A historic Rolex Chronograph and medals of a WW2 RAF Officer shot by the Gestapo in 1944 have been sold for over £160,000 in Bourne End. The items, originally belonging to Flt Lieutenant John F Williams, were sold at the Bourne End Auction Rooms on Station Approach on 2 December, 2015 for £165,000. Its RAF owner was executed by the Gestapo for daring to take part in the “Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III. Flt Lieutenant Williams was one of 50 soldiers executed by the Gestapo under Hitler’s orders following the Great Escape in 1944.
Flt/Lt John Francis Williams, known as ‘Jack’ was the 67th Allied Officer to escape through tunnel ‘Harry’ during the Great Escape in March 1944. He was also one of the 50 selected and executed by the Gestapo on Hitler’s direct orders. Jack’s Rolex was ordered whilst he was a Prisoner of War in Stalag Luft III and sent to him in the camp. It was returned to his family by a fellow POW Officer after the war.
In the auction were sold the watch, a fine and rare 1940s black dialled ROLEX Oyster Chronograph wristwatch, together with its original guarantee card, and other personal effects including: his WW2 medals, “Mentioned in Despatches” Oak leaf, Irvin Gold Caterpillar Club pin, RAF brevets, correspondence from Stalag Luft III POW camp, personal, original, wartime photographs and other related MOD and RAFA letters and copies of newspaper cuttings from the time...
After many months of meticulous preparation, Flight Lieutenant ‘Jack’ Williams finally tasted freedom as he fled through the Silesian pine forest on a bitter cold night in March 1944. He and 75 other Prisoners of War had just taken part in, what was later called, the “Great Escape”. None of them could have known what fate had in store for them.
P/O ‘Jack’ Williams, front row, third from left in East Compound, Stalag Luft III. Top left is Sqdn Ldr C N S (Ken) Campbell DFC of 403 Squadron who was taken prisoner the same day as Jack. His Spitfire was involved in a mid air collision over the French coast with his wing man, H P Duval, who was killed in the incident. They were on bomber escort duty at the time. Photo c.1942
Seventy six allied officers escaped before the tunnel was discovered but only 3 made it to freedom. Following a vast manhunt, the rest were slowly apprehended including Jack. No one was prepared for what happened next. The sheer size and audacity of the escape enraged Hitler so much that he ordered the Gestapo to execute all the recaptured prisoners. After pressure from his senior officers and for fear of reprisals against German POWs, this number was reduced to 50. Unfortunately for Jack, he was one of those ‘chosen’ for execution. Of those 50, 26 were RAF officers, of which 21 were British, with the rest made up of 11 different Nationalities. As the POWs were captured, they were taken to the formidable Gestapo Interrogation Centre at Görlitz. Witnesses stated that, after interrogation, they were seen being taken out in small groups and put into trucks with a heavy Gestapo armed guard. A few of these groups were returned to Stalag Luft III but most were taken to several remote locations and gunned down in cold blood. Their bodies were then immediately cremated to hide the evidence. Flt/Lt John F Williams was murdered by unknown Gestapo agents on 6th April 1944 and cremated at Breslau. His ashes, along with the 49 others, were returned to the camp where they were interred in a memorial just outside the camp, built in their honour by fellow POW officers. Their execution contravened the Geneva Convention and was deemed a war crime. Those responsible were tried after the war at the Curiohaus in Hamburg and 13 of the perpetrators were sentenced to death.
The Memorial dedicated to the Executed Allied Officers which originally contained their ashes. This photo taken shortly after the war (probably by Jack’s father) shows it after being damaged by advancing Russian troops, or the retreating German army in 1945.The RAF Eagle that adorned the front had been stolen and some urns broken. It has since been restored and the urns moved to the official war grave in Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery.