Great Escape heroes to talk at screening

Great Escape survivor Jack Lyon
Great Escape survivor Jack Lyon
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A PAIR of real life heroes will introduce a screening of the classic film their exploits inspired.

Alfie Fripp, a former squadron leader, and Jack Lyon, a one-time RAF flight lieutenant, will be at the White Rock Theatre on May 29 as part of bike1066Filmfest.

They were both prisoners of war in the notorious Stalag Luft III during World War Two, and played key roles in the break-out attempt now known as the Great Escape.

Mr Fripp was a logistics officer in charge of Red Cross parcels which were key to equipping the escapers and Mr Lyon was one of those who dragged themselves through an underground tunnel in a bid to break free from the heavily fortified compound.

However, unlike the 76 fellow prisoners of war who did manage to escape, Mr Lyon was stuck 12 places down the line - trapped in the claustrophobic conditions of the hand-dug tunnel as the German troops discovered the break-out and began firing on the prisoners.

The plan was for 220 servicemen to escape but, of the 76 who did, 50 were shot dead by Nazi forces - with just three evading capture.

One the tunnel was discovered, the Germans searched the entire camp and found the lengths the Allies had gone to.

More than 4,000 bed boards had gone missing, as well as the complete disappearance of 90 double bunk beds, 635 mattresses, 192 bed covers, 161 pillow cases, 52 20-man tables, 10 single tables, 34 chairs, 76 benches, 1,212 bed bolsters, 1,370 beading battens, 1219 knives, 478 spoons, 582 forks, 69 lamps, 246 water cans, 30 shovels, 1,000 feet of electric wire, 600 feet of rope, and 3,424 towels.

The story has become legendary, thanks largely to the classic film The Great Escape, starring Hollywood icon Steve McQueen.

Mr Lyon and Mr Fripp worked as consultants on the film but, after its 1963 premier they and many of their ex-POW comrades swore never to watch it again.

According to the veterans, the film represented nothing more than a travesty of their real life experiences. They particularly objected to the fictional Steve McQueen character of Virgil Hilts and the way the film handled the deaths of 50 of the escapees, their friends and comrades, who were murdered on Hitler’s orders.

However, as part of the forthcoming screening - which is being held to raise cash for Help For Heroes - the pair are being given the chance to tell their side of the Great Escape story.

And they will be joined by the band of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, who will perform before the film.

Organisers Howard Martin said the screening would be suitable for all ages, adding: “It’s never been easier or more fun to support a great cause like Help For Heroes - simply come to the White Rock and watch a great film, meet some real heroes and be stirred by the legendary Gurkhas.”

Tickets to the Great Escape / Gurkha Gala (which runs from 7pm) are £14 and 10 per cent of ticket price goes straight to Help For Heroes, with another £1 from every ticket going to the White Rock restoration fund.

Police officers, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, RNLI volunteers and serving military personnel who have a current ID / Warrant Card can also enter a prize draw to win a Steve McQueen / Great Escape canvas print signed by the Great Escape Two Team.

Serving military personnel are also invited to attend in uniform.

The Observer also has a pair of tickets to give away. Simply answer the following question: In which year did the Great Escape take place?

Email richard.morris@jpress.co.uk by 1pm on Wednesday and include a contact number.