‘Great escape’ war hero dies

A SECOND World War veteran whose heroism was immortalised in the classic film The Great Escape has died, aged 97.

Alex Lees was a prisoner at the notorious Nazi camp Stalag Luft III in March 1944 when scores of Allied servicemen tried to flee.

The pensioner, who spent his last years at a home for ex-service personnel in Erskine, Renfrewshire, was a gardener at the camp and helped prepare the tunnels used in the escape.

He would remove the dirt from the three tunnels, store it in a bag hidden under his trousers and then spread it on the camp’s vegetable patches.

His funeral took place yesterday in Paisley.

Lees’s heroic actions were immortalised along with his comrades in the war film The Great Escape, made in 1963.

The imprisoned servicemen constructed three tunnels — called Tom, Dick and Harry — around 10m underground.

The narrow tunnels were dug with tools fashioned from old tin cans and supported with pieces of wood scavenged from camp beds and old furniture.

On March 24, 1944, the men launched their bid for freedom. Seventy-six managed to flee Stalag Luft III before the plot was uncovered — but only three made it back to Britain.

A total of 23 were recaptured and returned to the camp, and the remaining 50 were executed.

Lees was not an officer so was not given the chance to join The Great Escape.

He praised the film-makers behind the epic war movie for producing an accurate version of events.

The veteran told the Paisley Daily Express newspaper: “It was just the way it was portrayed in The Great Escape movie. I had been given the job of looking after the garden and I would take the dirt out to the vegetable patch, rake away the top soil, dump the earth and then cover it back up.”


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