Sydney M. Pozer, a Canadian gunner who survived the crash landing of a burning British bomber in World War II to become one of the prisoners who conspired against their German captors to organize the mass breakout known as the Great Escape, died on Friday at his home in Prince George, British Columbia. He would have turned 79 today.
His wife, Betty, said he died of a heart attack.
On March 24, 1944, Pozer was a flight lieutenant among the 800 Allied prisoners in the north compound of Stalag Luft III, in Sagan, Germany, about 60 miles southeast of Berlin, when some 80 prisoners chosen by lottery - he was not among them - made a bid for freedom through a cramped 348-foot tunnel 30 feet underground.
Of the 76 who evaded immediate capture, three succeeded in reaching England. The rest were seized, and 50 were killed by the Gestapo on Hitler’s personal orders after they were retaken in a vast manhunt.
The escape plot was carried out under the noses of the guards and involved two years of preparations, including the digging of three tunnels known as Tom, Dick and Harry, moving 100 tons of yellow sand, manufacturing forged documents, making maps, conducting language classes and creating civilian costumes and fake uniforms, among other feats.
The story was recorded in the 1949 book “The Great Escape,” by Paul Brickhill, himself a Stalag Luft III prisoner.
The adventure was dramatized on television in 1951 and retold in the 1963 film “The Great Escape,” starring Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough.
On Tuesday Betty Pozer and her husband’s flight commander and fellow prisoner, Peter Cairns of Berkswell, England, said that Pozer had been assigned as a lookout to warn the tunnelers of the approach of German guards with a system of signals that sometimes involved pretending to read a newspaper that was opened and closed as the situation dictated. He also helped acquire equipment.
Pozer was born in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, in 1917.
After the war, he worked as a clerk in a menswear store in Chilliwack, British Columbia, owned and operated a motel in Prince George for 10 years until 1967 and worked in motel management in and around Prince George until he retired in 1981.