Fans of the Steve McQueen movie, "The Great Escape," will appreciate this story, told by one of the British pilots who escaped through tunnel "Harry."
Last British 'Great Escaper' tells how he escaped executionRest of story at Telegraph (U.K.)
The last British survivor from the Great Escape tells of his memories of the breakout, his dramatic capture and how he was spared from execution in the tragic aftermath
By Jasper Copping
5:10PM GMT 23 Mar 2014
Dick Churchill can reasonably claim to be a lucky man. Having been among the 76 prisoners of war to have successfully broken out of Stalag Luft III, only to be recaptured three days later, he was able to escape execution, thanks to his illustrious surname.
The very thought that he might be related to the wartime prime minister was enough to give the Nazis second thoughts about including Mr Churchill among the 50 recaptured airmen who were shot as punishment for their involvement in what is now known as the “Great Escape”.
As the years have passed, this select group of men who took part in the breakout and survived the reprisals have dwindled to such an extent that Mr Churchill and a fellow escapee Paul Royle, an Australian, are now the only living link to the event.
Ahead of this week’s 70th anniversary of the breakout, Mr Churchill, 94, spoke of his memories of the escape, his dramatic capture and the tragic aftermath. He also disclosed how – despite its cost in human lives – he believes it was a worthwhile venture.
The original plan for the breakout, later immortalised in the 1963 film The Great Escape, had been to have 200 airmen crawl out of a tunnel under the fence at night, kitted out with a variety of disguises, forged documents, plausible stories for inquisitive Germans, and pre-planned routes for escaping the Third Reich.
Places had been allocated to inmates in three categories: German speakers and experienced escapers; those who had contributed the most to the plan; and the remainder, who were drawn by lots. Mr Churchill, a squadron leader, was in the second group, having been a digger who played a leading role in constructing the tunnel.
He had no particular language skills, so had been given papers to allow him to pose as a Romanian. Along with his escape partner, Gordon Kidder, he learnt several Romanian phrases, to allow them to pass themselves off to non-native speakers.
“I wouldn’t say we were good Romanian speakers, but we had good knowledge of it. The theory being that we were unlikely to run into an Romanians, or have the Germans, if we were stopped or interrogated, produce a Romanian at short notice,” he recalled.
However, his plans were jeopardised before the day of the escape had even dawned. ...