Passages: Eric Dowling helped organize escape from World War II prison camp

LONDON — Eric Dowling, nicknamed “Digger” for helping excavate tunnels used in the breakout from a World War II German prison camp that became known as the “Great Escape,” has died. He was 92.

Dowling flew 29 missions as a navigator with the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command. He was shot down in April 1942 and sent to the prison camp for Allied airmen. He played a key role in planning the 1944 escape by 76 prisoners from Stalag Luft III prison near Sagan in eastern Germany — now Zagan, Poland. He forged documents, made maps and helped dig three tunnels code-named Tom, Dick and Harry.

The daring breakout inspired the 1963 film “The Great Escape” starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.

All but three of the escapees were recaptured, and 50 of them were shot on the orders of Adolf Hitler to deter future attempts.

Over almost a year, prisoners surreptitiously dug the tunnels 30 feet underground, shored up with bedboards and wired with stolen electrical wire. Tom was discovered by guards and Dick was abandoned, but the 300-foot-long tunnel Harry was eventually completed.

Dowling was not among the more than 200 prisoners chosen by lottery to make the escape attempt on the cold and moonless night of March 24. By the time German guards discovered the breakout, 76 men had crawled free.

Son Peter Dowling said his father died at a nursing home near Bristol in southwest England on July 21, a day before his 93rd birthday. He said his father was not a fan of the movie.

Many of the film’s characters were composites of real people. Peter Dowling said the one that most resembled his father was a flight lieutenant nicknamed “The Forger,” played by Donald Pleasance.

Erik Darling replaced Seeger in The Weavers

RALEIGH, N.C. — Erik Darling, the reedy-voiced guitarist and banjo player who deftly stepped in when Pete Seeger left the pioneering folk music group The Weavers, died Sunday after battling lymphoma. He was 74.

Darling was perhaps best known for his hit “Walk Right In” and for his arrangement of the iconic Southern true-crime ballad “Tom Dooley,” which inspired The Kingston Trio’s recording of the song that topped the charts in 1958. He was a member of the Tarriers, known for its version of “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” — the signature tune of Harry Belafonte.

Simon Gray was author of more than 30 plays

LONDON — British writer Simon Gray, author of literate, bittersweet plays and acerbic diaries, has died at 71, his publisher said Thursday.

Granta Books said Gray died Wednesday in London. He had been diagnosed with cancer last year.

Gray wrote more than 30 plays, including “Quartermaine’s Terms,” “Otherwise Engaged” and “The Old Masters,” as well as five novels and the screenplay for the 1987 film “A Month in the Country.”

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