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Cenotaph Record
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Full Name
Arnold George Christensen
Rank Last Held
Flight Lieutenant
Forename(s)
Arnold George
Surname
Christensen
War
World War II, 1939-1945
Serial No.
NZ413380
Gender
Male
Date of Birth
8 April 1922
Place of Birth
Hastings, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Next of Kin
Mrs L. Christensen (mother), 813 Dufferin Street, Hastings, New Zealand
Marital Status
Single
Enlistment Address
Hastings, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Body on Embarkation
Royal New Zealand Air Force
Other Units
Attached Royal Air Force
Campaigns
Europe
Military Awards
  • 1939-1945 Star
  • Defence Medal
  • War Medal 1939-1945
  • New Zealand War Service Medal
  • Mentioned in Despatches (MiD)
Award Circumstances
MiD citation: In recognition of distinguished service and devotion to duty. Awarded posthumously for his escape from Stalag Luft III POW camp on 24/25 March 1944.
POW Action prior to Capture
Pilot in support of Operation Jubilee, Dieppe, France (the Dieppe Raid), shot down.
POW Date of Capture
19 August 1942
POW Place of Capture
France
POW Camps
Stalag Luft III
Last Unit Served
Royal New Zealand Air Force, 26 Squadron, RAF
Place of Death
Germany
Date of Death
29 March 1944
Age at Death
21
Year of Death
1944
Cause of Death
Shot by the Gestapo after escaping from Stalag Luft III POW Camp
Cemetery Name
Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Poland
Grave Reference
Collective grave No. 9, A.
Biographical Notes
  • On the night of 24 March 1944 he escaped from Stalag Luft III in the Great Escape. Using a tunnel named Harry (it was the third attempt - the Germans had discovered Tom and Dick), 220 men attempted to escape, but the tunnel had come up short of the trees they were heading for, and only 76 men got clear.
  • He was one of the 50 recaptured airmen shot by the Gestapo on the orders of Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany. Three of those executed were from New Zealand: Flight Lieutenant Christensen (NZ413380), Flying Officer Porokoru Pohe (NZ402894) and New Zealand born Squadron Leader John Williams (40652), an Australian citizen serving with the Royal Air Force. Of the other 23 men recaptured, 15 were returned to Stalag Luft III and 8 were held in concentration camps. Only three of the original 76 escaped POWs got completely away to England.
  • Flight Lieutenant Christensen's escape attempt almost succeeded. After travelling several hundred kilometres across hostile enemy territory, whose citizens were on the alert for the escaped airmen, he was recaptured and shot with three companions close to the border of Germany and neutral Denmark.
  • When news of the executions reached England the British Government resolved to bring the culprits to justice once the war had ended. However by the time the hunt for those responsible started, Hitler and most of the other high ranking Nazi officials were dead. Ultimately several Gestapo officers were executed or imprisoned for this war crime.
  • An article in the Herald on 22 May 1944 reads as follows: THREE NEW ZEALANDERS - TRIBUTE TO BRAVE MEN Wellington, Saturday
  • "The acting Prime Minister, the Hon. D.G. Sullivan, stated today that the Government had been advised that among the air officers who had been shot in Germany were two members of the RNZAF, Flying Officer Porokoru Patapu (John) Pohe, of Taihape, and Flight-Lieutenant Arnold George Christensen, of Hastings, as well as one other New Zealander, Acting-Squadron-Leader J.E.A. Williams, whose next-of-kin is in Australia, and who was serving with the RAF. In every case the next-of-kin had been informed of the position."
  • "The Government is deeply shocked at the incident" said Mr Sullivan, "and I join with all citizens of New Zealand in expressing sympathy to the next-of-kin of these brave men who, served by a strong sense of duty, were making every effort to escape and rejoin their colleagues in the fight against Nazi tyranny."
  • Because of the number of POWs involved and the tragic aftermath, the Stalag Luft III escape is a well documented part of World War 2 history. Popularly known as "The Great Escape" it has been the subject of books and a 1963 Hollywood movie.
  • The men were shot, then cremated and later their ashes reburied at Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Poland.
