Great Escape World War Two hero inspires today’s students at old school

editorial image

A war hero is inspiring students at his old school 74 years after he stood lookout as POWs tunnelled their way to freedom in the Great Escape.

John King was only a few years older than many students at Richmond School and Sixth Form College when he joined the RAF as a pilot, flying torpedo sorties against enemy vessels off the Norwegian coast during World War II.

On one run with 144 Squadron he flew so low his wing took out the rigging on the ship he sank and he limped to Shetland with his engines cutting out.

Headteacher Ian Robertson told students that a chance find in a cupboard at St Mary’s Church had included pictures of Group Captain King when he was at school, where he set cross country and athletics records that stood for generations.

Students heard that the brave pilot, the son of a Yorkshire hotelier, had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his heroics as he flew Hampden bombers against countless odds.

But the Bedale-born airman was forced to ditch off Sardinia, badly injuring his legs, eventually becoming a prisoner in the notorious Stalag Luft III, the scene of a mass allied prisoner breakout known as the Great Escape, one of the best known stories.

Mr Robertson said: “He was one of our best students; he won the Victor Ludorum four years running.”

He added: “Encased in plaster from the waist down he promised his guards he wouldn’t try and escape, so instead he stood lookout as his colleagues tunnelled from their POW huts under the barbed wire fences to freedom.”

Mr Robertson, who was addressing students about resilience, said: “Even after his service was over he had to be resilient as his son, a champion rower, was tragically killed in a car accident.

“He and his wife set up a charity in his memory, which later became the Sports Aid Foundation, the organisation that provided us with our wonderful sports pavilion.

“His spirit lives on in the school’s core value of resilience. We need resilience in our daily lives and his story shows this in the extreme. When you are considering your resilience you should think about John King, a very special pupil from this school.”

Mr Robertson said he was hoping Gp Capt King’s family would get in touch as he would like to present them with the old photographs.