Great Escape pilot's caterpillar pin sells at auction

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image copyrightLockdales
image captionChris Elmy of Lockdales with the Caterpillar Club lapel pin

A gold pin given to a pilot who escaped from a notorious prisoner of war camp has sold at auction for more than five times its estimate.

Dutch aviator Bram Van der Stok was one of only three people who successfully escaped from Stalag Luft III - immortalised in the film, The Great Escape.

His wartime service earned him the Irvin Golden Caterpillar, which measures 2cm (0.78in) and has amethyst eyes.

A private bidder bought it for £3,226.

An estimate of £500-600 was originally set.

The tiny memento was presented by the Caterpillar Club and is engraved with the Dutchman's name and rank, 'F/Lt B. Van der Stok'.

It featured among 2,500 lots at Lockdales Auctioneers in Martlesham, along with war memorabilia, banknotes and jewellery.

Van der Stok's story was the inspiration for the World War Two film starring Steve McQueen, where 75 prisoners broke free by crawling through a tunnel codenamed Harry.

The Dutchman and two others evaded capture, but the rest were rounded up and returned - with 50 of them executed on Hitler's orders.

He managed to flee to Britain where he continued in the war effort as a pilot.

image copyrightWikipedia
image captionThe little-known club celebrates people whose lives were saved by parachuting to safety

The Caterpillar Club was founded in 1922 by Leslie Irvin of the Irvin Airchute Company of Canada.

Lapel pins were presented to those, like Van der Stok, who managed to use an Irvin parachute to bail out of a stricken aircraft.

Notable club members include aviator Charles Lindbergh and retired astronaut John Glenn.

Lockdales said the pin is "an important historical artefact", and that the engraving on the back proved its authenticity.

"These pins are impossible to fake. When we first saw it we could hardly believe it, and it's been exciting to have the opportunity to sell it," added auctioneer Simon Elmy.

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