Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 13:42 UK

Great Escape hero 'disliked film'

Airman Eric "Digger" Dowling
Mr Dowling was not one of the men selected for the final breakout

One of the men who helped to inspire the film The Great Escape thought it "over the top", his son has revealed.

Airman Eric "Digger" Dowling, from Bristol, was shot down in April 1942 and imprisoned by the Nazis in Stalag Luft III, near Zagan in Poland.

He helped carve out tunnels, forge documents and prepare maps for the real-life escape in March 1944.

Speaking a month after his death aged 92, Mr Dowling's son Peter said his father "wasn't a fan of Steve McQueen".

He thought the famous motorbike scene featuring the US actor - which was not based on a real-life event - was "well over the top", Peter Dowling, 60, revealed.

"He wasn't the greatest admirer of Americans and it didn't go down too easily that one of them should be playing the starring role.

'Quite upsetting'

"Parts of it he acknowledged were quite realistic but then he felt it turned into something that was completely untrue.

"For someone who was actually there, that was upsetting."

The escape plan which inspired the 1963 film involved hollowing out three tunnels, codenamed Tom, Dick and Harry, with each entrance carefully selected to ensure it was not spotted by guards.

He felt angry, more than angry, that Hitler had 50 of the 76 escapees shot
Peter Dowling

Tunnelling was dangerous and the roofs could cave in without warning.

Despite his contribution, Mr Dowling was not one of the men selected for the final breakout.

In January 1945 the camp was evacuated because of the Russian advance and the men were marched to a second camp where they were liberated later that year.

"He felt angry, more than angry, that Hitler had 50 of the 76 escapees shot, and my father was friends with seven of them," Mr Dowling's son said.

Three of the escapees made it home to the UK, while 23 were returned to prison camps.

Mr Dowling's diaries reveal that among his executed friends were Thomas Kirby-Green, John Stower and Gordon Kidder.

Mr Dowling, who was born in Glastonbury, Somerset, went on to work on Concorde for British Aerospace at Filton near Bristol.

He died a day short of his 93rd birthday at a nursing home in Stoke Bishop in the city on 21 July.


SEE ALSO
Funeral of 'Great Escape' veteran
31 Jan 08 |  Shropshire
'Great Escape' survivors reunited
20 Mar 04 |  Cambridgeshire

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