Flight Lieutenant Bill Goldfinch, who died on October 2 aged 91, designed the glider built in the eaves of Colditz Castle, as part of the most audacious of all the projected escapes from the Second World War’s most famous prison camp.
He and one of his fellow prisoners, Tony Rolt, a racing driver, realised separately that the roof of the 11th-century Saxon fortress, several hundred feet above the local town, would make a perfect launching point.
|Bill Goldfinch (left) and Jack Best watching the first flight of a reconstruction of the glider they had built at Colditz|
Goldfinch drew up plans for a craft which could fly over a river and land on a green field 500 yards away.
Known as the “Colditz Cock”, it was approaching completion when the camp was relieved by the Allies on April 16 1945.
For a long time after the war the glider was largely dismissed as a wartime myth, since the only evidence seemed to be a single photograph, said to have been taken by an American soldier.
But Goldfinch, a private man, had kept his drawings, which enabled a miniature version, about one-third the size of the original, to be constructed.
It was eventually launched from the castle roof in 1993, when a party of former prisoners visited the castle; and six years later Channel 4 commissioned the glider to be built to Goldfinch’s original specifications for the television series Escape from Colditz, which appeared in 2000.
The construction was undertaken in Hampshire, using modern technology, while Goldfinch and Flight Lieutenant Jack Best (who died in 2000) eagerly observed and commented on its progress.
When the glider was finally launched for a three-minute flight, reaching 700ft at RAF Odiham, about a dozen of the veterans who had worked on the original more than 55 years earlier proudly looked on.
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