Throughout her 65 years as Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has met some of the world’s most incredible people, from politicians and celebrities to real life heroes.
And the 92-year-old monarch greeted another living legend this week as she shook hands with 101-year-old Jack Lyon, the last surviving ‘great escape’ survivor, as she celebrated 100 years of the RAF in Mayfair, London, on Wednesday.
The Queen stopped to speak to former flight lieutenant Lyon, who was one of 600 prisoners of war who helped to dig a 300ft network of tunnels before launching a spectacular escape bid from the Stalag Luft III POW camp, in Sagan, Germany, in March 1944.
Lyon, who was known as ‘Tiger’, was imprisoned at the camp when he was just 23, after his bomber crashed in Poland, and the veteran previously revealed how he was about to climb into one of the tunnels, when the plot was rumbled by the Luftwaffe.
Speaking on his 100th birthday last year, he told The Sun: “Another half an hour and I wouldn’t have been here now. When I think about it, luck was on my side.”
Read more: 70 years on from the real ‘great escape’.
Despite helping to dig the tunnels, known as ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’, Lyon was not one of the 76 men who actually made it through the tunnels. After the plan was discovered by German forces, 73 escapees were recaptured, with 50 of those being executed so as to set an example and deter prisoners from launching future escape bids.
Just three soldiers, two Norwegians and one Dutch, successfully escaped the camp during the almost unbelievable events of March 24, 1944, which were immortalised in 1963 film The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.
The portrait includes a number of @RoyalAirForce elements: the background features a Spitfire from 253 Squadron which the artists grandfather, F/Lt JM Sullivan, flew over Albania during WW2. The image on the right is a portion of ‘Hurricanes in Flight‘ (1944), by Eric Ravilous. pic.twitter.com/Bn7CgYTUT4
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) October 17, 2018
As well as greeting veterans and guests at the RAF Club, the Queen also unveiled a new portrait of herself by artist Benjamin Sullivan which delighted fans due to the fact he had opted to leave Her Majesty’s famous handbag in the picture.
He told The Sun: “It’s where she put it, and I thought I could take it out, but then I thought – actually it’s quite a nice thing, a personal thing.”
The Queen also took part in the unveiling of a new stained glass window at the club, which was founded in 1918 when President of the Air Board Viscount Cowdray sent a cheque for £100,000 (AU$ 184,400) to Sir Sefton Brancker, then Chairman of the Royal Flying Corps Club. The Queen also following in her father King George VI’s footsteps by signing the guest book.