‘Forgotten’ member of Great Escape squad dies at 92
Les Brodrick was one of the 76 Allied prisoners of war who famously dug their way out of Stalag Luft III during the Second World War.
Just three of the escapees made it to safety but the other 73 – including Mr Brodrick – were recaptured and 50 of them later executed on Hitler’s orders.
Mr Brodrick, an RAF flight lieutenant, avoided the firing squad by sheer luck and spent the rest of the war in captivity.
The audacious break-out has become the stuff of legend thanks to the Hollywood film The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen.
After the war, Mr Brodrick became a teacher in Canvey Island, Essex, before emigrating to South Africa in 1956.
He spent the rest of his working life as a teacher and died in the Durban area on Monday.
Mr Brodrick leaves a widow Teresa, 92, sons Roy, 67, and Duke, 70, and two grandchildren.
His cousin, John Fishlock, who has researched the Great Escape, said he became a forgotten hero because he spent most of his life after the war in South Africa.
Mr Fishlock said: “He never knew why he was spared the firing squad. It was simply luck of the draw. His son, Duke, was just six months old at the time and he used to say that Hitler must have heard about that and spared him.
“He was a remarkable man who deserves recognition.”
London-born Mr Brodrick, who was serving with 106 Squadron, was 22 when his Lancaster bomber was shot down over France in 1942.
He was one of three of the seven-man crew who survived the crash-landing near Amiens.
He was taken for interrogation and then on to Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Poland, which was an airforce PoW camp for 10,000 prisoners run by the Luftwaffe.
Mr Brodrick was enlisted into the daring escape, which was masterminded by RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell.
The plan, involving 600 prisoners, was to dig three tunnels – Tom, Dick and Harry – and have 250 men escape simultaneously and spread chaos in Germany.
Tom and Dick were discovered but Harry, which was 111 yards long, was not and on the night of 24 March 1944, the Great Escape began.
The original aim was for 200 men to get out but things did not go to plan.
There was snow on the ground and the exit trapdoor was frozen shut. When it was opened, the tunnel was found to be well short of the pine forest tree line.
But 76 managed to escape before the alarm was raised when guards spotted the breath of the fleeing men rising from the open tunnel exit in the frozen night air.
Mr Brodrick, who was number 52 out of the tunnel, and two comrades managed to find their way to a cottage. They decided to try their luck by “spinning a yarn” to the occupants only to find they were German soldiers.
They were arrested and taken to the local Gestapo headquarters for interrogation and Mr Brodrick was sent back to the camp. On his return, he discovered that Hitler had ordered 50 of the escaped 76 be shot. Of the 76 who got out just three evaded recapture.
Mr Brodrick was evacuated from the camp in January 1945 ahead of the advancing Red Army and eventually liberated in May 1945 by British troops. He was flown back to England in a Lancaster bomber from his old squadron.