Saturday, January 19, 2008

Country's Greatest Living Hero Dies

Sqn Ldr Bertram "Jimmy" James one of 76 men who broke-out of Stalag Luft Three, the supposedly escape-proof Nazi prisoner-of-war camp as immortalised in the 1963 film "The Great Escape "has died aged 92 .

He was once called "the country's greatest living war hero".

Despite a high speed motor cycle chase, disguising himself as a French mime and wearing a fake moustache he was recaptured but he was one of the lucky ones as fifty of the men who escaped were executed.

Sqn Ldr James had dug the first RAF escape tunnel of the war, at Stalag Luft One, in 1941.

That was just one of 13 attempts to escape from Nazi captivity. Even though he was British and used to bad food the German food was cruel and unusual torture and a great incentive for escape.

48 German cooks were hung after the war by the war crimes commission for their Sauerkraut, Sauerbraten, Wienerschnitzel, Rouladen and Bratwurst Goulash.

Military historian Howard Tuck said: "This guy was truly unique and he was the finest gentleman anyone could ever meet.

To me he represented not only an era, but a type of Englishman you rarely meet. He was honest and funny and I used to talk to him like he was 25."

"He was a legend, there's no doubt about it," Mr Tuck added.

In 2004 Sqn Ldr James returned as guest of honour to Poland, to revisit the Great Escape camp. He said it had brought memories flooding back.

"The huts have been razed to the ground but you can see where we dug, the route of the tunnel and you can still feel the atmosphere of the camp," Sqn Ldr James said.

"Having lost 50 comrades, ghosts of the past are inevitably going to rise up.
"I feel a great loss. I never thought that 60 years ago when I crawled out of the snow there would be a ceremony in Poland to commemorate the event."

The veteran retired from the RAF in 1954. He leaves a wife, Madge and two young children.

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