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Veteran of 'Great Escape' dies at 97

April 29, 2009 at 12:12 PM   |   Comments

ERSKINE, Scotland, April 29 (UPI) -- Alex Lees, a British Army veteran who played a crucial part in the World War II "Great Escape" from a German prison camp, has died at 97.

Lees had been living in a nursing home for military veterans in Erskine near Glasgow, the Glasgow Evening Times reported.

After being taken prisoner in 1940, Lees spent most of the war in German prison camps, including the notorious Stalag Luft III.

Lees, a gardener at the camp, helped dispose of the dirt from escape tunnels by spreading it on his garden plots. The trick was immortalized in the movie "The Great Escape," starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough, where David McCallum plays the camp inmate who comes up with the idea.

As an enlisted man, Lees was not allowed to participate in the escape. Most of the 76 escapees were quickly recaptured and 50 were executed by the Germans.

Lees, a father of two from Elderslie in the Glasgow area, returned to his job at an insurance company after the war.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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