A WAR hero dubbed The Great Escaper for his repeated attempts to flee Nazi prison camps has performed another act of selflessness – giving away his birthday presents.
Rather than accepting gifts for his 95th birthday on July 7, Jimmy Mulhall, from Durham City, asked friends and relatives to donate to Durham Cathedral’s £10m Open Treasure appeal.
The donations raised £170, which bought Mr Mulhall 170 bricks on the cathedral’s fundraising Lego model and today (Tuesday, August 26) the Coldstream Guards veteran placed the plastic pieces in position, suitably on the miniature Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Chapel.
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Having signed up to the war effort in October 1939 aged 19, Mr Mulhall, originally from Langley Moor, near Durham, chased Mussolini’s armies through North Africa and was part of the Allied invasion of Italy, during which, while suffering from malaria, he was captured at Monte Cassino and sent to Mossberg prisoner-of-war camp in Germany.
While there he launched six daring escape attempts – being recaptured five times before finally securing his freedom in February 1945, escaping through a window and hiding out near an SS base in Austria before reaching US forces.
He was then repatriated with Jimmy Graham, a member of England’s aristocratic elite, whose mother took the pair straight to London’s Dorchester Hotel for afternoon tea. He had never set foot in a hotel in his entire life.
Gaye Kirby, the cathedral’s head of development, said: “It’s wonderful to see the Lego cathedral reaching out to people for sentimental reasons and we’re honoured that Jim, as a war veteran, has chosen to make this donation towards helping build a section of the DLI chapel.”
Mr Mulhall has written about his wartime experiences in War Memories, a book from the Elderly Widowers writers’ club which is available now priced £5.50 with proceeds going to the British Red Cross.
He has also just finished his memoirs, which will be published by the same club in November.