KGH consultant surgeon and WWII hero dies aged 102

A 102-year-old who worked as a consultant surgeon at Kettering General Hospital for more than 30 years has died.

Friday, 29th March 2019, 5:00 am
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Tom Cullen MBE, who held a key role at the Rothwell Road hospital between 1951 and 1982, was one of Britain’s last surviving WWII escapees from a prisoner of war camp.

While working as an RAF medic, Tom was captured by German paratroopers during fierce fighting in Crete in 1941.

While suffering from dysentery, he treated 1,000 wounded men during the battle for which he received the prestigious MBE Military honour for devotion to duty and courage of the highest order.

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Tom Cullen, MBE, who died this week. NNL-190328-120001005

He was then taken to the prisoner of war camp Stalag XXA in northern Poland.

Two-and-a-half years later, he hatched a plan with army officer John Grieg and Red Cross workers to escape from the camp.

They asked other POWs to make Polish-looking clothes for them and then concocted a ‘riot’ to distract guards.

Taking a ladder, the pair managed to climb over an 8ft fence topped in barbed wire and walk over a frozen moat, sneak past guards and wait for a resistance truck to collect them before staying in several safe houses on their way to the coast.

They made it to Gdynia, near Gdansk, then got a bus into the city before hiding in the hold of a ship for 36-hours.

They eventually arrived in neutral Sweden and were passed to the British ambassador who got them back to Britain.

When he returned, Tom was sent to RAF Halton and then after demobilisation he moved back home to Essex and met his wife.

He did not tell his family about his escape from the POW camp until 20 years ago, speaking publicly about it for the first time in the national press only two years ago - days after his hundredth birthday.

Tom was a farmer’s son born and brought up at Clark’s Farm, Kelvedon.

Speaking on his father’s hundredth birthday in 2017, Tom’s son Richard said: “He opted to go into medicine in the 1930s because farming was struggling in Essex at the time.

“Tom is certainly one of the last of those unsung heroes of the Second World War and is certainly the oldest of the Old Boys of the Grammar School in Colchester, which he attended until 1934 before going to the Middlesex Hospital Medical School.

“He qualified in medicine in September 1939 at the outbreak of war and worked as a house surgeon at the Middlesex Hospital until June 1940 when he enlisted as a medical officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

“In November 1940 he was posted to the Middle East then he went on to Crete where he worked under increasing duress as the Germans attacked the airfield at Maleme where he was based.

“Suffering from dysentery he toiled alone for three days attending to more than 1,000 wounded men as the Germans came ever closer.

“In 1951 he was appointed to the post of Consultant Surgeon at Kettering General Hospital where he was closely involved in the reorganisation and redevelopment of the hospital under the still developing NHS.”

Tom and his wife Molly brought up four children two of whom became doctors themselves. He had 11 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren and lived independently until after his 100th birthday.

He died at a nursing home in Colchester on Sunday (March 24).

His funeral will take place next month on a date to be arranged.

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