World War II prisoners of war Jack Lyon, aged 96, and Charles Clarke, aged 90, shared their recollections of 'The Great Escape' at a special screening of the film to mark the 70th anniversary of the bid for freedom from the infamous POW camp Stalag Luft III.
The event, which was held at the Courthouse Hotel, London, was attended by a number of special guests, including wilderness survival expert Ray Mears and comedian Al Murray.
Both young officers in the RAF at that time, Jack and Charles were shot down in separate sorties and imprisoned in Stalag Luft III prior to the escape. Jack kept surveillance on German guards during construction and was waiting to enter the tunnel in the early hours of 25 March 1944 when the breakout was discovered. Tragically, 50 escaped POWs were recaptured and executed by the Nazis.
Both Charles and Jack recalled the audaciousness of the escape effort and the extraordinary engineering challenges faced by the prisoners tunnelling under the camp.
"I think it’s often forgotten that The Great Escape was probably one of the most audacious operations that the RAF carried out," said Charles.
"When you see what was achieved with limited resources...When you think that all the equipment they had had to be made. The air pump was made of a kit bag and a few other bits. The air pipes were made of powdered milk tins, and even the little fat lamps were made of boiled margarine."
Jack Lyon said: "It was a costly operation but not necessarily unsuccessful. It did do a lot for morale, particularly for those prisoners who’d been there for a long time. They felt they were able to contribute something, even if they weren’t able to get out. They felt they could help in some way and trust me, in prison camps, morale is very important."
The special screening was hosted by the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF’s leading welfare charity, to mark the 70th anniversary of the actual event.
"We are honoured that Jack Lyon and Charles Clarke have joined us today to share their memories of their RAF service and The Great Escape," said RAF Benevolent Fund Controller Air Marshal Chris Nickols.
"They remind us that The Great Escape is much more than a just a movie; it was a remarkable feat of courage and resourcefulness, which sadly resulted in 50 men being killed.
"The RAF Benevolent Fund, which was formed in 1919, was there to support RAF personnel and their families then, and today we continue that support, helping over 60,000 members of the RAF family each year."
Further recollections from Jack Lyon and Charles Clarke can be found on the RAF Benevolent Fund website at www.rafbf.org/greatescape.