Tom Cullen made an incredible escape from Stalag XXA near Torun in northern Poland
RAF doctor Tom Cullen traversed a frozen lake, scaled a barbed wire fence and then sailed to safety at the height of the Second World War.
The war hero’s decision to relive his dramatic dash to freedom from Stalag XXA near Torun in northern Poland comes days after he turned 100.
Mr Cullen was incarcerated after he was captured during fierce fighting in Maleme , Crete, in 1941.
The modest great grandfather of Colchester, Essex, only recently opened up to his stunned family about his incredible escape.
He said: “It became known that if people could get out of the camp there would be Poles that would help them get out of the country.
“I was asked by another prisoner and I thought I’d give it a go and I did.
War hero RAF doctor Tom Cullen
"I don’t know if you feel nervous, we were a bit excited – there was just nothing we could do about it once we were out.
I don’t know if you feel nervous, we were a bit excited
RAF doctor Tom Cullen
"It was likely the Germans would shoot us on sight, which they did sometimes.”
He and army officer John Grieg hatched a plan with Red Cross workers to escape in 1944 enlisting others in the non-combatant camp who helped stitch mock-Polish clothes for them.
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Stalag XXA in Torun, Poland, from where the daring doctor made his dash to freedom
While a riot distracted guards the soldiers walked across a frozen moat with a ladder and scaled an 8ft barbed wire-topped metal fence.
A resistance driver took them to the coast and they eventually made it to Gdynia , near Gdansk, where they had one last risk to take.
They hid in the hold of a coal ship for five gruelling days until they arrived in Malmo in neutral Sweden where they were handed to the police and then passed to the British ambassador who got them back to Britain.
Recalling his original capture by German paratroopers he said: “We all knew the invasion was coming, we didn’t know what it would be like.
“We all thought we probably get killed, the whole campaign in Crete was a complete mess up.
“When the Germans came and I had to put my hands up, you have to if they are pointing guns at you.
“I was taken to a barn and I had to try and do what I could for the wounded, I didn’t have any equipment though.
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“I just had to get on with it, there was no way out. Even if you hadn’t done the operations before, you just had to deal with the war wounds as best you could.”
Although his memory is failing Mr Cullen – who reached the rank of squadron leader with 33 Squadron – vividly remembers his very own “Colditz”.
He said: “It just looked like an old fort surrounded by a moat, it was partly underground.
“The Germans just had us locked up and provided us some food as best they could and that was that.
Torun in northern Poland
“Time went slowly though, it was boring. There was nothing to do but play bridge with three others every day”.
Back in Britain he was sent to RAF Halton where he met his wife Catherine Mary Lockerbie.
Mr Cullen is a father of four children, 11 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren and forged a career as a surgeon. His wife died in 2006.
He received the MBE Military honour for “devotion to duty and courage of the highest order”.