Squadron Leader Harry “Dick” Churchill, the last survivor of the famous “Great Escape” during World War II, died at the formidable age of 99.
The former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot was one of the 76 Allied prisoners of war (POW) who escaped from a high-security German Stalag Luft III POW camp in 1944. A 1963 film of the same name starring Steve McQueen immortalized their breakout.
Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, told the Independent, “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 was from a selfless generation who offered bravery and sacrifice to secure our freedom, he will be sorely missed. Per Ardua.”
The escape attempt was christened Operation Escape 200–the number 200 reflected the number of hopeful escapees. To coordinate their breakout effort, they created an escape committee. All in all, the operation involved more than 600 prisoners, who laboriously dug three separate escape tunnels code-named Tom, Dick, and Harry. This was an attempt to circumvent the watchfulness of Nazi guards. If the first or second tunnels were comprised, some prisoners would at least have a chance of successfully escaping through the third.