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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Monday, January 27, 2014

Historical Tidbit: Horace Greasley in WWII

Horace Greasley     Source
Do you know...who POW Horace Greasely is?

Horace Greasely was an Englishman who fought in World War II and was taken prisoner in France, marched across the country, and held in a Polish prison camp. Greasely, with the help of a ghost writer, began writing his memoirs in 2008 and published them under the title, Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell

In the book, Greasley tells of having an affair with a German girl who interpreted for his captors in the prison camp. He claims he sneaked out of the camp more than two hundred times to see her, and then simply sneaked back in. Often, he would bring things back for his fellow prisoners, such as food or radio parts. Eventually he managed to bring the BBC news to 3,000 prisoners daily.

He also claimed to be the unidentified soldier in a famous World War II picture, standing defiantly against Heinrich Himmler. 

After the book came out, Greasely was accused of both lying and sensationalizing his experiences. His critics claimed that the type of camp he was interred in wasn't heavily locked down in the same fashion as concentration camps and other prison camps, and that having the soldiers leave and come back was actually quite common. Many sources also claim that he couldn't be the soldier in the picture, despite the striking resemblance. And then there are the critics of the book itself, which apparently has quite a bit of gratuitous sex in it. For being a book of World War II memoirs, some people didn't like that.

For me, I don't see that it makes a huge difference. No one but Greasley can say for sure whether he's telling the truth. Maybe he embellished his experiences. Maybe not. For a World War II veteran who spent time in a Polish prison camp, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He went through trials and made sacrifices most of us can't even conceive of. Even if he was just looking for fifteen minutes of fame (he passed away in February of 2010) why not give it to him? He surely earned it. I haven't read his memoirs, though I'd like to now, so I don't have an opinion on the book itself.

This story caught my attention for two reasons. 1) The affair with the German girl. He didn't marry her or anything, but it does sound like something of a die hard love story. 2) The photo of him defying Henrich Himmeler, who was second in command to Hitler. Even if it isn't true, I deal in historical fiction, right? And I think this would make one heck of a story. 

What do you think? Is this story good fodder for historical fiction? Do you think Greasely was telling the truth?


  1. That image of him confronting Hitler is so powerful. It would definably make a gripping story.

  2. Oh I think all these little history morsels feed the imagination. They fascinate me. Yes, is it all true? Who knows, but sure would make for a great story. I agree.