Last remaining survivor of Great Escape dies, aged 93

Reporter:

Staff reporter (Leader Live)

THE last remaining British survivor of the Great Escape team has died, aged 93.

Wing commander Ken Rees, who was born on February 2, 1921 in Wrexham and educated at Ruabon Grammar School, was the last surviving member of the digging team that dug the tunnel used during the famous Great Escape from Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp in March 1944.

He worked for two years in a draper’s shop before joining the RAF to train as a pilot. He died on Saturday, August 30.

He was also the inspiration for Steve McQueen’s character Cooler King’ Virgil Hilts in the 1963 film The Great Escape.

At the time of the film’s release, Mr Rees said: “He is taller than I am, I’m heavier than he is, he’s American and I’m a Welshman.

“The only things we’ve got in common is that we both annoyed the Germans and ended up doing stretches in the cooler.

“I didn’t get out and if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to ride a motorbike anyway.”

Flight Lieutenant Rees was a prisoner of war at the infamous German PoW camp, and spent the majority of his time there in solitary confinement.

He joined the RAF at 18 and flew Wellington bombers during the war, before being shot down in flames over Norway in 1942 and being taken prisoner.

He was later captured and eventually found himself in the Luftwaffe run camp, where it was considered the sworn duty of officers to prevent escapes.

But in 1944 he was among a group of airmen who attempted the famous tunnel plan - which was then immortalised in the 1963 film.

Mr Rees helped burrow an escape route out of the camp, but was caught during the breakout in the tunnel when it was discovered by a guard. He was lucky to escape with his life when he was pulled from the tunnel as German shots rang out in the darkness.

Mr Rees and his wife ran a post office in Bangor-on-Dee for five years before moving to Anglesey.

Mr Rees married Mary Sinfield in October 1942.

His funeral will take place next Saturday at Bangor Crematorium.

See full story in the Leader

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