War Veteran Who Helped Inspire The Great Escape Film Dies





Squadron Leader Eric Dowling was one of the last surviving members of the Stalag Luft III prison break whose actions were made into the book on which the movie was based.

But even though his real life role bears a striking resemblance to that of Charles Bronson's character in the classic motion picture, the airman was less than impressed with Hollywood's version of events.

Sq Ldr Dowling, who knew seven of the 50 soldiers murdered during the escape, was particularly scathing of Steve McQueen's role.

"He was a fountain of knowledge about World War II but he didn't think much of the Steve McQueen film," said his son Peter, 60.

"He said the film left out a lot of the reality of digging the tunnels. He wasn't one of America's greatest fans and said it wasn't like it was in the film at all and that the scene with the motorbike was rubbish."

Born in Glastonbury, Somerset, on 22 July 1915, keen cricketer Dowling joined the RAF at the onset of the Second World War in September 1939.

After completing his training in South Africa he saw active service as a navigator and flew 29 missions with Bomber Command 57 Squadron out of RAF Feltwell in Norfolk.

He was imprisoned in the infamous Polish prison camp after his plane was shot down over Nazi Germany in April 1942.

But when the airman arrived at the camp he was recruited by escape mastermind Roger "Big X" Bushell to assist with his planned mass breakout.

Dowling's hard work excavating tunnels Tom, Dick and Harry led to his nickname and he also contributed by forging documents and preparing maps.

His vital role bears a striking resemblance to that of Bronson's character in the movie who was nicknamed "The Tunnel King".

The airman was one of 250 planned escapees but failed to make it out of the camp on March 24, 1944, because the 77th prisoner was spotted by guards...


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