Scottish hero of Great Escape dies at 97

April 29th, 2009 - 5:55 pm ICT by ANI  

Edinburgh, Apr.29 (ANI): A Scot who played a major role in the legendary Great Escape during the Second World War has died.

Alex Lees’ heroic efforts helped dozens of Allied servicemen break free from a German prison camp in March 1944.

Lees, then 32, helped carry away tons of dirt POWs dug out to create their legendary escape tunnel. He emptied the dirt on vegetable patches under the noses of the watching Nazis.

Lees was a gardener at the infamous Stalag Luft III camp after being captured in 1940 - ten months after joining the army as a driver.

For the Great Escape - which has gone down in folklore - he carefully disposed of bags of earth carried round his neck before being released on to the ground. His courageous efforts - in front of unsuspecting prison guards - helped imprisoned soldiers deceive their captors as they dug the tunnels.

His comrades eventually made their break and Lees’ role went down in history as a key part in the operation.

The escape was brought to the big screen in 1963 in The Great Escape - the film adaptation of the real-life freedom bid, starring Steve McQueen.

Lees - who is due to be cremated today - was not allowed to escape through the tunnel he helped to create as he was not an officer.

He once remembered: “I actually slept in Hut 104, where the tunnel used for the escape started. I wasn’t eligible to go through because it was for officers only.

“I had mixed feelings about it. I wanted to go but I also knew I wouldn’t have got very far because I didn’t speak German.

The operation was just like the way it was portrayed in The Great Escape movie. A total of 76 men managed to escape from the prisoner of war camp before guards uncovered the plot. However, only three made it home to the UK safely. Twenty-three of the men the Germans recaptured were sent back to prison. Hitler personally ordered the Gestapo to execute the remaining 50.

Lees was eventually freed in 1945 at the end of the war before going back to his job with an insurance company. (ANI)

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