A 92 year old man died in a nursing home near Bristol in England on July 21st. He died only a day before his 93rd birthday. His DOWLING name was Eric Dowling. That would not be very significant news, except for the fact that Mr. Dowling was the leader of a mass escape from a German prison camp during World War II.

Seventy six Allied prisoners escaped from Stalag Luft III prison camp on March 24, 1944. They escaped in a tunnel that had been secretly dug by the prisoners. The prisoners had dug three tunnels 30 feet deep in the ground and supported by pieces of bed boards and stolen electrical wire. It took them almost a PRISON year to dig these tunnels they named Tom, Dick and Harry. The tunnel named Tom was discovered by the guards and tunnel Dick had to be abandoned, but tunnel Harry was completed. It was 300 feet long under the ground and ending outside the prison fences. It was an extraordinary accomplishment for prisoners without any tools or equipment and done under the noses of the German guards.

Dowling had been nicknamed "Digger" by the other prisoners for his tunnel leadership work. He played a key role in the escape. He forged documents, created maps and was instrumental in the escape effort. The prisoners used a lottery system to decide who, among the 200 prisoners, would be allowed to use the tunnel to escape. Dowling wasn’t among those selected to go first. The escape began on a moonless cold night. By the time the German guards discovered the escape 76 prisoners had used the tunnel and were gone. All but three of these were later recaptured. Hitler ordered 50 of them to be shot in order to discouraged further attempts at escape.

The escape was described by one of the prisoners, Paul Brickhill, in a book The Great Escape." In 1963 it was then made into a movie The Great Escape staring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough. Dowling’s son reports that he didn’t like the movie and wasn’t happy about the fact an American was playing in the staring role. He didn't feel the movie described what it was like to dig the tunnels so deep in the ground and for such a long distance.

There are so many untold stories that we learn about only after the death of a person. Dowling was a real hero of the war and someone I wished I could have met.

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