Friday, March 01, 2019

Fullbore Friday

A life well lived ... an immortal has passed.
Tributes have been paid to the last surviving member of the real-life Great Escape team after his death at the age of 99. Former squadron leader Dick Churchill was one of the 76-strong group who escaped from the Stalag Luft III camp in Germany in 1944. The site is now part of Poland.

Their feat of courage became one of the most famous stories from the second world war, and was immortalised in the 1963 Hollywood film starring Steve McQueen. Churchill, who lived in Crediton, Devon, died on Wednesday.

The chief of the air staff, Sir Stephen Hillier, said: “On behalf of the RAF as a whole, I would like to offer my condolences to the friends and family of Flt Lt Richard ‘Dick’ Churchill, one of the RAF personnel involved in the Great Escape.
Some 600 prisoners helped dig three tunnels, which were referred to as Tom, Dick and Harry, with the hope that one of the routes would be successful. The plan was for the escapees to come out at the other end with civilian clothes, forged papers and escape equipment.

On the night of 24-25 March 1944, 76 men took advantage of a moonless night to attempt a getaway through tunnel Harry, which was concealed under a stove.

Of the 76, 73 – including Churchill – were recaptured by the Germans within three days when Adolf Hitler became aware of the breakout and ordered locals to search their land and buildings. Two-thirds of them ... were executed on Hitler’s orders.

A spokeswoman for the RAF Benevolent Fund said it was believed that there were at least two more living RAF veterans who were held at Stalag Luft III. They named them as Charles Clarke, who was not involved in the escape, and Jack Lyon, who was in the tunnel when the plot was uncovered.
Churchill said he believes he avoided execution because the Germans thought, incorrectly, that he was related to Winston Churchill and could be used as a bargaining chip.

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