Alfie Fripp, oldest surviving and longest-serving British prisoner of war, dies age 98


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The Independent Online

The oldest surviving and longest-serving British prisoner of war has died at the age of 98.

Alfie Fripp was held in 12 different PoW camps during the Second World War after his plane was shot down by the Germans in only the second month of the war.

He died in hospital in Bournemouth today with his family by his side.

The last of the “39ers”, the unfortunate few taken prisoner in the first year of the conflict, Alfie spent part of the war in the infamous Stalag Luft III, site of “The “Great Escape” of seventy Allied prisoners, that was later immortalised on film.

Mr Fripp’s niece, Patricia Fripp announced her uncle’s death on Facebook. “For the friends of Uncle Bill, AKA Alfie. He passed away this morning surrounded by his family. He never complained, was always cheerful and will light up Heaven,” she wrote.

Born in June 1913, Alfie Fripp enlisted with the RAF in September 1930. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, his squadron, the 57th, was sent to France to fly air reconnaissance missions for the British Expeditionary Force sent to repulse the Nazi advance on western Europe.

Three days after the declaration of war he married his sweetheart Vera Violet Allen. Barely a month later, the Bristol Blenheim he was flying in was shot down over Germany by the Luftwaffe, and he and his fellow crewmen were taken prisoner.

He acted as a Red Cross representative in a succession of prison camps. He was not in Stalag Luft III at the time of the infamous escape in 1944, but the young pilot of the plane he was shot down in, Flight Lieutenant Mike Casey, became one of Allied serviceman who escaped from the camp, only to be caught by the Nazis and executed on Hitler’s orders.

After enduring more than five years internment, Mr Fripp was involved in the Long March of 1945  when thousands of PoWs were forced to march westwards in winter from camps in occupied Poland, as the Nazi-held territories fell into disarray under the advance of the Russian Red Army.

After the war Mr Fripp continued to serve in the RAF until his retirement in 1969. He retired with his wife to Bournemouth and became a sixth-form teacher before fully retiring at the age of 65.

In 2009 Mr Fripp returned to Stalag Luft III for the first time in more than 60 years to remember colleagues who did not survive the war.  “I’m glad I came to remember Mike - you reflect back on all the memories and the people you knew,” he said. “As for the Germans, I’ve forgiven them but not forgotten.”

Of his long life, he wrote on his website: “I look back over the years on my RAF career with pride and consider it a great privilege to have served from the time when the strength was only 30,000 airmen and the ration allowance five pence per day...It is little short of a miracle that I have survived for so long, through a forced landing in the bay of Biscay in a Scapa flying boat in 1936 whilst ferrying it to Alexandria, to a pre-war crash in a Blenheim Mk I in 1938, through my World War II experiences to the present day.”