A prisoner of war sent a postcard to his girlfriend just before taking part in the famous Great Escape in a bid to return home.

Flight Lieutenant John Francis Williams, 26, from Stoneleigh Park Road, Stoneleigh, was one of 50 prisoners shot dead by the Gestapo after the famous break out from Stalag Luft III, 70 years ago this week.

On the moonless night of March 24, 1944, 76 prisoners of war crawled through a 336ft (102m) tunnel to freedom.

Only three got home to Britain, 23 were returned to camps and the rest were killed.

Flt Lt Williams, part of Squadron 107, was on board a Boston bomber plane shot down in April, 1942. He was captured and sent to the POW camp.

Just before the escape in mid-February, Flt Lt Williams wrote to his girlfriend: "I’m sure it won’t be long now my love, before we are together again and then we must endeavour to make up for lost time mustn’t we?

"I’m sure you won’t mind me telling you this but recently I’ve felt a little lonely my darling, I miss you so very, very much your letters are a wonderful antidote for the gloom and I love receiving them."

His last postcard on the day of the escape said he hoped to see her soon.

Her 21st birthday, on March 13, was mentioned in their love letters and may have played some part in his determination to escape.

Before the war Flt Lt Williams worked for the Milk Marketing Board and belonged to the Lyric Players who were based in Wimbledon, but are now in Sutton.

He drove a sports car and volunteered for the RAF, becoming an observer on Boston bombers before being shot down and captured, according to research by Bourne Hall Museum in Ewell which has a small display of the correspondence and information about his life.

His love letters provide a fascinating insight into life in the camp - he drank beer at Christmas and New Year, grew tomato plants, helped build a theatre and had his appendicitis removed.

The 70th anniversary of the Great Escape was commemorated in Poland this week.