John William Best
|John William Best|
6 August 1912|
|Died||22 April 2000(aged 87)|
|Service/branch||Royal Air Force|
|Years of service||1939 - 1945|
Flight Lieutenant John William "Jack" Best MBE (6 August 1912 – 22 April 2000) was a British Royal Air Force pilot. He was a notable prisoner of war, who was held captive at Colditz Castle in eastern Germany during World War II. Best was noted for his several attempts to escape from Colditz and for his part in building the Colditz Cock, a glider from which he hoped to escape by air.
Best was born near Llangollen in North Wales and grew up there. He moved to Kenya as a young man where he was a farmer. When the war began in 1939, Best joined the RAF and was trained as a pilot. During one of his flights across Africa in 1941, his plane ran out of fuel off the coast of Greece and he was captured by German soldiers. He was taken to Stalag Luft III, the prison in the film The Great Escape. Best and another prisoner dug a tunnel and escaped to Poland, where they were re-captured. On 9 September 1942, they were taken to Colditz Castle where other escapees were taken, because German commanders believed the thick rock walls of Colditz would prevent escape.
Best attempted escape several times but was recaptured. From 5 April 1943 to 28 March 1944 Best became a "ghost prisoner", hiding under floorboards and in closets in Colditz to trick German guards into believing that he had escaped.
Best, Bill Goldfinch, Tony Rolt and several other prisoners constructed a glider out of wood and cloth in an attic at the top of a Colditz tower from which they planned an airborne escape from the castle. The glider had a 32-foot (9.8-metre) wingspan and was to be launched from the roof by a catapult that consisted of a bathtub filled with concrete at the end of a series of cables and pulleys. As the bathtub fell to the ground, the cables would fling the glider into the air where it would glide for about a mile over the town of Colditz and over the river Mulde. From there Best and another prisoner were planning to walk to a train station and escape by train to Switzerland.
Before they could launch the glider, Best was liberated from Colditz on 15 April 1945.
On the 6 September 1946 Best was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and returned to Kenya. In 1962 he returned to England, where he resumed farming at Herefordshire with his second wife, Elizabeth Bunting.
In 1999, Best was a consultant for a British documentary Escape from Colditz, in which a full-scale replica of the glider was built and successfully flown.
Jack Best died at the age of 87 in April 2000. He was survived by a son, daughter, and five grandchildren.