Great Escape “Diary”: Ronald Prior Baines R.A.A.F. Prisoner of War Wartime Log

Richard Baines, on behalf of his family, has kindly provided the University of Newcastle’s Hunter Living Histories Initiative permission to publish his father’s World War 2 Prisoner of War Wartime Log and related items.

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RONALD BAINES WARTIME LOG

https://livinghistories.newcastle.edu.au/nodes/view/110514


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WARTIME TRAVEL 1940-1945  R.P. BAINES A 401096 RAAF (6.4MB PDF File)
(Transcribed by Melinda Carr, Daughter of Ronald and Irene Baines)

 

“The Great Escape” March 24-25, 1944.

 

Richard Baines photographed with Conjoint Professor Howard Bridgman and Professor Heather Sharp 28 May 2021

 

Flight-Lieutenant Ronald Prior Baines was a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III camp for a period from 8th December 1942 to 27th January 1945 during which time “The Great Escape” (of movie fame) took place.

The author of The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill, was also an inmate at Stalag Luft III from 1943 until his release, and it was there at Stalag Luft III that the escape occurred on the night of 24-25th March 1944.

In 1950 Brickhill wrote The Great Escape, the first comprehensive account of the breakout, which was later adapted into the film.

 

Cover of Paul Brickhill’s The Great Escape

 

Mention of Ronald Baines on page 220
War Service medals for both Richard’s Mother and Father, Irene and Ronald, as well as his father, Ronald Baines’ Diary.

Military historian David Dial OAM has also kindly provided links to Flight-Lieutenant Baines’ online digitised Nominal Roll entry (Department of Veterans Affairs) and his service record (National Archives of Australia). Please see David’s historical materials relating to The Great Escape and Flight Lieutenant Ronald Prior Baines (2.7MB PDF File)

Dr Kristen Alexander states that five of the fifty escapees killed were Australians. Their ashes were buried in the Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery.

Ronald Baines: Fighter Pilot, prisoner and survivor. (From ANZAC Day Sunday 25 April 2021 Leaflet Compliments of Greg Piper MP Independent Member for Lake Macquarie). Republished with the permission of the author.

 

Ronald Baines: Fighter Pilot, prisoner and survivor
By Richard Baines.

[Originally published in ANZAC Day Sunday 25 April 2021 Leaflet Compliments of Greg Piper MP Independent Member for Lake Macquarie. Republished with the permission of the author.]

As war broke out my father Ron Baines initially joined the militia in Melbourne, his role then being a truck driver.

Finding it all too boring and far from the war front, he joined the RAAF. During the RAAF interview, Ron stated he wanted to fly, go to Britain and look after the ‘Mother Country’. He soon got his wish!

Under the Empire Air Training scheme he learned to fly in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and was then sent to Britain to be endorsed on Spitfires. This took place initially in north Wales and he later joined a Spitfire Squadron near London.

When German general Erwin Rommel was becoming a concern in North Africa, select Air Force personnel were summoned to form the so called ‘Desert Air Force’, Ron being one of them.

My father soon adapted quickly to rough living in Libya, joining a mixed British Squadron of Hurricanes in support of allied armies.

Not long after arriving in Libya, Ron, and 11 others were on a ground strafing mission, encountering intense enemy ground fire as they rose over a large sand hill and fort-like structure. The Germans shot down three Hurricanes in the process, one of which plunged into the ground, the other two performing ‘wheels up’ landings some distance away and becoming POW’s in the process.

My father often said he was shooting at the Germans and was peeved that they were actually shooting back!

Ron landed (unbeknown to him at the time) in a mine field and walked away from his burning aircraft at the behest of some very angry Germans. He wondered why they weren’t coming to get him, then realised the situation on seeing a sign. On a single strand of barbed wire, the sign said ‘achtung minen’

My father, after initial interrogation by the senior ‘Africa Corps’ officer, was dispatched to Germany on 18 November 1942. The aircraft transporting him ran out of fuel within site of the Italian coast.

The aircraft made an ungainly crash landing, just making landfall and thus avoiding a water landing. This ended a period of two crash landings in one day for Ron.

Watercolour painting from Ronald Baines’ War Diary, painted by his Australian friend, Norman Newell (Bill) Amos. (Attribution thanks to Dr Kristen Alexander)

The journey as a POW through Italy to Germany started then onto Sagan (technically Southern Poland) to his ‘home’ for the next three years, Stalag Luft Ill.

This camp features in Paul Brickhill’s book and the movie ‘The Great Escape’.

Ron adjusted as best he could to life as a POW, involving himself in the camp orchestra, theatres and plays, reading books and playing sport – anything to fill in time, including his part in the tunneling systems evolving at the time. Life was mostly a misery, highlighted only by news from the Front from incoming POWs, the occasional letters from home and if you were lucky the receival of Red Cross parcels was a great morale booster.

