Allied Uniforms of The Great Escape

Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, Nigel Stock, and Gordon Jackson in The Great Escape (1963)

Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, Nigel Stock, and Gordon Jackson in The Great Escape (1963)

Today marks the 75th anniversary of “the great escape”, the mass breakout of allied airmen from the Luftwaffe-operated Stalag Luft III in Sagan-Silesia—now Zagan—in Poland on March 24, 1944. Of the 76 men who escaped, only three made it to freedom and 50 of the group were murdered by the Nazis in retaliation.

Film: The Great Escape
Release Date: July 4, 1963
Director: John Sturges
Wardrobe Credit: Bert Henrikson

Paul Brickhill, one of the Allied officers who had worked on the various tunnels used for the escape, wrote the definitive account of prison camp life, the famous March 1944 breakout, and the subsequent fallout in The Great Escape, published in 1950.

Thirteen years later, a star-studded cast reenacted the incident in The Great Escape, a now-classic war movie that dramatized this real-life story of heroism, humor, and tragedy.

Today’s post—coinciding both with the 75th anniversary of the escape and the 89th birthday of the film’s star Steve McQueen—examines the uniforms of the Allied airmen, sorted by each major character’s surname. Luckily for the escapees, service uniforms and battle dress during World War II were close enough to the cut of civilian suits that they could be converted with relative ease by the camp’s tailor Tommy Guest, renamed Griffith for the film character played by Robert Desmond.

Robert Desmond, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, and Gordon Jackson in The Great Escape (1963). Desmond played Flying Officer Griffith, a fictionalized version of the real camp "tailor", Tommy Guest.

Robert Desmond, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, and Gordon Jackson in The Great Escape (1963). Desmond played Flying Officer Griffith, a fictionalized version of the real camp “tailor”, Tommy Guest.

Chapter 11 of The Great Escape includes some detail about the real-life “tailoring” operation at Stalag Luft III:

Tommy Guest also dispersed his tailors in rooms throughout the compound. Cloth was his main trouble. Mostly he took old uniforms to pieces and recut them along civilian lines. He got bits of cloth smuggled in from outside and sometimes used the heavy linings from old greatcoats. The only jackets and trousers ever issued in the compound came through the Red Cross, and they were either rough old Polish uniforms or the unlovely stuff they issued (and still do) to RAF “other ranks”—made of heavy serge. Guest had a couple of people shaving the serge nap off with razor blades to fine the cloth down, and then he dyed it—with beet-root juice, or a boot-polish solution, and once or twice in dyes made from the covers of books soaked in water.

He made himself a stock of paper patterns of various sizes by cutting them out of sheets of German newspaper. It greatly simplified the business of reshaping clothes. If he didn’t have time or cloth to make you a suit himself, he would—if he was in a very good mood—lend you his paper patterns. He usually did the cutting for the difficult suits himself.

And more from Chapter 14:

Guest’s tailors kept on working to the last day, and by that time they had hand-sewn nearly fifty complete suits; and most of them would have been a credit to some of the tailors I have met. They were mostly for the train travelers who had to look the part. A lot of the hardarsers were converting old uniforms. It didn’t matter so much if they looked as though they were wearing hand-me-downs. However smart they were when they left, they were going to look pretty scruffy after a few days’ trekking. Guest showed them how to shave the nap off the cloth and dye it, lent them his paper patterns, and gave them civilian-type buttons.


Note: I am not, by any means, an expert historian on the military or its uniforms. I wanted to write a comprehensive piece like this because little about the uniforms of The Great Escape—or British battle dress, in general—seems to live anywhere on the internet. I welcome any constructive feedback from anyone more knowledgable than me that would give this post greater historical accuracy and increased value to readers.


Eric Ashley-Pitt, RN

David McCallum as Lieutenant Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt in The Great Escape (1963)

David McCallum as Lieutenant Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by David McCallum

Nickname: “Dispersal”
Nationality: English

Based on: Peter “Hornblower” Fanshawe, Lieutenant Commander, RN

Service: Royal Navy (Fleet Air Arm)
Rank: Lieutenant Commander (OF-3)

Uniform: Royal Navy No. 5a

  • Dark navy wool serge waist-length battle dress jacket with five black bakelite buttons, silver-toned waistband buckle-tab (right side), two button-down flapped chest pockets, epaulettes/shoulder straps (with gilt buttons), and single-button cuffs
    • Lieutenant Commander shoulder insignia
    • Fleet Air Arm wings patch
  • French blue cotton shirt with spread collar, front placket, and button cuffs
  • Black silk tie
  • Dark navy wool serge trousers with straight/on-seam side pockets, button-down flapped back-right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Wide black leather belt with tall gunmetal single-prong buckle
  • Black calf leather cap-toe two-eyelet derby shoes
  • Black socks
  • White cotton crew-neck short-sleeve undershirt
  • Dark navy Fleet Air Arm officer’s cap
  • Brass wristwatch with round white dial on russet brown leather strap

