British veterans mark Great Escape anniversary

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British veterans of the Second World War prison camp that featured in the film The Great Escape made an emotional return to the site of the getaway tunnel on the 65th anniversary of the breakout immortalised in the Hollywood film.

At a memorial at the mouth of Tunnel Harry, carved from the sandy soil under Stalag Luft III under the noses of the German guards, the men who helped those who fled only to be shot dead by the Gestapo toasted their absent comrades.

They bowed their heads in respectful memory of the 50 Allied airmen, including 21 Britons, who paid the ultimate price in their quest for liberty. The recaptured officers were executed on the orders of a vengeful Hitler, who made an example of them in an attempt to crush the spirit of RAF prisoners of war. Dozens more escaped death and were allowed to return to the camp, while only two Norwegians and a Dutchman escaped successfully, making a "home run" to the safety of England.

On Monday the veterans dined in a hut that is an exact replica of Hut 104 where they used to live 600 at a time, existing on vegetable stews and tea leaves that had been used 20 times over. Then they settled down to watch The Great Escape.

Accompanying them are serving RAF volunteers who built the hut and will repaint the names of the dead men on the memorial at Tunnel Harry, whose route is marked by stones in the woods where the camp once stood.

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