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‘Great Escape’ survivor Paul Royle dies in Perth

AFP, SYDNEY

A photo provided by Gordon Royle on June 23 shows his father, Paul, posing for a photo holding a picture of himself in uniform during World War ll, in Perth, Australia.

Photo: AP

Australian Paul Royle, one of the only two remaining survivors from World War II’s daring “Great Escape” prison break, has died, aged 101, in a Perth hospital, his son said yesterday.

Gordon Royle told the Australian Broadcasting Corp his father passed away following a fall at a care facility.

“Dad continued to live his life to the full. It was a fall that killed him in the end,” he said, without specifying exactly when the veteran died.

The only living survivor now is 94-year-old Briton Dick Churchill.

Royle was one of 76 men who tunneled out of German prison camp Stalag Luft III on a bitterly cold night in March 1944, an event immortalized in the 1960s film The Great Escape starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.

They dug three tunnels — codenamed Tom, Dick and Harry — although only Harry was used.

Just three men made it to safety from a camp the Nazis said was escape-proof. The rest were captured by the Gestapo and 50 of them executed on Hitler’s orders.

Perth man Royle was spared and in an interview with the ABC last year, the former Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant said he still had vivid memories of emerging from the tunnel to a snowy landscape.

“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, adding that he was not scared during the dash to freedom.

“You had other thoughts in your mind you see, you wanted to get out,” he said.

After making it through the tunnel, Royle waited for a companion and the pair walked through the night before finding a place to sleep for the day in the bushes.

However, their freedom was short-lived, with the two men recaptured in a small village nearby and taken to a local jail.

Royle was returned to the original camp. There he met Australian fighter pilot and writer Paul Brickhill, whose book The Great Escape told the story of the breakout.

Six hundred people were involved in preparing the tunnels over several months. Royle was tasked with disposing of the soil, pouring it into his longjohns then releasing it in the prison yard when guards were not watching.

In the film, screenwriters focused on the roles of US prisoners of war, with McQueen making a bid for freedom on a motorbike once through the tunnel, but the real escape was by British and other allied personnel, none being American.

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