Train named after Great Escape hero who 'inspired Steve McQueen'

Published
Related Topics
image copyrightFamily photo
image captionWing Cdr Ken Rees was imprisoned in Stalag Luft III and helped dig a tunnel that prisoners fled through

A World War Two pilot who was part of the Great Escape team is to have a train named after him.

Wing Cdr Ken Rees was imprisoned in Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp, now part of Poland, and helped dig a tunnel that prisoners fled through in March 1944.

He was caught in the shaft during the breakout when it was found by a guard.

He was said to have inspired Steve McQueen's character in the film based on their story, though he denied this.

At Friday's naming ceremony at Swansea railway station will be air officer for Wales, Air Cdre Dai Williams, the RAF Queen's Colour Squadron, and under-secretary of state for Wales, David TC Davies.

Great Western Railway set out to mark last year's 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two by naming seven trains after people involved in the conflict.

Mr Rees's name will feature on Intercity 800310, which will form the 11:22 BST service from Swansea to London Paddington after the ceremony.

The Wrexham-born bomber command pilot was shot down over Norway in October 1942, just two weeks after getting married.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionKen Rees was said to have inspired the character played by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

He was taken to Stalag Luft III, a prisoner of war camp for airmen that was a template for the camp in 1963's The Great Escape.

Mr Rees was a digger on a tunnel named Harry, the longest of a number of tunnels, and the one used to make their getaway.

In the film, McQueen's character Capt Virgil Hilts is supposed to have been based on Mr Rees due to the fact Mr Rees antagonised his captors after his brother-in-law, Sqn Ldr Harold Starr, was shot under his parachute in the Battle of Britain.

His dissent usually amounted to pulling faces or letting down bicycles tyres, which meant being marched off.

Mr Rees always insisted he had nothing to do with the claim McQueen's character was based on him.

Before he died in 2014 at the age of 93, he 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."

image captionMr Rees, pictured in 2004, always denied he was the inspiration for Capt Virgil Hilts, played by Steve McQueen

Air Cdre Williams welcomed the chance to commemorate Mr Rees: "It will be a privilege to acknowledge the service of this remarkable RAF Officer."

GWR engineering director, Simon Green, added: "It is right that we honour some of those heroes of the war effort, remembering the sacrifice, bravery and tenacity that later generations owe so much to."

More on this story