THE last survivor of the wartime Great Escape team has celebrated his 100th birthday — and told how he was three places from almost certain death.
Jack Lyon was 23 in 1944 and number 79 on the list of PoWs preparing to flee a Nazi camp in the escape immortalised by Hollywood.
The former navigator was about to enter one of the three tunnels dug by prisoners when a gunshot rang out.
A total of 76 men had got through but just three made it to freedom. The rest were recaptured, with 50 executed on the direct orders of Hitler.
Jack, of Bexhill, East Sussex, who still lives independently, says 30 minutes later and he would have died.
‘Luck was on my side. Only three people got back, and none were British,’ he said. He told his story after opening a birthday card from the Queen at a party organised by the RAF.
He was a flight lieutenant when his bomber crashed in Poland in 1941. He was captured and taken to Stalag Luft III where in March 1944 he joined the escape team, acting as a look-out.
The PoWs had dug three tunnels 30ft deep and 300ft into woods outside. Jack was wearing a homemade smock to look like a French worker, and had German currency and fake ID. ‘Once the game was up everything incriminating was burnt,’ said widower Jack. Unlike the 1963 film starring Steve McQueen, no Americans were involved.
He was never in touch with other survivors because the escape plans were so secret. ‘We were all told on the night. Before that I had no idea the tunnel was there.’