
His actions and the appearance of other uniformed German soldiers prevented a dark situation from turning deadly. After his treatment by the SS the ordeal at the station
reminded Tom Jackson that there were still those who still followed the rules of combat and they would act to enforce them. The ugly threatening mood of the German crowd
was something that would come to mind during his time at Stalag Luft Waffe III.
Hollywood vs Reality
At 92 years old during the time of the interview, he reflected on the Hollywood style version of an event he was part of, the Great Escape.
Jackson talked about the real life of a prisoner with the constant hunger faced by the prisoners. Sharing one loaf of bread made with a good portion of sawdust
and being shared amongst six men for a week, the watery soup. The only saving grace were the weekly Red Cross parcels.
The Hollywood addition of the Virgil Hilts character played by Steve McQueen was a point Tom Jackson
mentioned by saying “ I never met anyone in the camp who I thought was Steve McQueen.
Working on the Escape
As one of the “Tunnel Kings”, he would find himself descending 20 or more feet underground then down narrow tunnels some over 300 feet long working in sand
that cut the skin and the threat of cave-ins constantly around. He mentions in the interview that it wasn’t always difficult, but he sure would not dream of doing it now.
His recollection of the hostile mob scene at the railroad station and the change of mood of the German population towards the airmen he found was not felt by those who
had been long time prisoners. A factor Jackson seems to have felt was important to the men who were hoping to find help on the outside once they escaped into the nearby
When the time to escape came they would leave my numbers.
The number determined where they would be in the queue of escaping men. There were a set of factors considered by the escape committee to decide were the escaper would
be placed in the line.
In the case of Tom Jackson his being unable to speak any foreign language put him at position 139. The first seventy-six had passed the outside guards successfully and
were on their way. Sgt. Jackson knew the game was over when he heard the sound of machine guns firing, while he was still jammed in the tunnel with so many others.
Tom Jackson praised those fifty of escapers who were murdered at the orders of Hitler, as being very brave people who gave their lives. "Nobody could give more than that" is how
he expressed it to K. Spencer the reporter of the interview as to how he felt about those men who died, some he would have met and known during the days working in the tunnels .
By April 1945, with the war over Sgt. Tom Jackson was liberated and he returned home to teach in Saskatchewan and
later work in British Columbia.
Thanks to J. Crandell for passing on this information.