Joseph Horace Greasley, who was known as Horace, was a British soldier born on December 25, 1918, and was a participant in the Second World War. Horace became famous much later in life when he revealed his personal story of being in love during the war, and the lengths he went to in order to meet up with his love.
Horace was captured by German forces in May of 1940. According to his own account, he escaped from his prisoner of war camp more than two hundred times in order to meet up with the women with whom he had fallen in love. Each time he would escape to meet up with her, he would sneak back into his camp, never getting caught once (which was good, because getting caught even once may have meant being shot as an escapee).
He later wrote his own autobiography, which became a best seller. Horace also courted controversy for himself when he said that he was the prisoner of war staring at the infamous Heinrich Himmler who appeared in a famous photograph. The controversy was because the prisoner who Horace claimed to be was identified in other sources and by other people as a soldier from the Soviet Union.
In early 2008, Ken Scott, who was a ghostwriter, was introduced to Horace, who was eighty-nine years old at the time, to assist Horace in recording his memoirs. Horace was not able to do it himself at the time due to him suffering from extreme osteoarthritis. Ken finished typing up Horace’s notes and verbal remembrances of his adventures by the end of that year, and the book was published. Libros International was the publisher.
The book gives Horace’s personal account of his decision to go into the military and participate in the war, of his capture by the Germans, and the various struggles, near death experiences, and the brutality of the German SS soldiers while he was a prisoner of war. Most importantly, though, the book discusses Horace’s epic love affair during his time as a prisoner of war with a woman named Rosa Rauchbach, and how he escaped so many times to be with her. The book ends with Horace’s liberation from the prisoner of war camp.
When Horace died in 2010, his obituary published a photograph that it purported to be him, which it captioned “Greasley confronting Heinrich Himmler (wearing the spectacles) in the POW camp.” The photograph made its way around the world, with the same attribution being given to Horace as the soldier looking at Himmler. Yet, a man named Guy Walters came forward and asserted that the soldier in the picture was NOT Horace, but a Soviet soldier, and that the photo was taken in Minsk, which was then located in Nazi-occupied Belarus. Guy says the photograph is from a Nazi propaganda film, and that the soldier’s cap identifies him as a Soviet soldier. The photo is held by the US National Archives.
The controversy surrounding the photograph aside, Horace’s love story from his book is the true standout and highlight of his overall story, thanks primarily to its uniqueness. In fact, some people consider it one of the most incredible and astonishing love stories to come out of the Second World War.
According to Horace’s story, he would remove the wooden bars on his cell window most nights, then crawl under the wire fence that were around the camp to go meet with Rosa Rauchbach. Each night, he was, almost unbelievably, able to crawl back under the fence, put the bars back on his cell, and be where he was supposed to be when the guards came around to do their check of the prisoners in the morning. Considering the number of times he did it, it is astounding that he never got caught. But, for Horace, love won every time.
Horace first met Rosa when he was at a marble quarry at a labor camp for prisoners of war in Silesia. Silesia was a part of eastern Germany at the time, and Rosa worked as a translator there. When Horace later got transferred to work in a factory prison, Rosa was extremely sad about it, because she loved him, and she wanted to pursue him. The problem was, she didn’t have any kind of access to the new prison camp where Horace was assigned.
Because Horace felt the same way about her, he risked his life almost every night of his imprisonment there to meet up with Rosa. In fact, Horace went a step farther than that. Whenever he would sneak back into his prison cell every night after meeting with Rosa, he would bring food with him to give to his fellow prisoners of war, who were starving. Horace said that the only reason he kept returning to the prison camp after escaping so many times was because there was nowhere else to go, as the camp where he was being held was surrounded by countries that were occupied by Nazis at that time.
Horace was liberated from the prison camp on May 24, 1945. After being released and set free, he continued to receive letters from his love, Rosa, for a while. By then, she was working as a translator for the Americans. Yet, after a while, Rosa’s letters to Horace abruptly stopped, not long after he finally arrived home in the UK. After doing some digging around, he learned that Rosa had died in childbirth shortly after he arrived home. The baby might have been his, based on timing. He never knew for sure.
Later, Horace married a woman named Brenda, and the two of them lived together in Costa Brava in Spain. Horace died there at the ripe old age of ninety-one.
Horace’s book, called Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell?, was optioned by the US-based Silverline productions not long after its publication, and there were hopes to bring it to the big screen as a movie. Some big names have been attached to the project over the years, including Twiglight’s Robert Pattinson. As of yet, no movie has been made, but it is definitely a story that deserves to be told to the whole world.