Lieutenant Commander Ashley-Pitt’s battle dress verges on anachronism as battle dress wasn’t introduced in the Royal Navy until 1943, and it’s hardly likely that the young officer who had reportedly been imprisoned long enough to establish a reputation for mastering the art of escape would be sporting such a recent version of the uniform. Army battle dress was authorized for RN use two years earlier in 1941, but Ashley-Pitt appears to be wearing the No. 5a battle dress developed in 1943 specifically for officers serving in the Fleet Air Arm air branch of the RN.

David McCallum as Lieutenant Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt in The Great Escape (1963)

David McCallum as Lieutenant Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt in The Great Escape (1963)

See a historical example here and read more about RN officers’ uniforms during World War II at The Fedora Lounge.


Roger Bartlett, RAF

Richard Attenborough as Squadron Leader Roger "Big X" Bartlett in The Great Escape (1963)

Richard Attenborough as Squadron Leader Roger “Big X” Bartlett in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by Richard Attenborough

Nickname: “Big X”
Nationality: English

Based on: Roger Bushell (1910-1944), Squadron Leader, RAF

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Squadron Leader (OF-3)

Uniform: RAF War Service Dress

  • Blue-gray wool serge RAF battle dress jacket with 5-button fly front, gunmetal-toned waistband buckle-tab (right side), two box-pleated chest pockets (with concealed-button scallop-flaps), epaulettes/shoulder straps, and single-button cuffs
    • RAF Squadron Leader shoulder insignia
    • Royal Air Force (RAF) padded “wings” patch
    • Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) award ribbon
  • Light gray cotton shirt with attached point collar, front placket, and button cuffs
  • Black tie
  • Blue-gray wool serge flat front trousers with straight/on-seam side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black leather flying boots
  • RAF peaked officer’s cap with blue-gray barathea wool cover and peak with gold-embroidered badge and black patent leather strap
  • Tan gabardine knee-length trench coat with epaulettes/shoulder straps, hand pockets, waist sash, and belted cuffs
  • Steel wristwatch with round white dial on drab leather strap
  • Silver signet pinky ring

In The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill recalled that the real Squadron Leader Bushell, like his fictional counterpart, arrived at Stalag Luft III wearing “tattered old battle dress”, though he managed to smuggle in a gray civilian suit that he attempted to use during his previous escape

Richard Attenborough as Squadron Leader Roger "Big X" Bartlett in The Great Escape (1963)

Richard Attenborough as Squadron Leader Roger “Big X” Bartlett in The Great Escape (1963)

A year and a half after his arrival, the real Bushell was again dressed in the gray civilian suit for yet another escape:

…Bushell, vivacious and bright-eyed, was talking gaily. A little too gaily. He looked very smart in the gray lounge suit that he’d saved from Prague, a black overcoat (an RAF coat dyed with boot polish), and a dark felt hat he had somehow scrounged through a contact. His papers described him as a French businessman, and, carrying a little attaché case filled with his kit, he really looked the part.


Colin Blythe, RAF

Donald Pleasance as Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in The Great Escape (1963)

Donald Pleasance as Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by Donald Pleasence

Nickname: “The Forger”
Nationality: English

Based on: Gilbert W. “Tim” Walenn (1916-1944), Flight Lieutenant, RN

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Flight Lieutenant

Uniform: “Austerity” pattern battledress (with mismatched trousers)

  • Brown wool serge “Austerity pattern” battle dress jacket with 5-button non-fly front, buckle-tab waistband (right side), two pointed-flap chest pockets (with exposed buttons), epaulettes/shoulder straps, and single-button cuffs
    • RAF Flight Lieutenant shoulder insignia
  • Sky blue end-on-end cotton shirt with spread collar, front placket, and button cuffs
  • Black tie
  • Dark navy wool serge double forward-pleated trousers with silver-toned buckle-tab side adjusters, side pockets, button-down flapped back-right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • RAF peaked officer’s cap with blue-gray barathea wool cover and peak with gold-embroidered badge and black patent leather strap
  • Steel wristwatch with black dial on dark brown leather strap

When Donald Pleasence who, by all accounts, had a countenance that served his surname, politely offered advice to director John Sturges, he was just as gently asked to keep his opinions to himself… until Sturges learned from another actor that Pleasence had served as an aircraft wireless operator with the Royal Air Force during World War II and actually spent time in Stalag Luft I, a German POW camp for airmen where he acted in plays to entertain his fellow Allied inmates. From that point forward, Sturges made a point to request Pleasence’s advice and input to ensure technical and historical accuracy.

