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.
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. AWMM