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Artefact of the Month

The Connection Between ‘Big X’ and RAF Tangmere

On 19 October 1939, No 92 Squadron was reformed at RAF Tangmere as a Bristol Blenheim 1F night fighter squadron. Its commanding officer was Squadron Leader Roger Bushell. Bushell had been born in South Africa, son of a mining engineer, and had been educated at Wellington College, Berkshire and Pembroke College, Cambridge University. He read law and was called to the Bar, becoming a promising barrister. Before the start of the Second World War, he was also invited to join No 601 Squadron, an Auxiliary Air Force unit known as ‘the Millionaires’ squadron due to their considerable wealth.

No 92, under Bushell, later converted to Spitfire Mk 1s and was pronounced operational in early May 1940, around the time of the evacuation from Dunkirk. On 23 May, Bushell led his squadron on sorties over northern France but was shot down by a Bf 110. However, he managed to successfully force-land his Spitfire but was soon captured. In 1941, he escaped twice from prisoner of war camps only to be recaptured. In September 1942, after being interrogated for three months by the Gestapo, he was sent to Stalag Luft III, a prisoner of war camp for Allied Air Force officers in Lower Silesia, now Poland. Here, as ‘Big X’ he chaired the escape committee that organised on an industrial scale the digging of three escape tunnels called ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’. The aim was to allow 200 prisoners to escape in one day. He escaped with 75 others on the night of 24 March 1944 but was captured two days later and was shot dead by the Gestapo. Forty nine other escapees were also murdered by agents of the Gestapo on the instructions of Hitler.

In the film The Great Escape, Richard Attenborough’s character Roger Bartlett is based on Roger Bushell, the real ‘Big X’ of Stalag Luft III.

THE No 92 SQUADRON BADGE IS DISPLAYED IN THE MUSEUM’S COLLECTION OF SQUADRON BADGES IN THE RECEPTION AREA

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