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Dick Churchill (2019), last surviving WWII "Great Escape" team member

Dick Churchill (2019), last surviving WWII “Great Escape” team member

by Linnea Crowther

Dick Churchill was the last surviving member of the real-life “Great Escape” team, who escaped from a German POW camp during World War II and were later immortalized on film in the 1963 Steve McQueen classic.

Dick Churchill was the last surviving member of the real-life “Great Escape” team, who escaped from a German POW camp during World War II and were later immortalized on film in the 1963 Steve McQueen classic. An English Flight Lieutenant with the Royal Air Force, Churchill was one of 76 prisoners of war who successfully escaped the punishing conditions of Stalag Luft III in March 1944 via a series of tunnels. Churchill was one of the escapees who helped dig those tunnels, while others worked aboveground to stealthily redistribute the dirt they dug. All but three of the prisoners were recaptured, but Churchill was one of 26 who were not subsequently executed. He was later freed by British forces. In 2015, with the death of Australian pilot Paul Royle, Churchill became the last of the former POWs to survive.

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Died: February 12, 2019 (Who else died on February 12?)

Details of death: Died at home hear Crediton, Devon, England at the age of 99.


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Saved by his name: Churchill later maintained that the only reason he wasn’t among the majority who were killed upon their recapture was that he shared a name with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This could have made him useful as a hostage of bargaining chip. “I think it was my name,” he told the Telegraph in 2014. “I’m pretty certain. I’m not related to Churchill, to my knowledge. But they thought I might be, and went further than thinking it.”

Churchill on why they did it: “It was a worthwhile venture. The chances of the average prisoner getting out of a prison camp in Germany by himself in the last war was really quite slim. …If nothing else, you are doing something towards the target of getting out and getting back to what you were doing before, whether it’s flying fighters or dropping bombs. …You are hoping and thinking that you’re going to be lucky. It gives you a purpose.” —from his Telegraph interview

What people said about him: “He was from a selfless generation who offered bravery and sacrifice to secure our freedom. He will be sorely missed. Per ardua [through struggle].” —Stephen Hillier, chief of the air staff

Full obituary: New York Times

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