Last real life Great Escape prisoner dies aged 99

  • Published
Dick Churchill
Image caption,
Dick Churchill was described as "tenacious, resilient and incredibly brave"

The last surviving member of the real-life Great Escape team has died.

Former squadron leader Dick Churchill was one of 76 airmen whose escape from the Stalag Luft III camp in Nazi Germany in 1944 was immortalised in the Hollywood film starring Steve McQueen.

Mr Churchill, who lived in Crediton, Devon, died on Wednesday, aged 99.

Chief of the Air Staff Sir Stephen Hillier said: "He was from a selfless generation who offered bravery and sacrifice to secure our freedom."

"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.

"He will be sorely missed. Per Ardua [the RAF motto]."

Media caption,
The last survivor of 'The Great Escape' camp tells his story

Air Vice-Marshal David Murray, of the RAF Benevolent Fund, said Mr Churchill "embodied the spirit of the RAF - tenacious, resilient and incredibly brave in the face of adversity."

Mr Churchill's death followed that of Australian pilot Paul Royle, who died in Perth, aged 101 in 2015.

The survivors formed a sort of club and kept in contact through the Sagan Select Subway Society newsletter, of which Mr Royle and Mr Churchill were the last two recipients.

Image caption,
Mr Churchill was among 76 airmen who escaped through a 102m-long tunnel

The Great Escape

  • Stalag Luft III opened in spring 1942, and held air forces personnel only
  • At maximum it held 10,000 prisoners of war, covered 59 acres, with five miles (8km) of perimeter fencing
  • Some 600 prisoners helped dig three tunnels, which were referred to as Tom, Dick and Harry
  • The "Great Escape" happened on the night of 24 to 25 March, 1944
  • Seventy-six men attempted a getaway through tunnel Harry, which was 102m (336ft) long and 8.5m deep
  • Seventy-three of them - including Mr Churchill - were recaptured by the Germans within three days. Two-thirds of them were executed on Hitler's orders
  • The camp was liberated by Soviet forces in January 1945

A spokesperson for the RAF Benevolent Fund said it is believed there are at least two remaining RAF veterans who were held at Stalag Luft III, which now stands in Poland.

They are named as Charles Clarke, who was not involved in the escape, and Jack Lyon, who was in the tunnel when the plot was uncovered.

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