North West Wales

Last remaining British Great Escape survivor, dies aged 93

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

Flight Lieutenant Ken Rees spent much of World War Two as a prisoner, and was part of the legendary escape from Stalag Luft III camp.

He was the last man pulled from the tunnel during the escape when it was discovered by a guard.

Mr Rees had been credited as the inspiration for Steve McQueen's character in the film of the escape, although he always denied this.

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 escape.

In 1944 he was among a group of airmen who attempted to escape from the prison - a plan 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.

Steve McQueen in the Great Escape
Mr Rees maintained he had little in common with McQueen's character - except their time in 'the cooler'

He was lucky to escape with his life when he was pulled from the tunnel as German shots rang out in the darkness.

Of the 76 escapees from Stalag Luft III camp, only three managed to reach Britain - the other 73 were recaptured, and 50 of those were killed.

Mr Rees has maintained he had nothing to do with the story that McQueen's character was loosely based on him.

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."

His abiding memories as a prisoner of war were of being "bored to tears", constantly hungry and finding himself a frequent visitor in solitary confinement or the 'cooler'.

His dissent usually amounted to annoying his captors by pulling faces or letting down bicycles tyres which meant being marched off.

Mr Rees's funeral will take place next Saturday at Bangor Crematorium.

Ken Rees
Mr Rees pictured in 2004

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