A jacket purported to be Donald Pleasence’s screen-worn battle dress jacket (sans Blythe’s rank insignia and with box-pleated pockets like Mac’s jacket) was auctioned for $2,500 in December 2010. See it here!

Donald Pleasance as Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in The Great Escape (1963)

Donald Pleasance as Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in The Great Escape (1963)


Denis Cavendish, RAF

Denis Stock as Cavendish in The Great Escape (1963)

Denis Stock as Cavendish in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by Nigel Stock

Nickname: “The Surveyor”
Nationality: English

Based on: unknown

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Flight Lieutenant (OF-2)

Uniform: 1949 pattern battle dress (anachronistic)

  • Blue-gray ribbed-knit boat-neck long-sleeve jumper/sweater
  • Ivory ribbed-knit scarf
  • Brown wool serge “1949 pattern” forward-pleated battle dress trousers with belt loops, rear waistband buttons, flapped map pocket (left leg), two pointed-flap back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Cream cotton suspenders with tan leather hooks
  • Black calf leather derby-laced ankle boots
  • Light gray knit socks
  • Blue-gray RAF field service forage/side cap with two gilt buttons

Flight Lieutenant Cavendish is among the more rakish interred airmen, preferring a wide ribbed-knit scarf as his primary outerwear instead of the brown battle dress jacket that he’s seen wearing on only one occasion when marching to camouflage the dispersal of tunnel sand on the compound.

His trousers appear to be from the 1949 pattern British battle dress, a slight anachronism evident by the details such as the combination of belt loops and exposed buttons on the pocket flaps. The three belt loops had been a part of 1937 pattern BD but was discontinued in 1940 when the new pattern introduced exposed buttons on the pocket flaps. It wasn’t until the post-WWII 1949 pattern that both belt loops and exposed pocket-flap buttons were a feature.

Nigel Stock as Flight Lieutenant Denis Cavendish in The Great Escape (1963)

Nigel Stock as Flight Lieutenant Denis Cavendish in The Great Escape (1963)


Willie Dickes, RAF

John Leyton as Flight Lieutenant Willie Dickes in The Great Escape (1963)

John Leyton as Flight Lieutenant Willie Dickes in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by John Leyton

Nickname: “The Tunnel King”
Nationality: English

Based on: Wally Floody (1918-1989), Flight Lieutenant, RCAF, and consultant on The Great Escape, and Jens Müller (1917-1999), RAF, No. 331 (Norwegian) Squadron

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Flight Lieutenant (OF-2)

Uniform: “Austerity” pattern battledress

  • Brown wool serge “Austerity pattern” battle dress jacket with 5-button non-fly front, buckle-tab waistband (right side), two pointed-flap chest pockets (with exposed buttons), epaulettes/shoulder straps, and single-button cuffs
    • RAF Flight Lieutenant shoulder insignia
    • Royal Air Force (RAF) padded “wings” patch
  • Cream wool sweater with ribbed-knit turtleneck (torn into a v-neck standing collar), cuffs, and hem
  • Sky blue end-on-end cotton collarless shirt with front placket and button cuffs
  • Beige cotton long-sleeved henley undershirt
  • Brown wool serge “Austerity pattern” battle dress trousers with long-rise fitted waistband (no belt loops), straight/on-seam side pockets, pleated dressing pocket (right waist with small buttoned flap), flapped map pocket (left leg), pointed-flap back-right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black leather two-eyelet chukka boots
  • Ivory socks

Read more about Canadian airman Wally Floody, one of the real-life Stalag Luft III “tunnel kings”, and his work as a consultant on The Great Escape here.

John Leyton and Charles Bronson in The Great Escape (1963)

John Leyton and Charles Bronson in The Great Escape (1963)


Lt. Goff, USAAF

Jud Taylor as 2nd Lt. Goff in The Great Escape (1963)

Jud Taylor as 2nd Lt. Goff in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by Jud Taylor

Nickname: unknown
Nationality: American

Based on: unknown

Service: United States Army Air Forces
Rank: Second Lieutenant (OF-1)

Uniform: U.S. Army Service Uniform, Class B (modified)

  • Brown wool five-button topcoat with epaulettes, straight flapped side pockets, and cuffed sleeves
    • Gold bars denoting second lieutenant rank on both epaulettes
  • Chocolate brown (olive drab #51, dark shade) wool gabardine Class B service uniform shirt with point collar, front placket, two chest pockets (with button-down scalloped flaps), button cuffs, and pointed back yoke
    • Gold bars denoting second lieutenant rank on both collar leafs
    • USAAF pilot wings on left chest pocket flap
  • Chocolate brown (olive drab #51, dark shade) wool gabardine Class B flat front trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, back pockets (with button-down pointed flaps), and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Khaki cotton web belt with brass slider buckle
  • Russet brown calf leather “low quarter” derby shoes
  • Light gray socks
  • Brown ribbed-knit wool mechanic’s watch cap, tied together on top
    • Gold bar denoting second lieutenant rank

Of the two USAAF officers featured in camp, only Lieutenant Goff wears the more traditional elements of the U.S. Army uniform as Hilts instead wears his flight jacket with a cut-off sweatshirt and chinos of no discernible military issue.

