Family honours a Great Escape war hero

Last updated 05:00 08/04/2014

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A Taihape war hero has been honoured in the town 70 years after he was executed by the Nazis for his part in the "The Great Escape".

The remembrance of John Porokoru Patapu Pohe at Opaea Marae was organised by his brother Kawana Paipai Whatarangi Raupoama Pohe.

John Pohe was the first Maori pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

He flew 22 bombing missions over occupied Europe on his first tour of duty in World War II.

Nicknamed "Lucky Johnny", Pohe was targeting industrial sites in Hanover in August 1943 when his Halifax aircraft was damaged.

He ditched his plane in the English Channel and was captured.

He was imprisoned at Stalag Luft 3, 160 kilometres southeast of Berlin on the Polish border, which held about 10,000 prisoners at the height of its occupation.

An escape committee was formed in the spring of 1943 and Pohe contributed to its planning, using skills he acquired growing up on a farm north of Taihape.

On the night of March 24, 1944, about 200 prisoners attempted to escape through one of three tunnels that had been dug, but only 76, including Pohe, managed to get out before guards were alerted.

Seventy-three men were recaptured, including Pohe, and his life came to an end in front of a German firing squad.

The prisoners' bid for freedom was immortalised in the 1963 Hollywood movie The Great Escape. In New Zealand, Pohe's story was told in a documentary, Turangaarere, Born to Fly.

On Sunday his brother Kawana Pohe introduced a screening of the documentary, and family involved in its making told younger relatives about their "war hero" uncle and cousin.

Exhibits from the Paraparaumu Museum of Aviation were displayed and may contribute to a permanent exhibition in Taihape.

"I think the display deserves to be here in Taihape, it would be a valuable addition for the museum," said Hari Benevides, a niece of John Pohe. 

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- Taranaki Daily News

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