Description of Image
  • Portrait Arnold George Christensen (NZ413380), (kindly provided by Howard Buxton 2013)
  • Portrait, Arnold George Christensen (NZ413380), Weekly News
  • Group, WW2, Air Force Class, Canada, including Arnold George Christensen (NZ413380) back, the young short man 7th from the right, (kindly provided by Howard Buxton 2013)
  • Headstone, Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Poland (kindly provided by Howard Buxton 2013)
  • Howard Buxton, 2nd cousin, at the grave of Arnold George Christensen (NZ413380), Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Poland, September 2013
  • Graves, including Arnold George Christensen (NZ413380), 4th from left, Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Poland (kindly provided by Howard Buxton 2013)
  • View, Cross of Sacrifice and graves, Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, Poland (kindly provided by Howard Buxton 2013)
  • A memorial in the forest of Zagan, Poland. Memorial Cross and dedication: "This memorial was erected by the prisoners of the Allied Air Forces in honoured memory of their comrades who died at Stalag Luft III during the war AD 1939-1945. Per ardua ad astra" (1996).
  • Memorial, wide view, three stone plaques, commemorating those who escaped and were shot when recaptured by the Germans, in the forest of Zagan, Poland. (1996)
  • Memorial, detail, showing the three stone plaques commemorating those who escaped and were shot when recaptured by the Germans. Three of them were New Zealanders: Flight Lieutenant Arnold George Christensen (NZ13380), Flying Officer Porokoru Patapu (John) Pohe and Acting Squadron Leader J.E.A. Williams. (1996)
  • Mrs Florence (daughter of Neil Hyland Svendsen RAF 40327) and her family outside the Museum of Allied Prisoners of War, Zagan, Poland. (1996)
  • Mrs Florence (daughter of Neil Hyland Svendsen RAF 40327) and family inside the Museum of Allied Prisoners of War, Zagan, Poland. (1996)
  • Model of the prisoner of war camp, Stalag Luft 3, in the Museum of Allied Prisoners of War, Zagan, Poland. (1996)
  • Mrs Florence (daughter of Neil Hyland Svendsen RAF 40327) pointing out the hut from which famous escape tunnel was dug; dramatised in the movie "The Great Escape". Museum of Allied Prisoners of War, Zagan, Poland. (1996)
  • Information display at the Museum of Allied Prisoners of War, Zagan, Poland, with photographs of 4 executed for escaping, one is the New Zealander Arnold George Christensen (NZ413380), (note that the caption name James is incorrect). 1996.
  • Close-up of the Information display at the Museum of Allied Prisoners of War, Zagan, Poland, with photograph of the New Zealander Arnold George Christensen, (note that the caption name James is incorrect). 1996.
  • Detail, Arnold George Christensen (NZ413380) (who is named incorrectly) dressed for the escape, display at the Museum of Allied Prisoners of War, Zagan, Poland.
Additional Information
  • Next of kin details compiled from information in the Casualty lists published in the newspapers.
  • The information on the display relating to the Great Escape at the Museum of Allied Prisoners of War, Zagan, Poland in 1996 contained errors for Christensen - both his name and nationality did not conform with details supplied by the New Zealander who returned nor with the information in the New Zealand Herald of 22 May 1944.
  • Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery was originally called Schneidemuhl Prisoners of War Cemetery.
  • Mrs Florence, daughter of Neil Hyland Svendsen (RAF 40327) a POW in Stalag Luft III, visited Poland in 1996 with her family. Her photographs on this Cenotaph record, relate to the experience and remembrance of the POWs imprisoned there.
Further References
Sources Used
  • Martyn, E. (1998-2008). For Your Tomorrow (Vols. 1-3). Christchurch: Volplane Press.
  • Hanson, C. (2001). By such deeds: honours and awards in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, 1923-1999. Christchurch, Volplane Press.
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission. URL: http://www.cwgc.org
  • New Zealand Herald
  • Weekly News, 1944
  • Evening Post (Wellington)
  • Papers Past. Digital New Zealand Newspapers.

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