Bio / Text:
Charles Piers Egerton Hall (service number 50896) was a Spitfire pilot with 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) at RAF Benson. He was born on 25 July 1918 at Edgebaston, Kings Norton, Staffordshire, Son of Aubrey and Marcella Egerton-Hall.
He enlisted into the RAF on 11 February 1935 as a photographer, serving at RAF Halton until 16 April 1941.
On 17 April 1941 he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the General Duties Branch, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves. At this moment there is no information known to us about his flight training.
After completing his training Charles was stationed at RAF Benson with 1 PRU.
On 16 December 1941 Charles flew with Spitfire PR.IV AB120 for his first operational Photographic Reconnaissance flight. The particulars of flight read: Airborne Base 10.45. Set course for Southwold arrived 11.25. Set course for IJmuiden - Amsterdam - Zwolle - Hilversum - Amersfoort - Haarlem. Height 23,500 ft. Photographs taken, returned Base landed 14.15.
On 17 December 1941 Charles flew again with Spitfire PR.IV AB120 for his second operational flight. The particulars of flight are difficult to read, as far as we can determine it reads: Airborne Base (11.45). Set course for Southwold, climbed 25,000 ft, arrived Southwold, set course for Kiel. 10/10 cloud all over North Sea. Enemy coast crossed at ?. Set course for ? climbed 23,000 ft. About to turn back when I observed two enemy aircraft coming from south-east direction. I returned to Base, landed 14.25.
On 28 December 1941 Charles flew with Spitfire PR.IV AA804 for his third operational flight. His targets to photograph were Dusseldorf and Essen. Take off at Benson was at 10.40 but on the way to or from Germany something went wrong. The aircraft developed an engine problem while overflying the Netherlands (which was occupied by Germany). It is unknown if it was a mechanical failure or due to ground fire, but the result was that the engine could not keep AA804 in the air and Charles had to use his parachute over the Dutch city of Bergen op Zoom. The aircraft crashed east of the city in a forest at 14.05.
Charles was arrested by German soldiers and eventually sent to Stalag Luft III, a prisoner of war camp near the town of Sagan (now Żagań in Poland). We have no information about his route to and stay in SL3 until 24 March 1944.
In the night from 24 to 25 March 1944 76 POW’s escape through a tunnel they dug from a barrack underneath other buildings and the fence. This escape is now known as the Great Escape. This was a huge undertaking by the prisoners. A 300 feet long tunnel was dug, uniforms were altered and coloured to look like civilian clothes, fake identifications and travel permits were fabricated. The plan was for 200 prisoners to escape and fan out over Germany. The first 100 were chosen from the 600 men who worked on the escape plan and could speak German the best. The other 500 prisoners drew numbers to determine number 101-200.
Charles didn’t draw a number. Geoffrey Cornish was number 8 but he changed his mind, with his medical background he was needed in the POW hospital, Charles took his place as number 57.
The escape went much slower than planned. There was an air raid alarm which made all lights turned off in the camp, including the lights in the tunnel. Some prisoners had bulky luggage with them and had trouble going through the tunnel and some even damaged the tunnel which had to be repaired. When prisoner number 80 tried to leave the tunnel one of the guards saw something suspicious and walked to the tunnel exit to investigate. The tunnel was discovered and four men were caught before they could get away. 76 prisoners were now on their way to escape.
Only three escapees made it to safety (2 Norwegians and one Dutchman), 73 men were captured again, Charles among them. They were sent to Görlitz prison for questioning by the Gestapo.
On 30 March, F/Lt Charles Hall along with F/Lt Arnošt Valenta, F/O Wlodzimierz Kolanowski, F/Lt Brian Evans, F/O Robert ‘Bob’ Stewart, F/Lt Cyril Swain, F/Lt George McGill, F/Lt Patrick Langford, F/Lt Edgar Humphreys and F/O Henry ‘Hank’ Birkland were loaded onto an army truck. Accompanied by an escort of cars, they were driven away.
The escapees remaining at Görlitz assumed that the ten were being returned to SL3. They didn’t know that an enraged Hitler had ordered that all of the captured escapees were to be shot. Only after Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler convinced Hitler that this would damage Germany’s relations with neutral countries, Hitler changed his order, directing that 50 be executed. The ten were never seen alive again. On the road between Görlitz and Sagan, near the intersection of the Berlin-Breslau autobahn, the convoy stopped along the forest road and the ten POW’s were told to relieve themselves in the adjacent field. Emerging from the cars numerous Gestapo men also went into the field and shot the ten POW’s. The ten bodies were then loaded onto the truck and driven to the crematorium at Liegnitz. The staff at the crematorium were instructed that there was to be no record kept of these cremations. 50 of the 73 recaptured POW’s would be murdered by the Gestapo in similar fashion.
The POW’s at SL3 built a memorial. 50 urns with the ashes of the murdered airman were kept in the memorial until after the war when they were buried in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in Poznan, Poland.