"Jimmy James, a British flier in World War II obsessed with escape plots during his five years in German captivity, most prominently the breakout portrayed in the movie “The Great Escape,” died Jan. 18 in Shrewsbury, England. Mr. James, who lived in Ludlow, England, was 92.
Mr. James made at least seven unsuccessful attempts to tunnel out of that camp. Then he was transferred to Stalag Luft III, about 90 miles southeast of Berlin. By the time he was liberated by American troops in Austria in May 1945, a few days before Germany surrendered, he had tried to escape at least 11 times from P.O.W. camps and a concentration camp and had succeeded twice, only to be recaptured.
“I was just a guy who wanted to get home; I was no hero.."
The most storied escape occurred on the night of March 24, 1944, when 76 Allied prisoners, mostly airmen from Britain and the Commonwealth nations, tunneled out of Stalag Luft III. Mr. James and another prisoner had overseen the hiding of soil displaced by the tunnel digging, supervising its placement underneath seats in the camp’s theater, where the captives had put on shows. Mr. James was the 39th man to escape through the tunnel."
The Great Escape is one of the movies that me and my friends devoured when we were young. Steve McQueen throwing that ball against the wall of the cooler and driving the German guard crazy. That fantastic escape plan. The motorcycle chase. To think that it really happened makes the story so much more powerful. I can't wait to rent it and enjoy it again. I raise a glass to Jimmy James and the gang from Stalag Luft III.