Spitfire ace who dressed as woman to escape Nazis dies aged 89

A SPITFIRE ace who escaped the clutches of the Nazis by dressing in women's clothes and trekking to freedom across Germany has died at the age of 89.

Edinburgh-born Alastair Arnott was shot down over France and taken to five prisoner of war camps before seizing his chance to escape.

Donning women's clothes given to him by a sympathetic German, Mr Arnott was able to slip unnoticed out of the country to freedom.

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His family today recounted his incredible escape as they told how Mr Arnott had passed away just five months after his beloved wife, the former music hall star Rose Robinson, and just days before they would have celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. Their granddaughter Kirrie Walsh today paid tribute to the couple who will be remembered for the adventurous life they led.

"Because my granddad passed away when he did, he didn't suffer a Christmas or anniversary without my gran, which is as it should be," she said. "Theirs was a real love story and the fact that he died just before Remembrance Sunday means that whenever I see poppies I will think of him."

Mr Arnott, of Abbeyhill, was already flying gliders at the age of 14 and so, when the Second World War started, he was enlisted to fly a Spitfire after receiving just ten hours of training.

He was initially sent to Rhodesia to prepare for war in Egypt but returned to the UK in January 1941 to help defend London.

On May 6, 1941, he was shot down by renowned squadron commander Hauptmann Joppien over France and apprehended by the Gestapo. The 24-year-old prisoner of war was taken to a transit camp near Frankfurt and spent the next three years being marched to four other camps across Eastern Europe.

He was eventually able to escape during a march from Memel on the Baltic coast to Magdeburg after his convoy was attacked by British bombers.

His daughter Rosemary Evans, of East Calder, explained: "When the British bombers arrived, everyone dived for cover.

"They managed to stay hidden until the end of the bombing raid before running into the woods.

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"They were helped by a lot of people along the way, but in particular by a disabled German man who gave my father and this other fellow some women's clothing which they dressed in so they could get through Germany.

"The whole time they were dressed in these women's clothes and it was after they crossed into France they came across Canadian soldiers in a tank who helped them to get to safety."

After the war, Mr Arnott returned to Edinburgh where he saw Rose on stage with her sister Daisy at the King's Theatre. He was so smitten, he returned to the theatre three nights in a row and declared he would marry the glamorous starlet who he described as having "bags of personality, a wonderful voice and the figure of a goddess".

The couple were married on November 3, 1945, at St Matthew's Church in Morningside and Rose gave up her career to join her husband on his travels as an international banker.

The couple eventually returned to Edinburgh six years ago after Ms Robinson developed Alzheimer's Disease.

Just before Mr Arnott suffered a heart attack on October 26, he and friend William Mounsey visited the Museum of Flight at East Fortune, where he was thrilled to come face to face with a Spitfire.

He declared his intention of regaining his pilot's licence and becoming the oldest microlight pilot in the UK.

How city will honour war dead

EDINBURGH will this weekend in remember those who died for their country.

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Armistice Day tomorrow will be marked with a two-minute silence at 11am broken by the One O'Clock Gun.

Veterans will lay wreaths in the Garden of Remembrance in Princes Street Gardens East.

On Sunday, Lord Provost Lesley Hinds will lay a wreath at the Stone of Remembrance at 11am. A two-minute silence will take place, which will be followed by a service in St Giles' Cathedral.

A service will also take place in the Playfair Library at Edinburgh University's Old College conducted by the chaplains of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt and Napier universities.

The service will be held at 10.20am and will feature units on parade from The City of Edinburgh Universities Officers Training Corps, the Royal Naval reserve and the East Lowlands Universities Air Squadron.

The traditional service at the Heart of Midlothian War Memorial at Haymarket will this year be attended by representatives of Hibs, Raith Rovers, and Falkirk.

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