THE Great Escape is known as one of the most iconic war stories in history.

Immortalised in the 1963 blockbuster starring Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough, this gripping tale tells the very real story of Allied soldiers’ daring escape from a Nazi prisoner of war camp.

Decades later, this remarkable story is making a resurgence as Warrington Museum & Art Gallery shines a light on a remarkable collection of letters to a soldier imprisoned in that very same camp.

Philip Jeffs, archives officer for Warrington Museum & Art Gallery, explained: “This year marks 76 years since that momentous escape and it also happens to be the year our visitor assistant Helen stumbled across three letters relating to the event in her personal archives.

“The letters are addressed to Captain The Reverend Eric Bertram Jones, Prisoner of War No. 2010 at the Stalag Luft III camp.

“They were composed by his sister Sally, who was at the time residing at 207 Manchester Road, near Clifton, on the outskirts of Manchester.”

These letters found their way to Warrington Museum & Art Gallery when they were given to visitor assistant Helen by her aunt, who lived a street down from Eric’s sister Sally, the author of the letters.

Warrington Guardian:

After reading the letters, Helen was eager to find out more and wanted to do a little more research into his experiences.

She said: “To be able to hold a genuine piece of history is so exciting. It has been a privilege to be able to read and share Eric’s letters.

“I have had these letters in my possession for quite a while now, and after reading them it prompted me to look further into Eric’s life.”

With the help of St Peter’s Church in Hale, Helen discovered all about Eric’s life; from his early years growing up in Liverpool to his ordination at Chester Cathedral and finally becoming Chaplain to the Forces during the Second World War.

Whilst stationed in North Africa, Jones was captured by the personal assistant to Field Marshal Rommel and was detained as a Prisoner of War in the Stalag Luft III camp, where he acted as Minister to the other POWs.

During his stay in the camp, Captain Reverend Jones was informed that Himmler had ordered that all sermons were to be vetted by the Commandant of the camp. When Jones refused the order, he was put into solitary confinement and beaten.

After The Great Escape, the recaptured prisoners of war were executed under Hitler’s orders.

Jones demanded to see the return of their bodies but only their ashes were returned.

However, he still ensured these remains received a Christian burial service.

After the war, officers of the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, who had all been Jones’s altar servers in the camp, presented him with a book, The Shape of Liturgy with all of their signatures in the flyleaf.

On arriving home, Jones went back to St Luke’s for a year before moving to St Peter's, in Hale, between 1946-1955.

After his final service on the 13th October 1955, Jones took up living at St John the Baptist, in Crewe.

There are numerous records of Jones having officiated at funeral services during his time in the camp.

One prisoner of war recorded his recollections of Eric, saying: “[He was] the most devoted of high churchmen, he even got me to [going to] confession and doing penances. I was one of his servers, which meant administering to his needs during the Holy Communion, sometime with a daily service”.

Helen’s research made way to a gripping tale of service and sacrifice; a tale that ensures the extraordinary story of an ordinary man goes down in history.

Helen continued: “As a history graduate and a keen historian, I have always been taught the importance of research.

“I believe that this teaches us that whenever we have the opportunity to do so, it is our duty to bring a piece of history back to life.”