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Last British survivor of WWII 'Great Escape' dies

world Updated: Jun 08, 2010 21:14 IST

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A Briton believed to be the last survivor of the World War II German prison breakout immortalised in the film "The Great Escape" has died aged 97, his family said today.

Former Royal Air Force pilot Jack Harrison was among scores of Allied servicemen who tried to break out of the infamous Stalag Luft III prisoner of war (PoW) camp near Germany's border with Poland. Their efforts were portrayed on the silver screen in the blockbuster 1963 film starring US actors Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Garner, and Britain's Richard Attenborough.

Some 200 prisoners tried to escape on the night of March 24, 1944, through a tunnel codenamed Harry, after two other passages, called Tom and Dick, were discovered by German guards. Harrison was waiting his turn -- number 98 on the escape list -- when the breakout was noticed. He had to frantically burn his forged identity card and change back into prisoner uniform.

A total of 76 prisoners escaped, but only three reached safety. Fifty of those recaptured were shot. After the war, Harrison returned to Scotland and resumed his career as a teacher. He spent his final days in a veterans' home in Bishopton, near Glasgow, and died last Friday, his children said.