Brave Dick Starkey, one of South Yorkshire’s most famous World War Two heroes, has died - aged 91, writes Graham Walker.
He was among the last surviving Lancaster bomber pilots, shot down after 22 missions and sent to the infamous Stalag Luft III German prisoner-of-war camp, immortalised by Hollywood in The Great Escape.
Dick, of Royston, Barnsley, returned a few years ago to the 1944 crash site of his beloved Lancaster bomber Queenie and was amazed to be introduced to Martin Becker, the Messerschmitt pilot who shot him down.
They struck up a friendship, based on mutal respect and he swapped Christmas cards with other German fighter pilots who he went on to befriend, he revealed in a Star interview three years ago.
Dick, real name Richard, was also given a hero’s welcome by the people of Konigsberg, where his plane crashed on his planned bombing route to Nuremburg.
They had salvaged some of wreckage at the time and on his return visit presented him with parts from his old cockpit, which he brought back home.
Dick told his boy’s own story in his autobiography, A Lancaster Pilot’s Impression On Germany.
He wrote how he helped to stop Adolf Hitler’s Nazi march by piloting his way through bullet-riddled skies and out-manoeuvring the Luftwaffe, to drop a total of 200 tons of bombs during the Battle Of Berlin.
He was shot down on March 30 during the 1944 Nuremberg Raid – the RAF’s bloodiest night – when 700 British aircrew were killed. He was pulled from the crash, which killed every other member of his crew, and ended up in Stalag Luft III, shortly after 50 officers were shot for their failed Great Escape bid in the underground tunnels Tom, Dick and Harry.
He was eventually set free and repatriated after German guards feared advancing Russian troops and marched the camp’s prisoners for seven days in snow and ice, using them as a human shield.
The former Carlton pit office worker told The Star he only became a RAF pilot to give the Nazis some of what he saw them deliver in the blitz over Sheffield.
Of his own bombing raids, he said: “I’m sorry for what I did. But I didn’t regret it.
“The two nights I saw the Germans bombing Sheffield made me join up. They started it.
“It was a miracle I survived. When I met the pilot who shot us down there was no animosity. I met others and we were like a flying club. We became friends and swapped all kind of cards.”
His incredible story was also documented in Red Line - a book by former Gulf War POW John Nichol, who himself was captured and tortured, by the Iraqis, in 1991.
John said: “Dick and his crew were right at the heart of the action and his story is an astonishing one of courage and sacrifice.”
Barnsley-born Dick, who lived in Pogmoor before moving to Royston 19 years ago, died ‘peacefully’ in hospital from a stroke after a fall at home, said his family.
A widower, following the death of wife Jean, he leaves two daughters, two grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Daughter Denise Heckingbottom, aged 60, of Royston, said: “He was a genteleman. People all over the world were still writing to him. We thought he would live forever.”
His funeral will be at St John The Baptist Church, Church Street, Royston, on Wednesday, at 2.30pm, followed by cremation at Ardsley Crematorium, at 3.30pm.