Bram van der Stok
Bram van der Stok, who has died in Hawaii aged 77, was one of only three Allied airmen prisoners of war to make the "home run" to Britain after the "Great Escape" from Stalag Luft III. Of the 75 who escaped from the camp in Lower Silesia on the night of March 24, 1944, all but Flt Lt "Bob" van der Stok, Sgt Per Bergsland and Pilot Officer Jen Muller were recaptured Angered by the escape, Hitler ordered 50 of those recaptured to be shot. For almost a year before the escape van der Stok had helped with the construction of three tunnels, named "Tom", "Dick" and "Harry"; Tom was discovered, Dick was abandoned, Harry was used. When the great night came some 220 escapers prepared to crawl through the tunnel, but disruptions - due to its falling short, to caveins and to a heavy Bomber Command raid on Berlin - restricted the escapers to 75. Van der Stok was the 18th to emerge from the tunnel, posing as Hendrik Beeldman, a Dutch draughtsman taking home leave from Siemens.
He wore a dark blue Royal Australian Air Force greatcoat, Dutch naval trousers and a beret. His passes were lodged in an imitation leather wallet made by Flt Lt G W Walenn, head of the camp forgery department - and one of the 50 murdered officers. When he walked to Sagan railway station van der Stok was asked by a German civilian what he was doing in the woods. He replied that he was a Dutch worker, afraid that the police might arrest him for being out during an air raid. "It's all right if you're with me", said the German, who escorted him to the station, where he had to wait three hours because trains were delayed by the raid on Berlin.
Thirty-six hours later he arrived at Utrecht, after changing trains at Breslau, Dresden and Halle. His parents and other members of the family were living there, but van der Stok resisted the temptation to go home and holed up two streets away in a friend's house. After six weeks he was fed into the Dutch-Paris Escape Line and smuggled by skiff across the Maas and into Belgium. He then bicycled to Brussels, where he was put up by a Dutch family for six weeks until the Line could send him on by train. Van der Stok had by now changed his cover story, and represented himself as a Flemish worker in a Belgian firm. When he reached Toulouse he sold his watch to raise money towards the 10.000 francs required for guidance across the Pyrenees. His guide, though, was shot dead in a skirmish with frontier guards. Van der Stok fell in with a maquis band which led him through the mountains to the edge of Spain.
From Madrid he was passed to Gibraltar, and then flown in a Douglas Dakota transport to Bristol. Bram van der Stok was born on Oct 13, 1915 on Sumatra, where his father was a Shell engineer. He spent his boyhood there, in Holland and the Dutch West Indies. After finishing his education at the Lyceum Alpinum in Switzerland he studied medicine at Leiden University. But rowing and ice hockey distracted him from his studies and in 1936 he joined the Dutch Air Force. Commissioned the next year, he joined a fighter squadron. After a year he transferred to the reserve and resumed his medical training, this time at Utrecht University. He was mobilised in 1939 and in May 1940 fought as a fighter pilot until the Dutch capitulation. He was then permitted to continue his medical studies. He formed a resistance cell, and made three unsuccessful attemps to reach Britain. On the fourth attempt he reached Scotland in a boat in June 1941, and Queen Wilhelmina decorated him with the Dutch Bronze Cross.
Van der Stok was commissioned into the RAFVR and posted to No 91, a Spitfire squadron based at Tangmere. Shortly afterwards he was transferred to No 41 Squadron, flying Spitfires from Westhampnett. Promoted flight lieutenant, he became a flight commander and was credited with six victories before baling over France. "Only six kills", said his German captors. "You are just a beginner".
At Stalag Luft III his medical knowledge obtained him a job in the hospital. A first escape attempt was thwarted when a fellow PoW, unaware that van der Stok was hoping to dig his way out under the barbed wire fence, climbed on to his hut roof to retrieve a German cap he had stolen. This alerted the guards and van der Stok was discovered. A second attempt was foiled when guards discovered his forged pass had not been updated.
After the Great Escape van der Stok rejoined 91 Squadron and took part in D-Day and anti-V1 operations. In 1945, following a period with 74 Squadron, he moved to No 322, a Dutch squadron serving in the RAF and based in Holland. This enabled him to visit his family and learn that his two brothers had died in concentration camps and his father had been blinded by the Gestapo. After the war he joined the Dutch air staff at The Hague and helped introduce the new Dutch Air Force before returning in 1946 to Utrecht University, where he finally qualified as a doctor in 1951.
Later he emigrated to America with his wife, Petie, and their three small children. He specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology at Syracuse, New York, before joining Nasa's space lab research team at Huntsville, Alabama. In 1970 van der Stok moved to Honolulu, where he practised medicine, joined the US Coastguard and took part in 162 rescues. Van der Stok published "War Pilot of Orange" (1987). He was appointed MBE in 1945 and received numerous other awards.
"Daily Telegraph" 1/7/93