Only One British Survivor from the “Great Escape” Remains

Survivor Dick Churchill was one of several men in 1944 who took part in the event that came to be widely known as the “Great Escape” years later, so-named both because of the large number of men who attempted a forced release from StalagLuft III, a German prison, as well as the impact it had on the war’s history. Churchill does not suspect he bears any familial relationship to the former prime minister of England, but he does suspect that his name is one of the reasons he remains a survivor and not one of those executed following their capture.

One other survivor of the Great Escape remains, but Churchill is the only remaining Briton. There are some other prisoners of the camp who still survive, but none that took part in the Great Escape. With hundreds of men planning to tunnel their way out of the camp before the plan was discovered after just seventy-six had made their way, it is no great surprise that most survivors from StalagLuft III were only peripherally connected to the plan, The Telegraph reports.

Churchill was given several tools to aid him in the Great Escape, as were the other participants in the event. With false identification, civilian clothing, plotted out backgrounds, and mapped-out escape plans, the men who made it through the tunnel would have potentially escaped for good had the plan not been found out so quickly.

For Churchill and his escape buddy, Gordon Kidder, the plan was to impersonate citizens of Romania, the one language besides English which they were able to speak. Unfortunately, this was not to go ahead as planned. The Germans caught wind of the Great Escape before it happened, and began moving inmates around to prevent it. This meant Churchill was paired with Bob Nelson, who decided to pretend he was Swedish. The pair went along with their planned escape route for a few days before making the mistake of hiding in a hay barn. Unfortunately, barns around the area were under suspicion as the escape had already been found out by the German prison guards.

The Gestapo found several men besides Churchill, including his previous mate Kidder. Kidder was not to be among the survivors of the shootings. Churchill was kept and questioned further under the suspicions that he may have some relation to the leader of Britain at the time. This is quite possibly the only reason he survived the Great Escape, though he would not argue against the decision.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE