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Eric JB

FDC Sqn Ldr James, Stalag Luft III escaper, Sachsenhausen

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Taken from the internet.


Jimmy James, P.O.W. Plotter of Escapes, Is Dead at 92.


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. 2008 in Shrewsbury, England. Mr. James, who lived in Ludlow, England, was 92.


His death was confirmed to the BBC and The Birmingham Post by Howard Tuck, a military historian who said he had been working on a book with Mr. James.


On the night of June 5, 1940, Flight Lieutenant James, the co-pilot of a Wellington bomber, was on the way to a mission over Germany when his plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire over the occupied Netherlands. He bailed out about 25 miles south of Rotterdam but was captured and taken to the prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft I on the Baltic coast of Germany.


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 Birmingham Post quoted Mr. James as saying. But his unrelenting will to be free brought him Britain’s Military Cross for gallantry in 1946.

Mr. James was “one of the last great links with a period of history that continues to exert a fierce grip on the popular imagination,” The Independent newspaper said upon his death.

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.

Mr. James could sometimes look back with a wry eye. He once told the BBC about a flier who was annoyed over having been shot down when he had London theater tickets for the next night.

“He’d bought a ticket for ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ in London that was on in the West End,” Mr. James said. “And he was bemoaning this fact when he came into the camp. He said, ‘I bought a ticket for this show,’ and I said: ‘Oh, that’s all right old boy, we’re putting it on next week. You can see it here.’ ”

The breakout, as depicted in the 1963 movie starring Steve McQueen, is remembered for what Mr. James once called “rather Hollywood fantasy” — the McQueen character’s short-lived escape on a motorcycle.

But the real escape became a grim affair. Only 3 of the 76 escapees made it to freedom. Fifty of the 73 men who were recaptured were shot on Hitler’s orders.

Mr. James was recaptured at a German railroad station while fleeing toward the Czech border and was eventually transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In September 1944, he joined several other prisoners of war in escaping from the camp through a 100-foot tunnel they had dug 10 feet below the surface, using a table knife. He fled north, hoping to board a ship for Sweden, but was recaptured once more and later imprisoned at two other concentration camps before being liberated.

Bertram Arthur James, known as Jimmy since his days in military service, was born in India, the son of a tea merchant. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 and remained in the military until the 1950s. He later entered the British diplomatic corps, holding posts on the Continent and in Africa.

He is survived by his wife, Madge.

Mr. James told of his experiences in a 1983 memoir, “Moonless Night.” In 2004, he attended a ceremony at the site of Stalag Luft III, now a part of Poland, James was the last living great escaper.

“The huts have been razed to the ground but you can see where we dug, the route of the tunnel, and you can still feel the atmosphere of the camp,” he told the BBC then.

“Having lost 50 comrades, ghosts of the past are inevitably going to rise up. I feel a great loss. I never thought that 60 years ago, when I crawled out of the snow, there would be a ceremony in Poland to commemorate the event.”


A much more detailed story can be find here.



Scans do show the FDC signed by James and the card with information that is inside the cover.


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An interesting history he had and obviously a trier, though sadly he never made a home run.

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