THE 70th anniversary of the legendary Great Escape from Stalag Luft III is being remembered with particular poignancy at Sedbergh School this week.
Two of the prisoners who took part in the breakout, immortalised in the classic Hollywood film starring Steve McQueen, were former pupils at the boarding school.
John Stower and Laurence Reavell-Carter, both RAF officers, made it through the escape tunnel on the night of March 24, 1944, but only one of them was to survive.
Using forged documents made in the camp, Stower managed to get to Switzerland but, after four days, he unwittingly walked back through the frontier into German territory, where he was seized by an army patrol. The airman was executed with 49 other recaptured RAF prisoners on March 31.
Reavell-Carter, meanwhile, was recaptured shortly after emerging from the tunnel, which probably saved his life. He was one of the last men out, and was waiting in the woods for others to emerge when a sentry stumbled on the escape.
The sentry had raised his rifle to shoot at two escapers running for the woods and Reavell-Carter jumped out of the bushes shouting ‘Nicht Schiessen!’, or ‘don’t shoot’.
Reavell-Carter survived as a prisoner and, after the war, continued his service with the RAF. He received a military OBE in 1946 for his selfless action during the escape, and retired with the rank of Wing Commander.
He died in Hastings, East Sussex, in 1985, aged 71.
To commemorate the role of its former pupils in the legendary escape, Sedbergh School has been holding a series of exhibitions and talks.
MORE TOP STORIES:
- New musical director for popular concert band
- Man helps others with a charity ride
- CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT: two thousand years ago people were challenged by Jesus
- South Lakeland walking chums take up challenge
Stower, who was born in Argentina, attended Hart house, in Sedbergh, from 1930 to 1931, while Reavell-Carter, from Brentford, was in the school’s Lupton house from 1928 to1931.
After leaving Sedbergh, Stower returned to Argentina, but signed up for the RAF after war broke out. He was captured after being forced to ditch his bomber in the North Sea during his 26th mission.
Before joining the RAF, Reavell-Carter represented Great Britain as an athlete. He threw discus in two Olympics, including the notorious 1936 Games in Berlin. He was shot down in a Hampden Bomber on a mine-laying mission in 1940.
In the 1963 film Great Escape, leading figures in the ill-fated breakout were played by Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, and James Coburn.