A pilot who took part in the mass breakout from a German prisoner of war camp in the Second World War remembered as ‘The Great Escape’, has died in his hometown of Perth aged 101.
Paul Royle died Sunday at a Perth hospital following surgery on a hip fracture that he suffered in a fall in a nursing home three weeks ago, his son Gordon Royle told AP.
The war veteran’s death leaves only one survivor of the 76 men who escaped from ‘Stalag Luft III’, near Sagan about 100 miles southeast of Berlin: 94-year-old British man Dick Churchill, a former squadron leader, the son claimed.
Survivors had reportedly formed a ‘club’ and kept in contract through a newsletter called the ‘Sagan Select Subway Society’, which listed the passing of each member. The latest newsletter among Paul Royle’s belongings showed that he and Churchill, who now lives in Devon, were the last survivors.
Paul Royle, pictured holding a photo of himself from World War 2
“I called Dick Churchill yesterday and said ‘I’m bringing you the news that you’re the last one,'” Royle’s son said. “He was sad but stoic.”
Paul Royle revealed last year, on the 70th anniversary of the tunnel escape in March 1944, that he was no fan of the famed Hollywood interpretation of his group’s story.
Speaking previously about his contribution to the historic escape operation, Royle said his role 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 colour vaguely matched. He spent two days hiding in a snow covered forest before he was recaptured.
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Flight Lt. Royle was a pilot in the Royal Air Force when he was shot down over France on May 17, 1940, and captured.
Those two days in the freezing forest in 1944 were his only taste of freedom until prisoners of war were liberated by British troops from the Marlag und Milag Nord prison camp in Germany on May 2, 1945.
He is survived by his second wife, their two children and a sister. All four live in Perth, Australia.
Royle is also survived by three British children from his first marriage. He had eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.