Once free of the camp, Mr. Churchill, in improvised clothing, had hoped to pass as a Romanian woodcutter; he had spent months studying Romanian. But after fleeing with Flight Lt. Bob Nelson and spending two days hiding in the woods as the Germans searched the area, they were discovered hiding in a hayloft.
Paul Brickhill, an Australian P.O.W. who took part in the prison break, wrote the book, “The Great Escape” (1950), that was the basis for the movie, which starred Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough and James Garner. The film added embellishments, most memorably when Mr. McQueen’s character vaulted a barbed-wire fence on a motorcycle.
Most of the escapees were recaptured in days — only three made it to freedom — and 50 were executed. On why he was spared, Mr. Churchill speculated that his captors might have believed that he was related to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and could therefore be a bargaining chip. (He said they were not related as far as he knew.)
Mr. Churchill told The Telegraph in 2014 that he thought that the escape had been “a worthwhile venture” despite its terrible cost.
“If nothing else, you are doing something towards the target of getting out and getting back to what you were doing before, whether it’s flying fighters or dropping bombs” instead of giving in to despair, he said.
Richard Sydney Albion Churchill was born on Jan 21, 1920, in East Molesey, Surrey, England, to Sidney and Elsie (Taylor) Churchill. His father was a civil servant. He graduated from the Tiffin School in Kingston-Upon-Thames and in 1938 joined the Royal Air Force and trained as a pilot.
Nazi fighters shot down Mr. Churchill’s bomber on Sept. 2, 1940, during a nighttime raid on Ludwigshafen, Germany. The explosion damaged one of his eardrums before he could bail out, and his hearing in that ear never recovered.