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Airman Paul Royle was a prisoner of war for almost five years. Photo taken from BBC

Australian ‘Great Escape’ survivor dies, aged 101

WT24 Desk

One of the last survivors of World War Two’s most famous prison break, known as the Great Escape, has died aged 101, BBC reports.  Australian Paul Royle was one of 76 airmen who escaped from notorious Nazi Stalag Luft III camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1944. Their courageous feat was immortalised in the 1963 film The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen.

Royle died in a Perth hospital on Sunday after surgery for a fractured hip, local media reported on Friday. His son, Gordon Royle, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp his father lived his life to the fullest, but it was a fall that killed him. A memorial service will be held for Mr Royle in Perth on Wednesday.

Seventy-one years ago, the men escaped through a secret tunnel built from the Nazi camp.

The Great Escape

Stalag Luft III opened in spring 1942, and held air forces personnel only. At maximum it held 10,000 PoWs, covered 59 acres, with five miles (8km) of perimeter fencing. The first successful escape, the “Wooden Horse” escape, took place on the night of 29 October 1943. The “Great Escape” happened on the night of 24 and early hours of 25 March in 1944.

Of three tunnels prisoners began digging, only one, “Harry”, was completed. It was 102m (336ft) long and 8.5m deep. Interviewed last year about his wartime experiences, Mr Royle said he had vivid memories of escaping into a snow-covered pine forest. “It was very pleasant and all we saw was great heaps of snow and pine trees. There was snow everywhere, it was cold,” he said.

With another escapee, he walked through the night and hid in bushes but they were soon recaptured by the Nazis. Only three of the men who escaped reached safety. Of the 73 recaptured, 50 were shot.

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