The people involved in tunneling were known as the ‘Tally Ho’ boys of which my father was involved to an extent, keeping watch for German guards (ferrits) who may interrupt escape activities.

There were many tunnels, and attempted escapes of all descriptions but the foremost was the tunnel named ‘Harry’ (Tom, Dick and George were the other names) which was the most spectacular with an anticipated 250 people selected, given false papers and wearing civilian clothes were to escape on this particular night.

“To Prisoners of War! This notice was pinned up on all camp noticeboards in September 1944, by German Authorities.”

As fate would have it, a guard outside the compound noticed steam emanating from the crowded tunnel thus ending the attempt. The day after, Ron somehow upset the already infuriated Germans and with other POWs was sent to the cooler (solitary confinement) for his effort. Ron’s POW diary is a fascinating record of life in the camp – the lack of food, deep depression of not being part of the war effort, a feeling of guilt, not knowing when the war will end, missing loved ones, the list goes on.

Australian “Kriegies” N. Compound. Stluft 3, Sagan, ANZAC Day 1944 (Click for a larger size)

Humour however was displayed frequently in his and many others’ log books and diaries, making light of their plight behind the wire. As the war was close to an end, Hitler demanded all allied prisoners be marched to more western parts of Europe away from potential Russian hands.

 

They trudged wearily on for weeks, stopping when the war finally came to its end in 1945.

Ronald Baines with wife, Irene

Ron met my mum in Britain during his time there, mum being a WREN. They had married in Alexandra in Egypt and three weeks later Ron was a POW. Ron returned to Rhodesia after the war with his new bride, raising three children there, and returned to Australia in 1952.

Ron lived for 84 years.

An Aussie in Stalag 111 By Flight Lieutenant Ron Baines. (Ref: Baines, Ronald, ‘An Aussie in Stalag Luft 111’, Wings. Official Publication of the RAAF Association, Vol. 43, No. 4, Summer, December 1991, pp. 15–17. Thanks Dr Kristen Alexander)

Dr Kristen Alexander adds that the Tally Ho organisation was the name of the escape organisation run by the British (and Commonwealth/Dominions) non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in Centre Compound before they were transferred elsewhere in June/July 1943 so it could become an American compound. The NCOs took the name with them and established the Tally Ho organisation in Stalag Luft VI. The escape organisation in North Compound was called the X Organisation, or X.

One hundred and sixty airmen were selected for the March 1944 escape, with forty in reserve. A total of 200, not 250.

From the war crimes questionnaire, which is part of the Dial material, Ronald and fellow prisoners left SLIII on 27 January 1945 and arrived at Marlag Milag Nord on 4 February 1945.

“Those Kriegie Blues”

We thank Richard and the Baines Family for their permission to make digitally accessible this important wartime log to the wider research communities. We also thank Dr Kristen Alexander for her generous assistance in checking facts and references and providing further contextual information (see below) with regards to this wartime log. It’s much appreciated.

Gionni Di Gravio, OAM
University Archivist, and Chair HLH

 

STOP PRESS

18 June 2021. Thanks to John Carr, (Heritage Consultant in 2020 to the City of Newcastle for the Master Gunners Quarter at Shepherds Hill), who directed us to this news regarding the unearthing of the Great Escape Tunnel. Read more here: The Great Escape Tunnel (1MB PDF File)

Please note: Dr Kristen Alexander adds that the bulk of this unattributed article is from the UK Daily Mail, 21 November 2011: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2064068/Tunnel-time-Revealed-67-years-passage-used-Great-Escape.html and that article is misleading in itself as archaeologists have been publishing about the site for some years from at least 2007 to 2009.
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Some brief notes on Ronald Baines’ wartime logbook, by Dr Kristen Alexander.    

Often called diaries, wartime log books are much more than (and often not) a day-by-day account of captivity. Provided by the British, American and Canadian Young Men’s Christian Associations, they are personal narratives unique to the European captivity experience. Containing photographic and artistic images, news clippings, observations, lists of recordings listened to, books read, and films watched, poetry, literary extracts, and recipes, wartime log books are similar to commonplace books and, as such, are different from the log books in which airmen recorded operational sorties and training flights. While many, like Ronald Baines’ include diaries, these are often written in retrospect in the latter days of captivity.

Many wartime log book drawings highlight the humorous aspects of captivity, demonstrating the importance of humour in coping with indefinite confinement. Ronald’s satirical take page 86 of how he fell into captivity, is a perfect example of how some men turned the humiliation of capture into a joke.

