Great Escape survivor dies
Date: Friday, February 20 2004
Topic: Indepth Places & People
Tony Bethell, a Second World War fighter pilot who was among the survivors of a German prisoner-of-war camp involved in a mass breakout known as the Great Escape, has died at age 81. Born Richard Anthony Bethell in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, he was educated at Sherborne School in England.
He served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force before moving to Canada in 1955, his obituary in a Toronto paper read yesterday.
Bethell died at his home in Caledon, just north of Toronto, and was remembered by his family as a man of "great strength and character."
Bethell was shot down over Holland in 1942, taken prisoner and spent three years in Stalag Luft III - the German POW camp built for Allied airforce prisoners captured in the war.
Stalag Luft, situated southeast of Berlin, was supposed to be more secure than other prison camps.
But a daring and intricately crafted tunnel escape was planned by the prisoners so that the Germans couldn't go to fight at the front line.
The German Gestapo retaliated for the mass escape by transporting 50 of the recaptured POWs to an open field and executing them.
Bethell's obituary noted that he was among 23 participants in the Great Escape who were recaptured but weren't killed.
The story of the Great Escape was made into a 1963 Hollywood film featuring stars David McCallum, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, James Garner and Steve McQueen.
Bethell joined the Royal Air Force after the war and served in Washington, D.C., from 1950-52 before moving in 1955 to Canada, where he was active in the investment community until his retirement.
Bethell is survived by his wife Lorna, several grown children and 14 grandchildren.