Alfie Fripp: Last of the “39ers”

Squadron Leader Alfie Fripp (RAF Retd.) was, until his death in January 2013 at the age of 99,  the oldest surviving and longest-serving British Prisoner of War (PoW). Held during World War II in the Nazi PoW camp Stalag Luft III, he was a veteran of the  real Great Escape. One of the first PoWs to be captured at the very start of the war, Alfie was the last of the “39ers”. He was also Uncle Bill to the world-renowned guitarist, composer and producer, Robert Fripp.

So what’s the story behind this remarkable man? Read on…

Before the war…

Alfie was born on 13 June 1913. His father was a regular in the Royal Marines and had the young Alfie’s career planned out for him at an early age.

At the age of 12, Alfie was set to join the navy as an Artificer Apprentice through the Royal Naval Training School. Having passed the educational exam, he subsequently failed the medical for being 4ft 10ins – almost 4 inches too short!

After this early disappointment, Alfie was told that the RAF was looking for apprentices and there was no height restrictions. Invited to take the entrance exam, he passed and chose to become an electrical apprentice.

Along wth other new recruits, Alfie was enlisted at RAF Halton on 30 September 1930 and proceeded to RAF Cranwell to the E.W School. After two years of training, the recruits were told that the electrical training was to become the electrical instrument trade and were given the option on transferring to the Wireless Operator course. Knowing that there was more chance of becoming aircrew, Alfie took the opportunity and transferred.

Following qualification in 1933, Alfie was posted to 201 Sqn (Flying Boats) based at Calshot, near Southampton. Three years later, a transfer to 205 Sqn in Singapore – the first RAF squadron to be permanently based in the far east. A brief sojourn at RAF North Coates in 1938 was swiftly followed by another transfer, this time to 57 Sqn at RAF Upper Heyford.

At the outbreak of the second world war, 57 Sqn was transferred to Amy, France as the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France for strategic reconnaissance duties.

More importantly, three days after the declaration of war on 6 September 1939, Alfie married Vera Violet Allen. A very short honeymoon was taken after which it was back to work for Flight Sergeant Fripp. If only Alfie and Vera has known the future they may have perhaps taken a longer honeymoon!

The aircraft in 57 Sqn at this time was the famous Bristol Blenheim and it was during one mission that Alfie became one of the now famous “39ers”…

Captured by the Luftwaffe…
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