Stories from the SOFO Archives: Flight Lieutenant Bernard “Pop” Green RAFVR, MC
Decorated Great War Officer in the Ox & Bucks, and in the Second World War, a Great Escaper and Long March Survivor
Bernard Green from Bourne End, Bucks survived both the Great War and the Second World War – just.
2nd Lieutenant Bernard Green served with distinction in the First World War at Ypres, and on the Somme on the Western Front in the Territorial 1st Buckinghamshire Battalion, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He was seriously wounded twice, Mentioned in Despatches, awarded the Military Cross, and by 1918 had risen to the rank of Major in the Machine Gun Corps.
Lt. Bernard 'Pop' Green in the Bucks Battalion
21 years later, Bernard was 52 at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, earning him the nickname “Pop.” He volunteered for action and was commissioned into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as an Air Gunner, a notoriously dangerous role. His first mission in July 1940 ended when his plane was shot down. Green was captured and imprisoned at Stalag Luft III, a vast camp for Allied aircrew at Sagan in eastern Germany.
In 1943, the escape committee at Sagan planned the famous “Great Escape”, which would involve 200 POWs leaving the camp through long, deep tunnels. More than 600 prisoners were involved in digging the tunnels and shifting 230 tons of sand. ”Pop” worked as a “penguin”, scattering sand from the tunnels out of pouches in his trousers while shuffling around the compound.
On the night of the Great Escape, 24 March 1944, “Pop” Green was the thirty-third and oldest of 76 men to leave tunnel “Harry.”
Within 24 hours he had been recaptured and returned to Sagan, but was fortunate compared to some. 50 of the captured escapers were murdered on Hitler’s direct orders.
Just three POWs made successful “home runs”, but as they had planned, the Great Escape seriously embarrassed the German authorities and diverted enormous police and military manpower to hunting down the escapees.
Pop Green and Johnnie Dodge at Sagan, circa 1943
As the war entered its final phase and the Allied armies encircled Nazi Germany, Prisoners of War agonised over whether they would simply be released as the Allies drew near, used as bargaining tools to stave off total surrender, or at worst, murdered by their captors. The Nazis pointlessly chose to hang on to their captives, and progressively from late January 1945, camps in the east were evacuated and men force marched west before the approaching Soviet army.
Half starved, prisoners were inadequately dressed and provisioned for strenuous marches across Germany in the heavy snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures of winter 1944-45. Exhausted men dropped from dysentery and exposure, or were simply shot by their captors where they fell.
Flight Lieutenant Bernard “Pop” Green marching out of Stalag Luft III recorded;
“…after a couple of hours, men started to fall behind and sit down on the hard frozen road surface with utter exhaustion on their faces… gun shots recoiled from the rear of the column. The occasional guard would also collapse with a clatter... he too would be left to his fate.”
Bernard Green’s wartime ordeals finally ended after the Long March westward in the atrocious winter of 1945.
He was eventually liberated on 2 May 1945, near Lübeck in western Germany. For his part in the Great Escape, he was awarded a second Mention in Despatches.
He died in 1971 at the age of 83.
You can find out more about the story of 'Pop' Green and other Prisoners of War in SOFO's permanent exhibition POWs: At Home and Abroad.
Do you have a relative that served in the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry or Oxfordshire Yeomanry? Our Research Enquiry Service might be able to help you find out more about their story.