Keith's Great Escape

World War II veteran Keith Thiele is humble about his adventure escaping from a prisoner of war camp.
World War II veteran Keith Thiele is humble about his adventure escaping from a prisoner of war camp.

By PATRICIA COATS

KEITH Thiele laughes at the idea he could be compared to Steve McQueen in the classic movie The Great Escape.

But the New Zealand pilot's story of escaping from a German prisoner of war (POW) camp during World War II is far more fascinating than fiction.

Mr Thiele, who settled in Bundaberg a few years ago, was bombing trains and transport vehicles in Germany for the Royal Air Force when he was shot down in 1945.

"I landed about 200 yards away from 200 Germans waiting for a train - you could wait for a train for 10 days to two weeks in Germany at that time,'' Mr Thiele said.

"Theirs had just come into view and I'd clobbered it.''

But this unfortunate turn of events did not cause Mr Thiele major concern - two months later he was back in England after having sneaked out of his POW camp, stolen a motorbike and ridden into Allied territory.

MR Thiele was 18 when he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1939, and after training in England he was seconded to the RAF.

By 24 he had received the Distinguished Service Order once and the Distinguished Flying Cross with two bars.

Although the POW camp was manned by a couple of German guards Mr Thiele and friend Terry Spencer had no problems escaping.

"We were worried about the retreating SS troops, we'd heard they were killing all the prisoners they found,'' he said.

So they sneaked out of the compound and down to the local village, where they took a motorbike and headed west.

"I had this little compass that fit just right between my toes and I had managed to keep it through all the searches,'' Mr Thiele said.

Mr Thiele eventually made it back to his base in Holland, surprising his mates.

"It was about six o'clock and I walked into the bar and slapped my CO on the back and said 'how 'bout you buy me a drink','' he said.

As one of New Zealand's most highly decorated airmen Mr Thiele received the salute of the Anzac parade in Bundaberg yesterday.


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