As well as being personal records of captivity, many wartime log books, including Ronald’s, include contributions by fellow prisoners. Men passed the books around, drawing pictures in other book, or copying images, or poems. The drawing of a frustrated airman on page 83, reveals that writing in other men’s books was not always easy! A popular quotation, extracted from Winston Churchill’s 1939 memoir My Early Life and repeated in many wartime log books, including Ronald’s, referred to captivity as a ‘melancholy state’. The airmen identified with Churchill who was a prisoner of war in 1899.

This sharing around means that wartime log books serve as communal as well as personal records of captive life – and friendships. Analysis of a broad range of wartime log books reveals many common interests such as food and rations, and the camp theatre and musical productions they attended. They also reveal their fears of how captivity will affect their future lives. Ronald’s cartoon on page 91, jokes that the enforced domesticity in camp (the men had to do their own washing, cleaning and cooking) would continue into his future marital life. This a personal worry, but taken collectively, similar images illustrate that many of the airmen felt that capture and captivity threatened their masculinity.

Page 37 of Ronald’s wartime log book features the names of those who were killed by the Germans after the Great Escape. This, of course, is a personal grief response but taken along with similar entries in other wartime logbooks, it highlights how deeply affected Ronald and his friends were when they heard of the deaths of fifty of their comrades. The annotation at the bottom of the page refers to the interment of the Fifty’s ashes in the prisoners’ memorial – the vault – located in the nearby cemetery. The 15-minute service was attended by only thirty of the dead airmen’s friends.

The centre pages of each wartime log book were reserved for photographs. Sadly, many on Ronald’s are now missing. Still remaining, however, are some of his wife, Irene, who he missed desperately. Ronald’s diary entries refer to his love of his wife, but also the insecurity of a newly-wed who had spent so little time with his bride during and after their whirlwind courtship. Would she still love him? Did she understand him? The pencil drawing by an unknown artist of a ‘Popsie’ reflects Ronald’s sexual tension at being apart from his wife. The collage on page 95 entitled ‘Those Kriegie Blues’ shows how captivity depression was so often based on missing loved ones. ‘Kriegie’, derives from the German Kriegsgefangener – war prisoner, and it is how the airmen prisoners referred to themselves.

That wartime log books exist at all is a small miracle. After Stalag Luft III was evacuated in the final days of January 1945, ‘the airmen could carry little more than what they could fit in a backpack or a hastily constructed sled, such as that illustrated by Australian Bill Fordyce, on page 35. Food was the priority. As they slogged for days through snow, then thaw, with scanty rations, many discarded weighty extras.

Hunter Living Histories is fortunate to be able to preserve Ronald Baines’ wartime log book in digital form, as so few are held even in private hands, let alone public archives.

For those interested in learning more about these precious records of captivity, they can view other digitised wartime log books created by Australian and British prisoners of war:

The Australian War Memorial has digitised that created by artist Gilbert Docking https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1237159

The Bomber Command Digital Archive has digitised Les Rutherford’s. https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/2224

That of Roger Johnson, of the RNVR, is archived by the University of Queensland https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:332656

 

Dr Kristen Alexander, a visiting fellow at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNSW Canberra, who also works as a research assistant to Dr Kate Ariotti, ARC DECRA Fellow, Centre for the Study of Violence, School of Humanities and Social Science at The University of Newcastle (UON)) has studied the Australian airmen of Stalag Luft III for some years. She drew extensively on personal evidence created by the airmen, including wartime log books, such as Ronald Baines’. In 2020 she was awarded her doctorate for her thesis, ‘Emotions of Captivity: Australian Airmen Prisoners of Stalag Luft III and their Families’. https://www.unsworks.unsw.edu.au/primo-explore/fulldisplay/unsworks_73539/UNSWORKS

Dr Alexander discusses life in Stalag Luft III, particularly the airmen’s program of active disruption, including escape, and how the airmen reacted to the deaths of the Great Escapers in ‘Winning the “battle of the wits” in the barbed-wire battleground: Australian airmen of Stalag Luft III’. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot an image from page 103 of Ronald Baines’ wartime log book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wI_76GjmrmM

Dr Alexander has also compiled a blog about life in Stalag Luft III, based on her research. https://australiansinsliii.blogspot.com

She explores the airmen’s grief for those killed after the Great Escape in https://australiansinsliii.blogspot.com/2021/03/grieving-great-escapers.html

Another post focuses on a common image repeated throughout many wartime log books, including on page 93 in Ronald Baines’ wartime log book.  

https://australiansinsliii.blogspot.com/2017/12/i-wanted-wings-donald-duck-prisoner-of.html


Thank you Dr Kristen Alexander

Richard Baines speaks about his father Ronald Prior Baines diary at Hunter Living Histories meeting 2 August 2021. Ronald Prior Baines was a R.A.A.F. Prisoner of War.

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