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Obituary: Great Escape prison camp veteran Henry Stockings built post-war life as Poringland pig farmer

PUBLISHED: 06:30 27 March 2015

Flight Lieutenant Henry Stockings (DFC), who was in Bomber Command. He later lived in Poringland, and died aged 98 on February 10, 2015. Picture: SUBMITTED

Flight Lieutenant Henry Stockings (DFC), who was in Bomber Command. He later lived in Poringland, and died aged 98 on February 10, 2015. Picture: SUBMITTED

A prisoner of war who played a part in The Great Escape tunneling effort has died peacefully aged 98.

The Great Escape

The film The Great Escape is based on the true story of escape from the German Stalag Luft III prison complex, located in Poland.

RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell hatched the plan in the spring of 1943, and it was enacted in March 1944 after months of preparation.

More than 600 prisoners of war worked to dig three secret tunnels out of the camp called Tom, Dick and Harry.

Previous escape efforts had resulted in the escape of around a dozen people each time - the tunnels aimed to allow more than 200 to escape, all in civilian clothing and with forged documents.

The tunnels went around 30ft underground and were very narrow, supported by wood including that taken from prison beds.

The entrance to the tunnel called Harry was hidden under a stove.

More than 70 Allied airmen were able to escape, but many were later recaptured.

After the escape, the Germans discovered just how extensive the operation had been - with missing items including hundreds of spoons and forks, and some 4,000 bed boards.

Flight Lieutenant Henry Stockings, whose plane crashed over enemy lines, helped shift dirt as a so-called “penguin”, waddling with bags of sand, and distracted prison guards at the Stalag Luft III prison complex for Allied airmen in Poland.

He moved from hut 104 on the night of the escape to make room for the numerous escapees through the tunnel named Harry, later depicted in the 1963 Steve McQueen war film The Great Escape.

Mr Stockings suffered under the punitive restrictions imposed after prison guards realised the scale of what had happened, and he remained captive until the end of the Second World War.

After returning to England he settled near Poringland as a poultry farmer.

View of Stalag Luft III camp in Sagan, GermanyView of Stalag Luft III camp in Sagan, Germany

He later worked as a pig breeder and maintained an extensive outdoor herd at the south Norfolk farm until his retirement in 1994.

Born on August 22, 1916 in Cambridge, Mr Stockings was called up on September 3, 1939 - the very day that a state of war was declared by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

He joined 44 Squadron at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire and was part of Bomber Command.

On one morale-boosting mission he was at the controls of a Hampden bomber for more than 12 hours, aiming to drop leaflets over Danzig, now known as Gdansk, at the southern tip of the Baltic sea.

Flight Lieutenant Henry Stockings (DFC), who was in Bomber Command. He later lived in Poringland, and died aged 98 on February 10, 2015. Picture: SUBMITTEDFlight Lieutenant Henry Stockings (DFC), who was in Bomber Command. He later lived in Poringland, and died aged 98 on February 10, 2015. Picture: SUBMITTED

It is thought that at this stage of the war this was a world record flight for a twin-engine bomber, and that this combined with his other mine-laying activities led to him being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by King George VI in 1941.

Later that year his plane was intercepted by a German night-fighter on the way back from an assigned military target in Cologne.

His parachute became tangled in a tree, he was surrounded by German soldiers with machine guns and barking dogs and taken as a prisoner of war.

He was interrogated by the Gestapo for two weeks and moved around various camps, including Stalag Luft III in Poland.

Mr Stockings returned home when the war ended in 1945, married Mabel West and had three children - David, Pauline and Andrew.

After his first wife died of cancer, he married Catherine Stirk, who survives him aged 104.

He died on February 10, 2015.

He is also survived by his daughter Pauline and his step-daughter Heather.

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