In March 1944 in the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III there was an escape happening, and it was not just a guy trying to jump over a fence and legging it. This was a mass escape of 200 men, in one night, through a tunnel.
Now as you might expect escape tunnels were not built by the Germans and you couldn’t buy one either – typical. So they had to build one, or rather dig one. This particular idea was conceived by a British man called Roger Bushell and therefore was subject to innate British bureaucracy. Bushell immediately set up an official ‘Escape Committee’ which had board members and a legal team* – they wanted to escape but it had to be done legally of course. I mean, it would be pretty annoying if you escape a Nazi POW camp to then have the police arrest you back in Britain because you didn’t read article 7A of the Geneva Convention properly.
So the committee was set up and the board members sought approval from the commanding officer for the escape, who agreed after being impressed by a junior officers excellent Microsoft PowerPoint presentation – he was especially praised for the use of the ‘applause’ sound effect and the ‘swooshing titles in from the left’ at the end of the presentation.
Three tunnels were to be built – Tom, Dick and Harry. And it is at this point that some of you may have twigged that this is the story behind the famous movie ‘The Great Escape’ and you’re now wondering when Steve McQueen will make his entrance. Well, he won’t. That’s for two reasons, firstly, he isn’t alive. Secondly, whilst the USA did eventually join the war, none of their POWs were kept at Stalag Luft III. So not wanting reality to get in the way of the truth, Hollywood inserted a fictional American war hero as the main protagonist.
Sorry Steve, not today.
Looking at this practically though, you might think moving three tunnels worth of dirt is rather difficult when you’re being watched every minute of the day by Nazi guards. And it was. So the POWs had to empty pockets filled with dirt bit by bit every day, as discreetly as possible.
Now, I am not held captive in a Nazi POW camp, but today I found myself in the exact same situation.
You see, I moved into my apartment in Austria about 10 months ago and it is fair to say that it wasn’t in the best condition, no floor in the bedroom, peach living room, dirty/broken kitchen and the floor, oh god the floor. With help from my parents* though, we renovated it, but it left behind a mountain of old wood – broken cupboards, old shelves, floorboards. So I did the right thing and put it all in a big wardrobe and pretended it didn’t exist for 9 months and 2 weeks. But it does exist, and that is the main problem I have with matter, it exists.
So there we are, Bushell and Green, exact same scenario. We both have to get rid of unwanted waste materials.
Bushell, a man of old British values upheld the law even when trying to escape – so much so that he even deliberated with the board of the Escape Committee about the legality of hiding dirt in the POW theatre*. These values always held firm, even in the face of adversity and it is a measure of how far we, as British people, have fallen. Here I am trying to get rid of some wood; no planning and a flagrant disregard for the law – and I’m not even under the threat of death on a daily basis.
Lets be real for a moment though, Bushell and his men did have a major advantage over me and that was to do with the size of the waste material. They could sprinkle dirt out the bottom of their trouser leg quite easily. I can’t exactly sprinkle a double overhead kitchen unit out of the bottom of my trousers can I?
What I am doing though is side stepping Austrias rather strict recycling laws by putting small broken pieces of wood in the bin at a time. Today was the first day of it and it was my first big test. Normally when I go down the spiral stair case there is no one around. But typically on today of all days, there were civies* standing at the bottom of the stair case.
You’ll be pleased to hear I held it together and put a kitchen work top cut off in the bin. It truly was, a great escape.
*Not even a joke.
*And a few others.
*Also not a joke, they actually did have meetings as to whether it would be right to put dirt under the theatre seats.