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Famous Scots - Alex Lees

Alex Lees was one of the prisoners who planned the celebrated breakout from the Nazi’s Stalag Luft III camp. As a gardener in the camp, he was able to help conceal the soil which was being dug from the escape tunnels.

The veteran spent his last years at a home for ex-service personnel in Erskine, Renfrewshire in his native Scotland. But 65 years ago, he was helping to construct three tunnels called Tom, Dick and Harry which would allow 76 men to escape the camp.

Mr Lees was selected to join the exodus. He would remove the dirt from the three tunnels, store it in a bag hidden under his trousers or a Red Cross box and then spread it on the camp’s vegetable patches. He also slept in the bed of an escaping officer to confuse the guards.

A total of 23 were recaptured and returned to the camp. 50 were executed and only three made it back to Britain after breaching the perimeter on March 24, 1944.

Mr Lees was interviewed about film-makers behind the epic war movie and felt this was an accurate version of events.

“It was just the way it was portrayed in the Great Escape movie. I had been given the job of looking after the garden and I would take the dirt out to the vegetable patch, rake away the top soil, dump the earth and then cover it back up. The German guards never suspected a thing. I would carry the sand in Red Cross boxes and then dispose of it by raking it through the top soil where I was growing tomatoes."

When Mr Lees died he was living opposite a fellow Stalag Luft III camp survivor in the care home – he still had his hand-drawn map of the camp’s layout including the tunnels, which were started in April 1943.

Before his capture on the Greek island of Crete in June 1941, Mr Lees had been a Royal Air force driver.

Headstone Photograph

Further Information

Firstname: Alex

LastName: Lees

Date of Death: 22nd Apr 2009

Age at Death: 97

Cemetery: Woodside Crematorium

  Broomlands Street

Town: Paisley

PostCode: PA1 2NP

Region: Glasgow and Clyde Valley

Country: Scotland


Please Note, the marker on this map indicates the Cemetery location, not the location of a particular grave. is a privately owned website with no affiliation to any Local Councils.