WWII Great Escapes: Freedom Trails

WWII’s Great Escapes follows explorer and former Royal Marine Monty Halls on the path of the Freedom Trails. Tens of thousands of men and women staked their lives following these little-known routes through unknown, enemy territory and out of Nazi-occupied Europe. The Freedom Trails led to safety, but many were extremely perilous. To find and complete them required the help of local resistance fighters, who risked their own lives to save others.

Over four episodes, Monty retraces these extraordinary journeys, discovering what it took to escape and meeting the ordinary men and women who became heroes in the process. 

Episode 1. Slovenia
Monty heads to Slovenia to retrace one of the most daring, yet unknown, mass escapes of Allied prisoners during the Second World War, made possible only with the help and kindness of ordinary people.  He’s joined by Neil Churches, whose father Ralph escaped the Stalag 18D prison camp with a few friends, aided by local partisans. They returned just hours later and rescued over 80 fellow prisoners who had been left behind. The group travelled 150 miles through rough terrain – facing the elements, German patrols, ambush, and betrayal. 

Episode 2. Sulmona
Monty tells an incredible story of evasion and escape through unknown, hostile territory in central Italy. He follows the route taken by prisoner of war Len Harley, who spent months on the run before braving snow, ice, and Nazi patrols to escape over the mountains of the Majella. Along the way, Monty meets some of those who sheltered Allied servicemen at incredible risk to themselves. Len never forgot the ordinary people who put their lives on the line to protect him, and an emotional reunion takes places between Len and the woman who saved his life over seventy-five years ago.

Episode 3. Rossano 
Monty travels to Rossano in Northern Italy, a gathering point for escaped POWs after the Italian Armistice and the start of the Operation Galia exfiltration. His journey takes him over precipitous ridges of the Marble Mountains and through the formidable Gothic Line, following the route the SAS took after their successful mission. Monty meets up with some of the last local eye-witnesses to the operation, and with John Redhead, whose father, Tom, escaped from a POW camp after the Armistice. John has the chance to meet and thank the family who took Tom in, despite the incredible danger to themselves.  

Episode 4. The Pyrenees 
Monty treks one of the toughest and most famous trails out of Nazi-occupied France, taking him through the valleys and passes of the Pyrenees mountain range and into Spain. His route was part of an escape network that began in Paris and would have been fraught with danger – from German soldiers, the Vichy police, local informers, and the mountains themselves.  We also meet Bob Frost, who, aged just 19, made the treacherous crossing, and hear remarkable stories of bravery and defiance from the local people, who used their knowledge of the mountains to lead thousands like Bob to safety. 

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