New book shares tales of Sussex war heroes

Bill Lucas
Bill Lucas
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Sussex heroes who defended this country during the Second World War have shared some of their stories in a new book.

Called Sussex War Heroes, the book was written by Ben James and includes interviews with one of the heroes of the Great Escape, a bomber commander who became an Olympian, and a woman who survived the Auschwitz death camp.

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SUS-160402-101701001

Jack Lyon was one of the heroes of the Great Escape.

He worked alongside Roger Bushell (played in the Hollywood film by Richard Attenborough) in planning the break out. He was next in line to enter the tunnel when a German sentry spotted one of the escapees.

He would have made it out had a New Zealander not jumped the queue. However, it almost certainly saved his life as those who escaped were executed by the SS.

Prior to ending up in Stalag Luft III, Jack had been an RAF crewman. He was shot down on just his second mission and spent four years in prison camps around Europe.

John Buckeridge

John Buckeridge

His story is a fantastic personal account of one of the greatest prison escapes in history.

Bill Lucas is Britain’s oldest living Olympian and was one of the best Bomber Command pilots of the war. He was one of the favourites to take gold in the 5,000m at the 1940 Helsinki Olympics, but when war was declared, the games were cancelled.

He said: “Hitler denied my chance, so I decided to bomb him instead.”

Bill flew 81 missions including the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne and the firebombing of Dresden. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery.

Maurice Macey

Maurice Macey

After the war he was picked for the 1948 London Olympics but was past his prime and lost to one of the greats, Emil Zátopek.

John Buckeridge was at the heart of one of the most bloody and costly battles of the entire war: the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. Over two nights he led his men in storming the enemy stronghold.

On the first night, he was the only officer to return alive - but just 24 hours later he was ordered to take his men over the top again.

This time, John was not as lucky and was badly wounded when a grenade blew up next to him.

Dame Vera Lynn in Burma in 1944 during WWII SUS-141216-142403001

Dame Vera Lynn in Burma in 1944 during WWII SUS-141216-142403001

He was back in action just days later and helped the Allies take the position before he led his men through Italy and over to Greece. After the war he remained with the Royal Sussex Regiment and achieved the rank of colonel.

Maurice Macey was one of the RAF’s top Spitfire pilots and flew an incredible 64 missions including a number on D-Day. However, he was shot down in 1944 and suffered severe burns when he parachuted from his aircraft.

After some rough treatment by the SS, he was thrown in a prisoner camp before later being forced into the snow on a forced march.

He narrowly survived as he endured the harsh winter with little food and clothing. He died just weeks after being interviewed for the book last year.

John Akehurst was one of the top Bomber Command crew members and as such was signed up to Churchill’s Special Operations Executive. He played a part in one of the most high profile missions of the war: the assassination of Hitler’s right hand man, Reinhard Heydrich.

Later in the war he was shot down and taken prisoner. He tried to escape on numerous occasions - once successfully - and for a time was one of the most wanted men in Europe.

His story was only discovered when his son found his war diary following his death.

Arthur Ayres saw it all: from the beaches of Dunkirk to the deserts of North Africa and bridges of Northern Holland.

The paratrooper joined up just days before the start of the war and played a part in perhaps three of the most important battles. He tells of his narrow escape from Dunkirk after leaping from a harbour wall on to a departing ship while under fire.

He then describes the intense Battle of El Alamein as British Armour pounded Rommel’s forces. And finally the daring jump over Holland on the operation that inspired the Hollywood film, A Bridge Too Far.

As the Allied forces retreated from Holland, Arthur was captured while trying to save a wounded pilot.

He was transported to a prisoner camp where he formed an unlikely friendship with a German officer who eventually helped him escape back to England.

Sussex War Heroes is available in all good bookshops, online (amazon.co.uk) and by calling 01235 465500.

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