Paul Royle, Who Fled Nazis in a ‘Great Escape,’ Dies at 101


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Paul Royle in June, holding a photo of himself in uniform. He was one of 76 escapees from Stalag Luft III in 1944.

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Garry Sarre/Gordon Royle, via Associated Press

Paul Royle, whose escape from a German prisoner of war camp in 1944 with 75 other Allied soldiers inspired the 1963 Steve McQueen movie “The Great Escape,” died on Aug. 23 in Perth, Australia. He was 101.

His son Gordon wrote in an email message that Mr. Royle died from complications after surgery for a fractured hip. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that his death left only one remaining survivor of the escape: Dick Churchill, who is in his 90s and lives in England.

Mr. Royle, a Royal Air Force flight lieutenant originally from Australia, was one of 200 prisoners who dug several tunnels using improvised tools at the Stalag Luft III camp in Sagan, then a part of Germany and now in Poland. His job was to dispose of the excavated dirt.

“Long, thin tubes made of material, like long underpants, were put under our ordinary trousers,” Mr. Royle told The Sunday Mercury, a British tabloid, in 2008. “The bottom was tied together with a bit of string, we shoveled this stuff into the long underpants, then you would nonchalantly wander around getting rid of the dirt.”

He was one of 76 prisoners who made it through a tunnel on a freezing night in March. He and a comrade wandered in the German countryside for about a day before they were recaptured. Only three of the escapees reached freedom — 50 were executed, including the man who was with Mr. Royle.

He later told Air Force, the official newspaper of the Royal Australian Air Force, that he never understood how the German soldiers had decided whom to execute.

“Rationality didn’t come into it,” Mr. Royle said. “I haven’t a clue as to why I wasn’t chosen.” He was liberated and made his way to England in 1945.

In 1950, Paul Brickhill, another Australian P.O.W. involved in the escape, published a book about the experience called “The Great Escape.” The book was made into a 1963 film starring James Garner, Richard Attenborough and Charles Bronson, in addition to Mr. McQueen.

The movie took liberties with historical events by featuring Mr. McQueen leaping over a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle.

Mr. Royle told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2014 that he did not care for the film.

“The movie I disliked intensely because there were no motorbikes,” Mr. Royle said. “And the Americans weren’t there.” (The American officers at the camp were transferred before the tunnel was completed.)

Gordon Paul Royle was born in Perth on Jan. 17, 1914, but went by Paul since his youth. He was recruited for the R.A.F. in the late 1930s. His plane was shot down when he flew his first mission in 1940, and he was soon taken prisoner.

After the war, he settled in England, where he married Georgina Rufford Forster-Knight, in 1946. They soon moved to Australia and had three children, Paul and Francis Royle and Margaret Verling, and then divorced in 1961. He married Pamela Yvonne Fortune, later that year. They had two children, Gordon and Lucy Royle. He is survived by his wife and children; a sister, Shirley Rogers; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Mr. Royle spent much of his career working on major civil engineering projects around the world. He retired at 66 and returned to Perth, where he had lived since.

Before the war, Mr. Royle studied a trade that would prove useful during his imprisonment — mine surveying. He returned to mining after he was liberated and continued working in it until he switched to engineering in the mid-1950s.



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