Page last updated at 00:50 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Diary reveals Great Escape plot

By Richard Turner
BBC Manchester

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Ted Nestor's WWII diary is full of cartoons, diagrams and stories of his time in Stalag Luft III. The airman drew a map showing where he was shot down in Germany, his route to the camp in Poland and his journey home after release.
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Ted was billeted next to the hut used by 77 British and American officers who dug an escape tunnel, made famous by the film the Great Escape. He drew a diagram of their escape plan, which he referred to as the Spring Handicap.
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Ted's diary also displays a rich sense of humour, capturing what life was like as a prisoner of war. His sketches show how his fellow "Kriegies" survived and how they dreamed of and plotted their escape.
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One of the key ingredients to their survival was "Kriegie brew" - alcohol distilled from raisins taken from prisoners' Red Cross parcels. One of Ted's sketches shows the great care and effort that went into its creation.
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Coded plans for "The Great Escape" have been found in the diary of a World War II airman from Greater Manchester.

Ted Nestor was a prisoner of war (POW) at the camp where 77 Allied officers managed to dig a tunnel and escape.

His journal includes stories of camp life, cartoons and even a coded reference to the mass breakout.

Now, 20 years after his death, his daughter Sharon Cottam has visited Stalag Luft III in Poland and learned that her father was a war hero.

Ted Nestor

"My dad never talked about anything to do with the war when I was younger," said Ms Cottam, from Stockport.

"But I remember as a child picking up dad's diary and being fascinated by all these little drawings of planes and little stick figures and at that time, I didn't realise the significance of what my dad had done in the war."

With the help of BBC Inside Out North West, she embarked on an emotional journey to find out what her father did in the war.

On the night of 28 August 1943, Flt Lt Ted Nestor was on an RAF raid to bomb Nuremberg when the Stirling bomber he was navigating was shot down.

Despite suffering severe burns, he parachuted to safety but was soon captured and taken to Stalag Luft III, the POW camp made famous in the film The Great Escape.

Flt Lt Nestor was billeted in the hut next to the one where 77 British and other Allied officers worked secretly to dig a tunnel under the perimeter fence.

'The Spring Handicap'

"Dad talked about the escape in his diary but, obviously he wrote about it in code," explained Ms Cottam.

"He called it the start of "The Spring Handicap" and said there were "100 under starters' orders."

Extract from the diary about the escape plan

"Sadly, of the 77 who actually escaped, 50 were shot," she added.

Sharon Cottam
I just wish I could have taken dad back to camp, or just to sit and talk to him now and say just how incredibly proud I am of him
Sharon Cottam

"They cremated the bodies and brought the ashes back to camp and dad talks about that in his diary.

"You can tell it was a very sad time for all those who knew them."

There are lighter moments in the war diary, which is infused with a rich vein of humour and a sense of British "stiff upper lip".

The diary gives a colourful account of camp life including the bartering system called "Foodacco" and plays performed by his fellow "Kriegies" to entertain themselves.

He also kept meticulous records of the bitter cold they experienced in the Polish winter.

Extract from the diary about the cold weather

And he documented the effects of "Kriegie brew'"- a potent alcohol distilled from raisins taken from their Red Cross parcels ("Hell of a good Kriegie brew - passed out at 10.30pm").

Even the entry about his own capture by German troops is titled, "For You The War is Over!"

Extract from the diary about the end of the war

As part of the programme, Ms Cottam was taken to meet the last surviving member of her father's flight crew.

Howard Bailey - also known as Bill - was the crew's wireless operator and told her that, instead of quickly jumping to safety, Flt Lt Nestor went back to hand the pilot his parachute as he struggled with the controls.

"This whole journey for me, meeting up with Bill and going over to Poland, has absolutely brought dad's diary to life," said Ms Cottam.

"He saved somebody's life. I just wish I could have taken dad back to camp, or just to sit and talk to him now and say just how incredibly proud I am of him."

The story of Ted Nestor's War Diary is shown in two parts on Inside Out North West on BBC One at 1930 GMT on Monday 23 and 30 November 2009.

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