Jack Harrison, one of last survivors of The Great Escape, dies at 97

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  1. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Jack Harrison, the last survivor of The Great Escape dies at 97 | Mail Online

    :salute:

    By Jim Mcbeth
    Last updated at 11:48 AM on 8th June 2010

    In the end, it was only time from which he could not escape.

    Jack Harrison, one of the last of those involved in the 'Great Escape', has passed away, peacefully and quietly, at the age of 97.

    It has been 66 years since the dark night when he waited with bated breath, preparing to crawl through ‘Harry’ and under the wire of Stalag Luft III.

    Many years after the war the former RAF pilot, and his brave and resourceful comrades, would be immortalised by the iconic 1963 film - starring Richard Attenborough and Steve McQueen - which remains the staple fare of every Christmas Day celebration.

    But, by then, the most audacious - and tragic - prisoner-of-war break out of the Second World War was only a memory to the Scots veteran, who had long since returned to his ‘real life’ as a husband, father and classics teacher.

    Mr Harrison would go on to live a long and fruitful life, spending the last two-and-a-half years of it in the veterans' hospital at Erskine, in Bishopton, Renfrewshire.

    Yesterday a spokesman for the charity that runs the hospital said: ‘It is with the greatest of sadness that we announce the passing of Great Escape veteran Jack Harrison.

    ‘Mr Harrison, thought to be the last survivor of the escape, passed away with his son, Chris, and daughter, Jane, by his side.’

    The success of the film The Great Escape may have elevated the humble Latin teacher to the status of a war hero. But to his family, he will forever be ‘dad’. In a joint statement yesterday, his two children paid tribute to him.

    They said: ‘To others, he was considered a war hero, but to us he was much more than that. ‘He was a family man first and foremost. He was also a church elder, a Rotarian, scholar, traveller and athlete. He took up marathon running in his 70s to raise money for charity.

    Called up: Harrison was a Classics teacher when called up to join the RAF. He was shot down during his first mission and ended up in Stalag Luft III
    ‘He was also a caring father and grandfather and he will be missed by the entire family.

    ‘We are indebted to Erskine for the care and attention that he and we have received over the past two and a half years.’

    Throughout his long life, Mr Harrison played down his important role in the daring escape bid from Stammlager der Luftwaffe III - meaning a camp for airmen - which was established at Sagan, in what is now Poland.

    He was being unduly modest. Mr Harrison played a key role in the plot.

    He acted as a ‘runner’ for Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, who was played in the film by Richard Attenborough.

    Bushell was the mastermind behind the digging of the three escape tunnels, which were started in April 1943 and codenamed Tom, Dick and Harry.

    His plan was to dig down to a depth of 30ft and then tunnel on three fronts towards the perimeter of the camp and into the woods beyond.

    Stalag Luft III, which lay 100 miles south-east of Berlin, was a massive facility.

    At its height, 10,000 RAF officers and non-commissioned aircrew were held there.

    Planning the Great Escape required daring and ingenuity.

    The prisoners would disguise themselves as civilians and split into three groups.

    One group would trek out of the region, while others would use the railway network to effect an escape.

    In an interview with the Scottish Daily Mail in 2008, Mr Harrison said: ‘The Germans knew about tunnels at other camps, so we had to be very careful - or you could be shot.’

    Tragically, that would be the fate of many of his comrades.

    The Gestapo captured and executed 50 of them within days of the escape.

    However, no threat of capture or death could have persuaded the airmen not to do their duty and attempt to make it back home to rejoin their units.

    Their exhaustive and intricate plan included creating fake documents and tailoring clothes.

    By then, they had begun by digging Tom, Dick and Harry.

    Tom and Dick had to be abandoned, but Harry remained.

    The dirt from the tunnel was carried secretly into the camp where it was disguised as vegetable and tomato patches.

    It was hoped that on the night of the escape – 24 March, 1944 - around 200 prisoners would go through Harry to the outside.

    Each of the escapees was given a number that indicated his place in the ‘queue’

    Mr Harrison was Prisoner Number 96 and waited in Hut 104 to take his turn.

    He was dressed as a civilian engineer, with fake papers to prove it, when he heard gunfire from outside.

    Mr Harrison said: ‘The 77th prisoner was escaping when I heard the shots.

    ‘I was 96th in line and I was ready to go into the tunnel. I had my kit, false ID, railway passes and German money.

    ‘But unfortunately, “Harry” had fallen 30ft short of the wire surrounding the camp.’

    Only 76 men had emerged before a guard, who had gone to the woods to relieve himself, raised the alarm.

    ‘We heard a rifle shot and it was all over,’ said Mr Harrison, who added: ‘I quickly burned the forged documentation in the stove and changed out of the civilian clothing.

    Of the 76 who made it out of the tunnel, only three – two Norwegians and a Dutchman - eventually made it home.

    The others were recaptured.

    In an attempt to put off other prisoners seeking to escape, Hitler, Goering and Himmler ordered that those who were recaptured should be executed.

    Mr Harrison said: ‘I knew quite a few of the men who were shot. For a while, we thought we would be next.

    ‘It was an anxious time. I was a long way from home and a very long way from my real life.’

    The Glasgow-born veteran had been working as a Latin and classics’ teacher at Dornoch Academy, in Sutherland, when he was called up to serve in the Royal Air Force as a pilot.

    On his first mission, in November 1942, to bomb German supply ships at the Dutch port of Den Helder, his Lockheed Ventura was shot down.

    He was captured and arrived later that month at Stalag Luft III.

    Mr Harrison, who was also a grandfather, recalled how he was released.

    ‘I was liberated as the Russians advanced,' he said.

    ‘We were marched for two days and nights and eventually we were loaded on to rail trucks and taken across Germany.'

    Mr Harrison eventually got home. He recalled: ‘I had married my school sweetheart, Jean, in 1940 and she was living with her parents.

    ‘After the war, I worked as a classics’ teacher at the Glasgow Academy and we lived in the city until the 1950s.'

    The family moved to Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute, in 1958 when Mr Harrison took up a post as Director of Education for the area.

    Mr Harrison is survived by his son and daughter and two grandchildren, Mark and Stuart.

    Major Jim Panton, the Chief Executive of Erskine Hospital, said yesterday: ‘It was a privilege and an honour for Erskine to care for Jack over the past two years.

    ‘Although a very modest and private man, he will be greatly missed by all of the staff and veterans in our home.

    ‘Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.’
     
  2. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    v2 Well-Known Member

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    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    :salute:

    a little unlucky (crash on first mission, #96 when discovered) but he outlived them all!
     
  8. ToughOmbre

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    calquin24 New Member

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    :salute:

    Descansa en paz Jack.
     
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