Steve McQueen and Jud Taylor in The Great Escape (1963)

Steve McQueen and Jud Taylor in The Great Escape (1963)

Jud Taylor would later direct The Great Escape II: The Untold Story (1988), a mostly fictionalized made-for-TV movie about real-life escapee Major John Dodge, aka “the Artful Dodger” (Christopher Reeve) and his special task force hunting down the Nazis who executed the 50. It also stars Donald Pleasance, this time as an SS officer.


Fg Off Haynes, RAF

Lawrence Montaigne as Flying Officer Haynes in The Great Escape (1963)

Lawrence Montaigne as Flying Officer Haynes in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by Lawrence Montaigne

Nickname: “Diversions”
Nationality: Canadian

Based on: Paweł “Peter” Tobolski (1906-1944), Flying Officer, RAF, No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Flying Officer (OF-1)

Uniform: RAF No. 1 Service Dress (with mismatched trousers)

  • Blue-gray wool serge RAF No. 1 Service Dress single-breasted 4-button jacket with double-prong belt, box-pleated chest pockets (with scalloped 1-button flaps), bellows hip pockets (with rectangular 1-button flaps), and single vent
    • RAF Flying Officer sleeve insignia
    • Royal Air Force (RAF) padded “wings” patch
    • “Canada” shoulder patches
  • Light blue cotton pullover shirt with spread collar, front half-placket, two flapped chest pockets, and button cuffs
  • Gray wool RAF “frock” sweater with wide standing collar and ribbed-knit cuffs and hem
  • Light slate-blue ribbed-knit wool scarf with frayed ends
  • Brown wool serge “Austerity pattern” battle dress trousers with long-rise fitted waistband (no belt loops), straight/on-seam side pockets, pleated dressing pocket (right waist with small buttoned flap), flapped map pocket (left leg), pointed-flap back-right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black calf leather derby-laced ankle boots
  • White cotton crew-neck short-sleeve undershirt

As the only major escapee from this list to be caught wearing a full German uniform, Haynes would have surely been executed for espionage rather than treated as an enemy combatant.

Though primarily a background character, Haynes serves up lewks in Stalag Luft III: first, casually rocking the blue-gray RAF "frock" sweater in a cabin, then dangerously sporting a camp-made Luftwaffe uniform for the actual escape.

Though primarily a background character, Haynes serves up lewks in Stalag Luft III: first, casually rocking the blue-gray RAF “frock” sweater in a cabin, then dangerously sporting a camp-made Luftwaffe uniform for the actual escape.

In The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill recalls an incident from the night of the escape that illustrates just how accurate Tobolski’s camp-made Luftwaffe uniform was while Squadron Leader David Torrens was ushering the potential escapees into hut 104:

About a quarter to eight, Torrens had his bad moment. The door of 104 opened and he saw a German unteroffiizier walk in and stride down toward him, jackboots clumping heavily on the boards… He had a shattering, sick feeling that everything was lost, and then he saw it was Tobolski, the Pole.

A controller had forgotten to warn him that Tobolski was going as a German, in one of Tommy Guest’s home-made uniforms. The uniform was a terrifyingly good imitation, with all the right swastikas and eagles and badges on it. If you compared it with a German uniform by daylight, you could see that the color was a shade bluer than German gray.


Robert Hendley, RAF

James Garner as Flight Lieutenant Robert Hendley in The Great Escape (1963)

James Garner as Flight Lieutenant Robert Hendley in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by James Garner

Nickname: “The Scrounger”
Nationality: American

Based on: NAME

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Flight Lieutenant (OF-2)

