'Great Escape' Survivor Tells His Tale, 70 Years On
Dick Churchill thinks his name may have saved him
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2014 8:46 AM CDT
Updated Mar 29, 2014 7:58 AM CDT
"Harry" tunnel at Stalag Luft III in Poland.   (Wikimedia Commons)
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(Newser) – Monday marked the first "formal act of remembrance" held in the name of the World War II prisoners who participated in the "Great Escape," the famed March 24, 1944, breakout from German POW camp Stalag Luft III that saw only three men make it to freedom. The other 73 who broke out using a 336-foot-long tunnel code-named Harry were recaptured, and 50 were executed at the command of Adolf Hitler. The Telegraph uses the occasion to speak with a man it says is one of two remaining survivors from that night: Dick Churchill. Churchill, 94, was not one of the three to make it to freedom—those men died in the '90s, reports the BBC. He worked as a digger on the tunnel, and had learned a few Romanian phrases in an effort to lend credence to the Romanian papers he had been given.

He and his partner, Bob Nelson, were among the last 30 or so men to exit through the tunnel, with plans to head some 50 miles to the Czechoslovakia border. They traveled through snowy conditions for two nights before seeking shelter in a barn. But Germans had ordered all barns within a hundred miles of the camp to be searched. "They removed all the hay gradually and when they got into the far corner, the pitch forks being dangerously close, they found us," says Churchill. He was imprisoned with the other captured escapees, 50 of whom were gradually removed from the cells to be killed. Why was Churchill spared? "I think it was my name. I'm pretty certain. I'm not related to Churchill, to my knowledge. But they thought I might be." (Click to read about the man who was the key forger in the escape—but chose to stay behind.)