August 6, 2008


Real-life Forger of Great Escape dies: Airman helped plan PoW breakout immortalised in classic film (Elizabeth Stewart, 8/06/08,

After his capture by the Germans, Dowling was taken for interrogation and sent to Stalag Luft III, a camp 100 miles south-east of Berlin specifically for airmen. It was there that Dowling carved out tunnels, forged documents and prepared maps for the real-life escape that inspired the 1963 movie. [...]

He said his father had been happy to reminisce about life at the camp, where he captained Stalag Luft's Somerset team, keeping a record of all the scores and averages of the batsmen and bowlers. He passed the time writing a diary and a book on wines and cocktails, learning five languages from other PoWs and getting to know the ace fighter pilot Douglas Bader.

His most famous exploits came in early 1943 when he joined a group of men, led by Roger Bushell, to plot the breakout. The scheme involved hollowing out three tunnels, codenamed Tom, Dick and Harry, with each entrance carefully selected to ensure it was not spotted by guards.

Despite playing a crucial part in the plan, Dowling was not one of the men selected for the final escape. Three men made it home to the UK, while 23 were recaptured. Of the 76 escapees, 50 were shot, seven of whom were friends of Dowling.

"He felt angry, more than angry, that Hitler had 50 of the 76 escapees shot, and my father was friends with seven of them," said Peter Dowling.

It was the second time he had evaded death. Dowling missed a flight to Ireland on a bombing training mission in which the entire crew died. He never got over the guilt that he had survived.

In 1945 he escaped death in near Arctic conditions when the camp was evacuated because of the advancing Soviet army. Many of his friends and fellow prisoners died in the harsh conditions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 6, 2008 9:41 AM

OJ: Without my prodding or knowledge, my 13 & 10 year old girls rented The Great Escape yesterday. It is my favorite movie, I have the soundtrack, the book and the Play Station 2 game (it isn't very adult to admit that but we all have our vices).

I watched it last night and rewatched it early this morning. Before work, I managed to catch the parts when Donald Pleasance and James Garner crash, as well as McQueen jumping over fence on the motorcycle.

By the way, Donald Pleasance was actually an RAF Lancaster bomber crewman who was shot down in 1944 and he ended up in a POW camp.

Posted by: pchuck at August 6, 2008 12:01 PM

if you could only have one movie moment that you got to star in, it would be hard not to pick Steve McQueen catching his glove and ball as he's led to the box. No one has ever been cooler.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2008 1:17 PM

I agree; however, Steve McQueen or James Coburn in the Magnificent Seven are certainly runners-up in the movie coolness race.

McQueen in the beginning when he rides shotgun for Yul Brynner while they bring the hearse up to Boot Hill. James Coburn in the knife fight at the train station when he is recruited by McQueen and Brynner.

Posted by: pchuck at August 6, 2008 2:04 PM

After the war, Dowling ... petitioned to recognise the wrong done to PoWs when their pay was stopped during their time in captivity.

That's mean.

Posted by: ic at August 6, 2008 3:02 PM
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