Uniform: RAF No. 1 Service Dress

  • Blue-gray wool serge RAF No. 1 Service Dress single-breasted 4-button jacket with double-prong belt, box-pleated chest pockets (with scalloped 1-button flaps), bellows hip pockets (with rectangular 1-button flaps), and single vent
    • RAF Flight Lieutenant sleeve insignia
    • Royal Air Force (RAF) padded “wings” patch
    • Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) award ribbon
    • “U.S.A.” shoulder patches
  • Ivory ribbed-knit wool turtleneck Royal Navy submariner’s sweater with long set-in sleeves
  • Blue-gray wool serge RAF No. 1 Service Dress double forward-pleated trousers with fitted waistband, straight/on-seam side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black RAF 1936 pattern flying boots with plain toe and buckle-tab strap around uppers
  • White ribbed-knit wool knee-high socks
  • White cotton crew-neck short-sleeve undershirt
  • RAF peaked officer’s cap with blue-gray barathea wool cover and peak with gold-embroidered badge and black patent leather strap
  • Gold chain-link ID bracelet
  • Steel military-style “W.W.W.” watch with round black dial on drab pigskin strap

Read more about Hendley’s dashing service uniform here.

James Garner as Flight Lieutenant Robert Hendley in The Great Escape (1963)

James Garner as Flight Lieutenant Robert Hendley in The Great Escape (1963)


Virgil Hilts, USAAF

Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts in The Great Escape (1963)

Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by Steve McQueen

Nickname: “The Cooler King”
Nationality: American

Based on: Several American officers, including Major John Dodge (“the Artful Dodger”), Major Davy “Tokyo” Jones, and RCAF Flight Lieutenant William Ash, among others.

Service: United States Army Air Forces
Rank: Captain (OF-2)

Uniform: USAAF A-2 flight jacket

  • Dark brown leather Type A-2 flight jacket with zip front, epaulettes, flapped hip pockets, ribbed-knit cuffs and waist hem, and military sleeve patch
  • Slate blue heavy-duty cotton sweatshirt with cut-off raglan sleeves
  • Light khaki chino-cloth flat front trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, flapped right rear pocket, jetted left rear pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Tan roughout leather M-43 lace-up service boots
  • Light gray ribbed socks
  • Thick silver ring, worn on left ring finger
  • Rolex Speedking wristwatch with a stainless steel case, black dial, and khaki strap
  • Thin gold necklace with round St. Christopher medallion

Read more about Hilts’ dressed-down wardrobe here. You can also find the actual shirt by Western Costume Co. that McQueen and his stuntman Bud Ekins wore on screen here.

Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts in The Great Escape (1963)

Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts in The Great Escape (1963)


Archibald Ives, RAF

Angus Lennie as Flying Officer Archibald Ives in The Great Escape (1963)

Angus Lennie as Flying Officer Archibald Ives in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by Angus Lennie

Nickname: “The Mole”
Nationality: Scottish

Based on: J.B. “Jimmy” Kiddell (d. 1943), Acting Sub-Lieutenant, RN, and Henry “Piglet” Lamond (1915-2009), Flight Lieutenant (retired as Wing Commander), RAF

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Flying Officer (OF-1)

Uniform: 1937 pattern battle dress (with mismatched trousers)

  • Brown wool serge “1937 pattern” battle dress jacket with 5-button covered-fly front, buckle-tab waistband (right side), two box-pleated chest pockets (with button-down pointed flaps), epaulettes/shoulder straps, and single-button cuffs
    • RAF Flying Officer sleeve insignia
    • Royal Air Force (RAF) half-brevet single-wing Air Gunner (AG) patch
  • Brick red knit sweater vest
  • Beige cotton long-sleeved henley undershirt
  • Brown horizontal-ribbed knit scarf
  • Blue-gray wool serge flat front trousers with straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted button-through back-right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black calf leather derby-laced ankle boots
  • Ivory socks
  • Blue-gray RAF field service forage/side cap with two gilt buttons
Angus Lennie as Flying Officer Archibald Ives in The Great Escape (1963)

Angus Lennie as Flying Officer Archibald Ives in The Great Escape (1963)


Andrew MacDonald, RAF

Gordon Jackson as Flight Lieutenant Andrew "Mac" Macdonald in The Great Escape (1963)

Gordon Jackson as Flight Lieutenant Andrew “Mac” Macdonald in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by Gordon Jackson

Nickname: “Intelligence”
Nationality: Scottish

Based on: George Harsh, Jr. (1909-1980), Flight Lieutenant, RCAF

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Flight Lieutenant (OF-2)

Uniform: 1937 pattern battle dress

  • Brown wool serge “1937 pattern” battle dress jacket with 5-button covered-fly front, buckle-tab waistband (right side), two box-pleated chest pockets (with button-down pointed flaps), epaulettes/shoulder straps, and single-button cuffs
    • RAF Flight Lieutenant sleeve insignia
    • Royal Air Force (RAF) half-brevet single-wing Navigator (N) patch
  • Beige cotton long-sleeved henley undershirt
  • Olive green knit V-neck sweater with long set-in sleeves
  • Olive drab napped wool scarf
  • Blue-gray wool serge flat front trousers with straight/on-seam side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black calf leather oxford shoes
  • White socks
  • White cotton crew-neck short-sleeve undershirt
  • Blue-gray RAF field service forage/side cap with two gilt buttons
Gordon Jackson as Flight Lieutenant Andrew "Mac" Macdonald in The Great Escape (1963)

