Members of the 21st Panzer Division Living History Group had the privilege of meeting “Great Escape” veteran Frank Stone at the Northallerton Wartime Weekend on 18th & 19th June 2011.
Frank was the VIP Guest at the event and delivered two excellent and interesting talks about the true story behind the “Great Escape”. Proceeds from the talks are being donated to the Bomber Command Memorial charity fund.
For millions, Hut four in Stalag Luft III is the wooden hut where some 80 prisoners crawled their way towards freedom in March 1944 through “Harry”, a tunnel dug over five months. The mass break-out was the basis for the iconic war film The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasance.
But for Frank Stone, an 18-year-old Royal Air Force gunner whose Hampden bomber crash-landed in Germany in 1940, hut 104 (where the real Great Escape took place) represented an austere home whose occupants lived in constant fear of discovery and where boredom as much as duty made escape worth pursuing.
Frank was born and brought up at Quarndon, a small village 3 miles north of Derby. He was educated at the Herbert Strutt Grammar School at Belper and after leaving school wanted to go to the RAF College at Cranwell, but his parents would not sign the necessary form (well it was 1938).
However, soon after his 18th birthday in May 1940 Frank volunteered for aircrew. He was assessed as suitable for training as a navigator, which would take place in Canada in September. So in the July he was sent to 83 Squadron at RAF Scampton where he did a minimum training as an air gunner. After 6 weeks in the RAF, Guy Gibson, his flight commander, invited him to volunteer for operations over Germany as it would look good in his logbook. The first operation went well and five days later he was invited to repeat the exercise but unfortunately his plane was shot down in the Black Forest in Germany. Frank did not get to Canada but spent three years in captivity before ending up in North Compound, Stalag Luft III – the site of The Great Escape.