Patrick Langford was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the son of Mr & Mrs Richard Langford. His father was a Forest Ranger at the Jasper National Park and its first Chief Warden from 1911. He returned to England to serve in WW1 and settled back in Jasper in 1919.
Patrick was born 4th November 1919. He was educated at Jasper Public and High School from September 1926 to June 1936 and Banff High School from September 1936 until June 1937 and worked summer jobs for Brewster Transport as a driver and later in the National Park.
On 29 January 1940 in Edmonton, Alberta he joined the RCAF as a Regular Service officer and was commissioned; he was assigned to the Calgary Aero Club flying Gypsy Moth aircraft. He received further training in Toronto and at RCAF Camp Borden. On September 1941, he flew to England and was sent for operational training flying Wellington Bombers.
On the night of 28 July 1942, he took off to bomb the German Shipbuilding and Port of Hamburg. His bomber was singled out by searchlights and the aircraft was shot down over Lubeck in Northern Germany. Three of the crew were killed on landing, one was unhurt but taken prisoner, but Langford and the rear gunner were seriously injured and spent two months in hospital. On recovering he was sent to Stalag Luft 3 in Sagan, now in Poland.
As prisoner #710 Langford was involved in the planning and excavation of the tunnel code-named “Harry” which was located under the barracks stove in Room 23 Block 104. With the constant checks by the German guards, it was always a challenge to protect the now three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry. Being the first tunnel started, Harry was finished in March 1944 and it was decided by the escape committee that it was too dangerous to continue. Therefore it was decided to use the tunnel and shut down the other two tunnels for a later time. “Harry” was in total almost 350 feet in length and the breakout was planned for March 24th.
After almost 3 years of building the tunnels, everything was ready: civilian clothes, money, forged travel documents and handmade compasses. Everything was ready. Prior to the escape the men were told that after leaving the tunnel they must not stop and wait for a friend but to get as far away as possible as quickly as possible.
On the night of March 24, 1944, the escape began with the first group going through the tunnel which was barely 2 feet x 2 feet, dark and damp. After some 40 minutes, 80 POW’s had gone through the tunnel; unfortunately, the German guards discovered the last four prisoners who were returned to the camp. But 76 had escaped into the countryside. The German army and police immediately began a huge manhunt. Langford and others spent 4 days and nights walking and hiding in deep snow and freezing temperatures only to be recaptured on March 28, 1944. He and the others were taken to Gorlitz Prison .
On the morning of March 31, 1944, Langford was taken from the prison and joined by 50 other Great Escapers was brutally murdered by the Gestapo. Of the 76, 50 were selected to set an example to other prison escapes. He was 24 years old.
If you enjoyed this second in our series on Spitfire Pilots, you might enjoy reading the first featuring Hart Finley.