Gordon Jackson as Flight Lieutenant Andrew “Mac” Macdonald in The Great Escape (1963)


Gp Capt Ramsey, RAF

James Donald as Group Captain Ramsey in The Great Escape (1963)

James Donald as Group Captain Ramsey in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by James Donald

Nickname: “The SBO”
Nationality: English

Based on: Herbert Massey (1898-1976), Air Commodore, RAF

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Group Captain (OF-5)

Uniform: RAF No. 1 Service Dress

  • Blue-gray wool serge RAF No. 1 Service Dress single-breasted 4-button jacket with double-prong belt, box-pleated chest pockets (with scalloped 1-button flaps), bellows hip pockets (with rectangular 1-button flaps), single vent, and dark navy sleeve-edge trim
    • RAF Group Captain sleeve insignia
    • Royal Air Force (RAF) padded “wings” patch
    • Service/award ribbons
      • Top row: Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross
      • Bottom row (worn in reverse order): Victory Medal, British War Medal, 1914-15 Star
  • Sky blue cotton dress shirt with detachable point collar (with brass collar stud), front placket, MORE
  • Dark navy blue tie
  • Blue-gray wool serge RAF No. 1 Service Dress double forward-pleated trousers with fitted waistband, straight/on-seam side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black calf leather oxford shoes
  • Black socks
  • RAF peaked officer’s cap with blue-gray barathea wool cover with gold-embroidered badge, black patent leather strap, and gold wire oak-leaf “scrambled egg” braiding on black patent leather peak
  • Irvin flying jacket in dark brown sheepskin leather
  • Brown ribbed-knit wool scarf

The most awarded—and highest ranked—officer in camp, Group Captain Ramsey’s campaign and award ribbons indicate service dating back to the early years of World War I, per his lower row of ribbons. However, he wears his campaign medals in the reverse order of wear; the colorful Victory Medal and the red, white, and blue 1914-15 Star should swap places.

James Donald as Group Captain Ramsey in The Great Escape (1963)

James Donald as Group Captain Ramsey in The Great Escape (1963)


Louis Sedgwick, RAAF

James Coburn as Louis Sedgwick in The Great Escape (1963)

James Coburn as Louis Sedgwick in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by James Coburn

Nickname: “The Manufacturer”
Nationality: Australian

Based on: Johnny Travis, RAF, and Bram “Bob” van der Stok (1915-1993), Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Service: Royal Australian Air Force
Rank: Flying Officer (OF-1)

Uniform: RAF War Service Dress (with mismatched trousers)

  • Navy blue wool serge RAF battle dress jacket with 5-button fly front, gunmetal-toned waistband buckle-tab (right side), two box-pleated chest pockets (with concealed-button scallop-flaps), epaulettes/shoulder straps, and single-button cuffs
  • Red heavy ribbed-knit wool turtleneck sweater
  • Gray collarless short-sleeved button-up shirt with white collar band
  • Brown wool serge “1949 pattern” forward-pleated battle dress trousers with belt loops, rear waistband buttons, flapped map pocket (left leg), two pointed-flap back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black calf leather derby-laced ankle boots
  • Light gray knit socks
  • Dark navy watch cap

Sedgwick’s successful flight to freedom was clearly based on the actual escape of Bram van der Stok, a Stalag Luft III prisoner and the most celebrated aviator in Dutch history. “Van Der Stok, Number 18 out of the tunnel, had traveled alone, wearing a dark-blue Australian Air Force greatcoat, Dutch naval trousers, and a beret,” describes Paul Brickhill in Chapter 21 of The Great Escape. Sedgwick’s escape attire diverts from his real-life counterpart, but it’s significant that the Dutchman wore an Australian Air Force greatcoat for his escape and his cinematic counterpart’s nationality was changed to Australian.

