The Courier-Mail

Sur­vivor of WWII ‘Great Es­cape’ bid


PAUL Royle was an Aus­tralian pi­lot who took part in a mass break­out from a Ger­man pris­oner of war camp dur­ing World War II that is re­mem­bered as The Great Es­cape.

The es­cape was the sub­ject of a 1963 Hol­ly­wood movie of the same name star­ring Steve McQueen, a work of artis­tic li­cense that Royle loathed.

Royle died at a Perth hos­pi­tal fol­low­ing surgery on a hip frac­ture that he suf­fered in a fall in a nurs­ing home three weeks pre­vi­ously, his son Gor­don Royle said.

Royle’s death leaves only one sur­vivor of the 76 men who es­caped from Stalag Luft III, near Sa­gan 160km south­east of Ber­lin: 94-yearold Bri­tish man Dick Churchill, a for­mer squadron leader, the son said.

The sur­vivors had formed a sort of club and had kept in con­tact through a news­let­ter called the “Sa­gan Se­lect Sub­way So­ci­ety” which listed the pass­ing of each mem­ber. The latest news­let­ter among Paul Royle’s be­long­ings showed that he and Churchill, of Devon, were the last sur­vivors.

“I called Dick Churchill yesterday and said ‘I’m bring­ing you the news that you’re the last one,” Gor­don Royle said. “He was sad but stoic.”

Paul Royle re­vealed last year on the 70th an­niver­sary of the tun­nel es­cape in March 1944 that he was no fan of the Hol­ly­wood in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the story.

“The movie I dis­liked in­tensely be­cause there were no mo­tor­bikes ... and the Amer­i­cans weren’t there,” he told Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Corp, re­fer­ring to McQueen’s dra­matic bid to out­run the Ger­mans on a mo­tor­bike.

Gor­don Royle said his fa­ther was an­gry that Hol­ly­wood would cre­ate an ad­ven­ture out of sol­diers do­ing their of­ten te­dious and dan­ger­ous duty of at­tempt­ing to es­cape.

“He felt the movie was a glam­or­i­sa­tion of the tedium and the drab­ness of the ac­tu­al­ity,” Gor­don said.

“The idea that they got on a mo­tor­bike and soared over a barbed wire fence is far from the re­al­ity which was dark­ness and cold and terror,” he said.

Only three of the es­capees – two Nor­we­gians and a Dane – made it home. Fifty oth­ers, from 12 na­tions in­clud­ing five from Aus­tralia, were shot dead when caught on the di­rect or­ders of Adolf Hitler. A fur­ther 23 were sent back to the Stalag or to other camps but sur­vived the war.

Royle said his con­tri­bu­tion to the es­cape op­er­a­tion was to dis­trib­ute dirt ex­ca­vated from the 110m tun­nel around the camp grounds. This was done by sur­rep­ti­tiously re­leas­ing the soil down his trouser legs in ar­eas where the ground colour vaguely matched. He spent two days hid­ing in a snow cov­ered for­est be­fore he was re­cap­tured.

Ac­cord­ing to Daily Mail Aus­tralia along with his es­cape com­pan­ion, Bri­tish Flight Lieu­tenant Edgar Humphreys, they were sub­jected to bru­tal in­ter­ro­ga­tion by Nazi of­fi­cers be­fore be­ing re­turned to Sa­gan.

Un­like his friend, Royle was spared the shoot­ing squad when the Nazi com­mand shuf­fled the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards of the es­capees.

He can­not fathom why he sur­vived when so many were killed.

“Edgar and my­self were to­gether when we were re­cap­tured and be­haved in the same man­ner. There’s no rea­son why one should live and not the other,” he said.

“Ra­tio­nal­ity didn’t come into it (the se­lec­tion of POWs for ex­e­cu­tion). I haven’t a clue as to why I wasn’t cho­sen.”

Flight Lt Royle was a pi­lot in the Royal Air Force when he was shot down over France on May 17, 1940, and was cap­tured. His two days in the freez­ing for­est in 1944 were his only taste of free­dom un­til he was lib­er­ated by Bri­tish troops from the Mar­lag und Mi­lag Nord prison camp in Ger­many on May 2, 1945.

Born in Perth, he worked with his engi­neer fa­ther af­ter he left school at 14 sur­vey­ing air­fields in Aus­tralia’s sparsely pop­u­lated and re­mote north­west Out­back.

In 1936 he en­rolled in the Western Aus­tralian School of Mines to be­come a mine surveyor. He was re­cruited by the Royal Air Force and re­lo­cated to Eng­land in Fe­bru­ary 1939 to train as a pi­lot of­fi­cer.

Gor­don Royle said he had no idea his fa­ther had been in­volved in The Great Es­cape un­til he read his name in a book about the fa­mous break­out in the mid-1970s.

“He was al­ways look­ing for­ward. He never looked back. He wanted to fo­cus on what was com­ing, not what had been,” Gor­don Royle said.

The son said he found news­pa­per clip­pings and obituaries re­lated to the es­cape among his fa­ther’s be­long­ings. “He main­tained an in­ter­est but hadn’t let it de­fine him as a per­son,” Gor­don Royle said.

Af­ter the war he worked in min­ing and en­gi­neer­ing un­til he re­tired to Perth in 1980.

He is sur­vived by his sec­ond wife Pamela, their two chil­dren and a sis­ter. He is also sur­vived by three Bri­tish chil­dren from his first mar­riage. He had eight grand­chil­dren and two great-grand­chil­dren.

 ??  ?? PAUL GOR­DON ROYLE World War II pi­lot Born: Jan­uary 17, 1914, Perth, Western Aus­tralia Died: Au­gust 23, 2015, Perth
PAUL GOR­DON ROYLE World War II pi­lot Born: Jan­uary 17, 1914, Perth, Western Aus­tralia Died: Au­gust 23, 2015, Perth

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