Gulf War PoW in Great Escape charity challenge

A GULF War veteran who spent 40 days as an Iraqi prisoner of war is taking part in a charity challenge to honour the 50 World War II heroes immortalised by the film The Great Escape.

Ex-RAF navigator Robert Ankerson of Barn Close, Hartford, will be joining seven others for a 3,000-mile motorcycle ride across Europe following in the footsteps of Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, the mastermind behind the 1944 bid to break out of the Stalag Luft III camp.

The team will begin its journey from the former RAF Biggin Hill camp tomorrow, where Squadron Leader Bushell was based. They will be riding Triumph Bonneville motorcycles, like the one used by Steve McQueen for his iconic jump over the camp fence in the 1963 film.

A keen motorcyclist, Mr Ankerson, now 60, has dreamed of riding a Triumph Bonneville since being held in a Baghdad prison. He was captured, along with his pilot Simon Burgess, during a night bombing mission over Basra on January 24 1991.

They were released after the war ended on March 5, 1991. Flight Lieutenant Burgess died five years later when his Hawk jet crashed during a training exercise.

The thought of owning his own Triumph Bonneville helped Mr Ankerson, a father of one, to survive his time in solitary confinement, but the price tag made buying one prohibitive.

He said: “Having become a prisoner of war, I joined the RAF ex-PoW Association. The organiser of the charity motorcycle ride was invited by our chairman to come along and speak to us.

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“When he mentioned what he was planning, I told him I would love to do it.

“I wanted the Triumph Bonneville, but these were about �3,000, so I bought a different one for �1,000. Triumph then said they would provide another bike for me.”

The group dubbed The Great Escape II will be visiting Trier railway station, where Bushell, played by Sir Richard Attenborough in the film, was caught and the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin where he was interrogated. They will also spend three nights at Stalag Luft III camp.

They hope to raise �10,000 for Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion.

Joining them will be Colin Kirby-Green, who hopes to visit the grave of his father, Sqn Ldr Thomas Kirby-Green, one of the Great Escape prisoners who was later killed in the Czech Republic.

INFORMATION: To sponsor the group go to