James Coburn and Robert Desmond, who played the "tailor" Griffith, in The Great Escape (1963)

James Coburn and Robert Desmond, who played the “tailor” Griffith, in The Great Escape (1963)


Danny Velinski, RAF

Charles Bronson as Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski in The Great Escape (1963)

Charles Bronson as Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski in The Great Escape (1963)

portrayed by Charles Bronson

Nickname: “The Tunnel King”
Nationality: Polish

Based on: Stanisław Z. “Danny” Król (1916-1944), Flying Officer, RAF; Per Bergsland (1918-1992), Sergeant, RAF; and Wally Floody (1918-1989), Flight Lieutenant, RCAF, and consultant on The Great Escape

Service: Royal Air Force
Rank: Flight Lieutenant (OF-2)

Uniform: RAF War Service Dress

  • Blue-gray wool serge RAF battle dress jacket with 5-button fly front, gunmetal-toned waistband buckle-tab (right side), two box-pleated chest pockets (with concealed-button scallop-flaps), epaulettes/shoulder straps, and single-button cuffs
    • RAF Flight Lieutenant shoulder insignia
    • Royal Air Force (RAF) padded “wings” patch
    • Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) award ribbons
  • Gray knit wool sweater with gray-blue V-neck striping, set-in long sleeves with ribbed-knit, triple gray-blue striped cuffs, and burgundy sewn-on patches
  • Blue-gray wool serge flat front trousers with straight/on-seam side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black calf leather boots
  • White socks
  • Olive drab sleeveless A-shirt/undershirt
  • Beige long underwear/long johns pants
Charles Bronson and John Leyton in The Great Escape (1963)

Charles Bronson and John Leyton in The Great Escape (1963)


Dedicated to the Fifty:

Like the film itself, this post is dedicated to the 50 allied airmen—consisting of five Australians, one Belgian, 21 British, six Canadians, one Czechoslovakian, one Frenchman, one Greek, one Lithuanian, two New Zealanders, two Norwegians, six Polish, and three South Africans—who were murdered in the weeks following the escape between March 29 and April 12, 1944:

Roger Bushell (1910-1944), Squadron Leader, RAF

Roger Bushell (1910-1944)
Squadron Leader
RAF

Henry J. Birkland
Flying Officer, RAF

E. Gordon Brettell
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Leslie G. “Johnny” Bull
Squadron Leader, RAF

Roger J. Bushell
Squadron Leader, RAF

Michael J. Casey
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

James Catanach
Squadron Leader, RAAF

Arnold G. Christiansen
Pilot Officer, RAF

Dennis H. Cochran
Flying Officer, RAF

Ian E.K.P. Cross
Squadron Leader, RAF

Halldor Espelid
Lieutenant, RAF, No. 331 (Norwegian) Squadron

Brian H. Evans
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Nils Jørgen Fuglesang
Lieutenant, RAF, No. 332 (Norwegian) Squadron

Johannes S. Gouws
Lieutenant, SAAF

William J. Grisman
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

The Fifty.

The Fifty. (Source: Daily Mail)

Alastair D.M. Gunn
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Albert H. Hake
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Charles P. Hall
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Anthony R.H. Hayter
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Edgar S. Humphreys
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Gordon A. Kidder
Flying Officer, RAF

Reginald V. Kierath
Flight Lieutenant, RAAF

Antoni Kiewnarski
Flight Lieutenant, RAF, No. 305 Polish Bomber Squadron

Thomas G. Kirby-Green
Squadron Leader, RAF

Włodzimierz Kolanowski
Flying Officer, RAF, No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron

Stanisław Z. “Danny” Król
Flying Officer, RAF

Patrick W. Langford
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Tom Leigh
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

James L.R. Long
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Romualdas “Romas” Marcinkus
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Clement A.N. “Neville” McGarr
Lieutenant, SAAF

George E. McGill
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Harold J. Milford
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Cast members James Coburn and Charles Bronson are joined by Wally Floody on the set of The Great Escape, 1962. Floody was one of the real-life Stalag Luft III tunnel diggers. He survived the war and, almost 20 years after the escape, assisted the filmmakers as a technical advisor. Source: Catherine Floody, via Beach Metro Community News

Cast members James Coburn and Charles Bronson are joined by Wally Floody on the set of The Great Escape, 1962. Floody was one of the real-life Stalag Luft III tunnel diggers. He survived the war and, almost 20 years after the escape, assisted the filmmakers as a technical advisor.
Source: Catherine Floody, via Beach Metro Community News

Jerzy Mondschein
Flying Officer, RAF, No. 304 Polish Bomber Squadron

Kazimierz Pawluk
Flying Officer, RAF, No. 305 Polish Bomber Squadron

Henri A. Picard
Flight Lieutenant, RAF, No. 350 (Belgian) Squadron

John Pohe
Flying Officer, RAF

Bernard W. M. Scheidhauer
Lieutenant, RAF

Sotiris Skanzikas
Pilot Officer, RAF, No. 336 (Greek) Squadron

Rupert J. Stevens
Lieutenant, SAAF

Robert C. Stewart
Flying Officer, RAF

John Gifford Stower
Flying Officer, RAF

Denys O. Street
Flying Officer, RAF

Cyril D. Swain
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Paweł “Peter” Tobolski
Flying Officer, RAF, No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron

