20 May 2010

SORENSEN, Colin Frank (1922-2010) - Great Escape Survivor

SORENSEN, Colin Frank - (DDS) - World War II Veteran, RCAF - June 15, 1922 - February 5, 2010 - It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our father Frank Sorensen in his 87th year. Frank was born in Hjorring, Denmark and immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 17. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at age 18 and was eventually sent to Wales where he was trained on Spitfires to become a fighter pilot. He was wounded over Dieppe, but was able to ferry his Spitfire to home base where he survived the crash landing. Frank's Squadron was sent to North Africa to fight against Hitler's top General, Rommel, the Desert Fox. During a mission in April 1943, Frank failed to return to base. He had been shot down in Tunisia and crash landed behind enemy lines where he was taken prisoner and shipped off to a German POW camp called Stalag Luft III. He spent two years in the camp and took part in the Great Escape in March 1944. He was number 81, however number 76 was in the tunnel when the German guards discovered the escape. Of the 76 who escaped, only 3 reached freedom. Of the 73 captured, 50 were shot by the direct order of Hitler. In January 1945, the 10,000 Allied Officers of Stalag Luft III, being used as human shields against the advancing Russian Army were ordered to evacuate camp. The long march started in Sagan Germany, now part of Poland and ended with a much diminished company of prisoners eventually reaching an area east of Hamburg where they were intercepted by Allied Forces in May 1945. During the forced march, the men suffered through the coldest winter Europe had experienced in decades. They had only the clothes on their backs and had to forage for food once their supplies were exhausted. The German guards shot any who fell by the wayside, and had the POWs carry German flags to elicit friendly fire from the Allied forces. Once the prisoners were met by Allied tanks, the German guards readily surrendered. One guard gave Frank his Luger as his sign of surrender. Frank spent weeks recuperating in a hospital in Bouremouth, England and was repatriated to Canada in July 1945 at the age of 23. Frank met Betty Bodley on the tennis courts at Queen's University, Kingston and they were married in December 1946. Frank entered Dental College at the University of Toronto and graduated in 1951. He practiced dentistry for 38 years, starting his first practice in Leamington, Ontario, eventually settling in Kingston in 1954. Frank was an active member of the Kingston Barbershop Chorus for many years. He retired to Duncan, British Columbia in 1989 with his wife Betty, both returning to Kingston in 2007. Frank is survived by his wife, Betty and their three children Glenn, Stephen and Vicki. He will also be missed by his grandchildren Larissa, Erik, Nikita and Erika, and his brothers Ben and Wilfred and sister Eileen. A celebration of Frank's life will be held with friends and family at a later date.

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES, Part 1: F/L Gordon Arthur KIDDER (1914-1944) from St. Catherines, Ontario was one of the 50 shot and killed. F/L Kidder was part of Air Observers Course No.33 at No.2 Air Navigation School (ANS), Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick. It's nice to know more about one of the survivors, such as Mr. Sorensen.

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES, Part 2: Jack Harrison, a Scottish Great Escape survivor, died shortly after Mr. Sorensen. Mr Harrison, who was number 98 on the escape list, was in hut 104 waiting to go down the tunnel when the escape was noticed. He quickly burned his forged documentation in the stove and changed his clothing from a Siemens engineer back to a POW. Mr Harrison spent his last years at Erskine veterans' home in Renfrewshire along with his friend and fellow former Stalag Luft III prisoner Alex Lees, who died last year aged 97. Mr. Lees was a gardener at the camp who was responsible for getting rid of the soil from the tunnels.