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Tributes to Great Escaper and former Mayor of Winchester, John Nunn
Updated 3:34pm Thursday 18th July 2013 in News
JOHN Nunn who died earlier this month was the first meteorologist, the first bomber pilot and the first computer salesman to become Mayor of Winchester.
He was also the first mayor probably of anywhere to have taken part in the famous Great Escape in World War Two in which 76 Allied prisoners tunnelled out of a camp in 1944. Three got back to England; the rest were recaptured and 50 were murdered by the Nazis.
On the 50th anniversary of the escape he told the Southern Daily Echo: “Everyone contributed something. Some forged documents, others dug the tunnels. I would rather not say what I did, in view of the people that died. I lost a very great friend in Tom Leigh. This was the dreadful thing about it. It was beautifully organised plan which worked extremely well.”
Mr Nunn hated the 1963 Hollywood movie starring Steve McQueen who tries to ride a motorbike over a barbed wire fence. He thought the film was inaccurate, glamourised the episode and disliked discussing the subject.
He perhaps owed his life to an Allied air raid which led to a power cut that plunged the tunnel into darkness and slowed progress, preventing him from getting out. He planned to pose as a French businessman and cycle his way to neutral territory of Switzerland or Spain.
Mr Nunn, 94, was born in London in 1919 and educated at Mill Hill School and University College London where he graduated in 1939 with a degree in maths and statistics.
With war clouds looming Mr Nunn had joined the University of London Air Squadron in 1938 and was commissioned into the Royal Air Force the following year.
He was posted to Bomber Command and flew bombing sorties over occupied Europe before he was shot down in 1941. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the war he remained in the service and rose to the rank of Wing Commander before he retired in 1966.
He joined IBM before retiring in 1982.
Almost immediately he was elected as a Conservative to Winchester City Council for the ward of Droxford, Soberton and Hambledon. He was group leader from 1984-88 and vice-chairman of the planning committee from 1985-91 before becoming mayor in 1992. He stepped down in 1994.
He married Joan, an RAF doctor, and they had a son and a daughter. Joan died in 1989 and he never remarried.
The current city councillor for Droxford, Soberton and Hambledon, Tony Coates, paid tribute to Mr Nunn who he had known for more than 30 years. “He was well-respected, kind, gentle and a very keen bridge player with a lot of friends. He was a lifelong member of the Conservative Party and enjoyed canvassing well into his 80s. He was pretty fit up to the end. I can recall him strolling into the village to get his paper every day and that was a good half mile.
“He never spoke about it (the Great Escape). All I know is that he was shot down.
“John was very keen on the Conservative branch quizzes and was very competitive. He had a good brain and a good education. You might catch him on modern culture but nothing classical or historical.”
Meon Valley MP George Hollingbery said: “While John was a stalwart of the local Conservative party, a former councillor and past mayor, it was his contribution to his country that I hope we never forget.
“John never talked about his experiences in the Second World War but we all owe more than we can ever imagine to him and his fellow airmen who sacrificed so much to keep us safe. I will not only miss him for the man he was but also for what his very presence evoked every time I met him; the bravery and heroism of those dark days.”
A memorial service will be held on Friday July 26 at Hambledon church.
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