Flight Lieutenant Clarke Wallace Chant Floody, M.B.E.
The Sash Our Forefathers Wore
Clarke Wallace Floody was born on April 28th, 1918 in Chatham, Ontario to parents William Edward Floody and Mary Bevan Chant.
When Wallace was a year old he and his family moved to Toronto where his father worked in magazine publishing. As a youth, Wallace spent his summers working on a farm tending livestock just south of Clinton, Ontario, the community where his mother had been raised. He graduated from Northern Vocational School in Toronto, Ontario in 1936 and then headed north to work at the Preston East Dome Mines in Timmins, Ontario as a mucker shovelling the rock and mud into carts to be hauled up to the surface.
At the onset of the Second World War in 1939, Wallace was working on a ranch in Alberta when he decided to return home to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). He financed his trip back east by shovelling coal into the boiler of the locomotive for the entire trip back to Toronto. After learning that the RCAF was not quite ready for the huge influx of personnel, Wallace married his fiance, Elizabeth "Betty" Louise Baxter on May 24th, 1940 and moved to Kirkland Lake where he went back to work in the mines.
Shortly afterwards in 1940, Wallace and Betty were back in Toronto visiting family. Anxious to find out what was happening to his enlistment application, Wallace checked with the recruiting office only to find his application was at the bottom of the pile. The reason: he was now married. After convincing the recruiting officer that "My wife backs me in this 100%", he was advised that the train was leaving for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) air station in Brandon, Manitoba that evening. After a quick goodbye to his family Wallace was on his way to becoming an operational pilot and flying with No. 401 Squadron.
Operating from RAF Biggin Hill in England, his Spitfire was shot down on October 27th, 1941 over Saint-Omer, France, where he was met by two German soldiers.
He was imprisoned at the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III at Sagan (now Żagań, Poland). There, he joined the "X-Organization", headed by Roger Bushell (codenamed "Big-X"), who put Floody in charge of digging tunnels and their camouflage, for the upcoming escape attempts by Commonwealth and European prisoners.
In his new surroundings he utilised his mining experience with even more zeal and audaciously drew up plans for three escape tunnels, with the thinking that if one of them was spotted, the Germans would stop looking for any others.
Earning himself the nickname of "the Tunnel King", Floody called his trio of escape routes Tom, Dick and Harry.
In March 1944 however, the German guards, always suspicious of escapes, caught the telltale sign of sand being dropped by one of the 'penguins' out of the bottom of his pant legs and immediately rounded up Wallace and 19 others and transferred them to another camp in Belaria, Italy.
The escape of 76 men went ahead on the moonless night of March 24th, 1944. Eventually the Germans caught all but three prisoners, and to make an example of them to all the other prisoners, Hitler ordered the execution of 50 of the recaptured Allied officers under the pretext that they were shot while attempting escape.
Wallace and his fellow prisoners of war were liberated by the Red Army in April, 1945 at the end of the war. Before returning home, Wallace evidence about conditions in the prisoner of war camps at the Nuremberg trials.
Wallace returned to Canada on Dominion Day, July 1st 1945 and was reunited with his wife, Betty. Wallace resumed his membership in Imperial Loyal Orange Lodge No. 2767 in Toronto, Ontario. He became a respected businessman, worked with the Canadian Cancer Society and Red Cross and was the co-founder of the Royal Canadian Air Force Prisoners of War Association.
On September 30th, 1946, Wallace and Betty's first child was born, Brian Edward Floody.
On October 2nd, 1946 Wallace received news that he had been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire by King George VI; the citation reading, in part:
"Flight Lieutenant (F/L) Floody made a thorough study of tunnelling work and devised many different methods & techniques. He became one of the leading organizers and indefatigable workers in the tunnels themselves. Besides being arduous, his work was frequently dangerous....F/L Floody was buried under heavy falls of sand.....but, despite all dangers and difficulties, F/L Floody persisted, showing a marked degree of courage and devotion to duty".
In April of 1949, Wallace and Betty's second child was born in England, Richard Clarke Floody.
In early 1962, Wallace received a phone call from movie director John Sturges. He told Wallace that he was planning to make a film based on the book by Paul Brickhill, an Australian flyer and writer who, like Wallace, had spent time at Stalag Luft III. After Sturges's assurance that the film was to be as accurate as theatrically possible but true to the efforts of those prisoners and the atmosphere of the camps, Wallace agreed to be technical adviser on the 1963 feature film "The Great Escape" which was filmed on locations in Germany during the summer of 1962. He is popularly considered the real-life counterpart to that film's fictional "Tunnel King", Danny Velinski, played by actor Charles Bronson.
Wallace passed away on September 25th, 1989 at the age of 71 of the lung disease, emphysema. Many attributed the cause of his death to his work in the small confined space of the tunnels at Stalag Luft III. Wallace was laid to rest at the Park Lawn Cemetery in Toronto, Ontario.
People that knew Wallace had often heard him say, "For me, every day of living is a bonus".
Flight Lieutenant Clarke Wallace Floody, M.B.E.(Photo: Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland).
A photo of Flight Lieutenant Clarke Wallace Floody, M.B.E. taken in 1987 holding a photo of himself during his internment (Photo: Toronto Star, 1987).
(Photo: Find A Grave / P. Blackstock)
The Tunnel King