Ernst Valenta
Flight Lieutenant, RAF, No. 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron

Gilbert W. “Tim” Walenn
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

James C. Wernham
Flight Lieutenant, RCAF

George W. Wiley
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

John E.A. Williams
Squadron Leader, RAAF

John F. Williams
Flight Lieutenant, RAF

Paul Brickhill’s The Great Escape noted that, once all interred at Stalag Luft III heard the news of the fifty murdered airmen, they sewed black diamonds on their sleeve in remembrance.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Gordon Jackson, Donald Pleasance, and Richard Attenborough in The Great Escape (1963)

Gordon Jackson, Donald Pleasance, and Richard Attenborough in The Great Escape (1963)

Check out the movie and original 1950 book by Paul Brickhill, one of the English officers who had assisted with the tunnels.

Brickhill’s book includes fascinating stories about the escape, including many of sartorial interest such as this excerpt from Chapter 19, including the details of RAF Flight Lieutenant Henry “Johnny” Marshall’s capture by the Germans and how they tried to use his suit against him to prove he was a spy in civilian wear rather than an officer in a converted uniform; proving that it was a uniform saved his life:

The same with his clothes. [Marshall] was wearing one of Tommy Guest’s suits, and it was one of Guest’s best efforts, dyed dark gray, and it had been topped off by a ski cap till they took his cap away.

“Of course you realize,” said the interpreter, “you can be shot as a spy for wearing civilian clothes around Germany.”

“Oh, this is only a uniform I changed about,” Marshall said, beginning to feel uncomfortable. “See, I recut it, put boot polish on it, and changed the buttons.”

“That’s a civilian suit,” the interpreter said.

Marshall denied it again and tried to show where he had altered it. “Bring in someone who knows about cloth, and they’ll tell you it isn’t a proper suit.”

The interrogator pressed a button on his desk, and his stenographer walked through the door from an adjoining room. The brusque man behind the desk pointed to Marshall and spoke to her in German, telling her, apparently, to examine Marshall’s clothes. She stood in front of Marshall diffidently rubbing the cloth of his coat between bony fingers and looking at the seams inside. She was a gaunt, unhappy-looking woman, nudging the forty mark, with untidy gray hair and long features like a tired horse.

Covered by her head from the interrogator, Marshall smiled into her eyes, and faintly surprised, she smiled back. Turning to the man behind the desk, she said they were not proper civilian clothes but—demonstrating with her fingers—had seams where one usually found them on uniforms. She left the room, and Marshall answered more questions, but his diarrhea of words exasperated the German so much that he slapped the desk with his hand and called the guard from outside, and Marshall was taken back to the jail.

The Quote

Group Captain Ramsey: Roger’s idea was to get back at the enemy the hardest way he could, mess up the works. From what we’ve heard here, I think he did exactly that.

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5 comments

  1. SteveG

    Lucky:
    That first photo looks like a scene cut from the film, maybe Hilts demonstrating what lies between the compound and the town? Never seen that still before. Where did you find this?

    Like

  2. Mark Gibson

    Outstanding. A great tribute to these brave men. Shortly after VE day, the British sent a special mission to investigate this war crime. It was headed by a brilliant detective (and ex_RAF officer) Frank McKenna. It resulted in 14 of the murderers being hung and a dozen or so more being jailed. I believe another 10 Gestapo men killed themselves while in custody. I once read that Hitler originally ordered that all the Great Escapers were to be shot, but was convinced to settle for 50. The Nazis were planning a great escape of their own servicemen from Allied camps later in 1944, and feared that the Allies would follow their example and shoot all the recaptured men.

    Like

  3. Luke R

    Cavendish isn’t wearing 1949 pattern trousers as the pocket is to the front, and not to the side as per 1949 pattern. However, it is difficult to not exactly what type of trousers he is wearing. It is safe to say that its not 1949 pattern.

    Like

  4. Pingback: Sidney Poitier’s Navy Jacket in To Sir, with Love | BAMF Style
  5. Barry Tobolski

    My grandfather was Pawel Tobolski. During the escape he had been assigned to travel with Wings Day. His escape plan was to use his German Soldiers uniform to pretend to be escorting Wings. When they were out of the camp and on the run my grand father had to keep up his paper work for his uniform and he needed to get stamps from the local register to prove he was not a German deserting soldier. In order to do this he went on two occasions to an army base with his prison made uniform for these stamps. His uniform was so good it passed him has a regular soldier on a regular base and got him a cot and some food. This was revealed to my grandmother from Wings Day in a letter he had wrote her years later.

    Like

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