‘Great Escape’ survivor from World War II passes away

Perth : Paul Royle, an Australian pilot, 101 years old who took part in a mass breakout from a German prison of war camp during World War II that is remembered as The Great Escape, has died in his hometown of Perth, his son said on Friday.

The escape was the subject of a 1963 Hollywood movie, The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen. Royle died on Sunday at a Perth hospital following surgery on a hip fracture that he suffered in a fall in a nursing home, his son Gordon Royle said.

Royle’s death leaves only one survivor of the 76 men who escaped from Stalag Luft III, 160 kilometers southeast of Berlin: 94-year-old British man Dick Churchill, a former squadron leader. Royle revealed last year on the 70th anniversary of the tunnel escape in March 1944 that he was no fan of the Hollywood interpretation of the story. “The movie I disliked intensely because there were no motorbikes … and the Americans weren’t there,” he said, referring to McQueen’s dramatic bid to outrun the Germans on a motorbike. He also said last year that he did not regard himself as special because of his role in the legendary episode. “Oh, I don’t think so. Most people have extraordinary lives if they think of it,” he said.

Only three of the escapees, two Norwegians and a Dane made it home. Fifty others, from 12 nations, were shot dead when caught. A further 23 were sent back to the Stalag or to other camps but survived the war. Royle said his contribution to the escape operation was to distribute dirt excavated from the 110-meter tunnel around the camp grounds. This was done by surreptitiously releasing the soil down his trouser legs in areas where the ground color vaguely matched. He spent two days hiding in a snow covered forest before he was recaptured.

Flight Lt Royle was a pilot in the Royal Air Force when he was shot down on May 17, 1940. He was liberated by British troops from the Marlag und Milag Nord prison camp in Germany on May 2, 1945. Born in Perth, Western Australia state, on January 17, 1914, Royce married twice and worked in the mining and engineering industries. He is survived by his second wife Pamela Yvonne Royle, their two children and a sister. All four live in Perth. He is also survived by three British children from his first marriage. He had eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.