Forgotten Hero: WWII Soldier’s Riding Crop Unearthed in Airing Cupboard

WWII Soldier's Riding Crop Unearthed in Airing Cupboard

Forgotten Hero: WWII Soldier’s Riding Crop Unearthed in Airing Cupboard


  • A pre-war riding crop, once belonging to WWII soldier Marcel Zillessen, discovered in an airing cupboard by a plumber.
  • Zillessen’s connection to The Great Escape adds intrigue to the find, with the crop bearing the emblem of his alma mater, Gresham’s School.
  • The item, set to be auctioned in May, carries a modest estimate but holds immense historical significance, serving as a tangible link to a bygone era of heroism and sacrifice.


In a remarkable discovery reminiscent of a plot twist from a wartime thriller, a pre-war riding crop once owned by a World War Two soldier, who served as inspiration for a character in The Great Escape film, has been unearthed in an airing cupboard by a plumber.

The riding crop, once belonging to Marcel Zillessen, a former pupil of Gresham’s School in Norfolk, bears the school’s emblem and is set to be auctioned in May, stirring memories of a man whose courage and resilience left an indelible mark on history.

Described by Matt Crowson, head of medals and militaria at Hansons Auctioneers, as a symbol of authority, the riding crop stands as a tangible link to Zillessen’s extraordinary life. Zillessen’s involvement in the daring escape from the Nazi prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III, famously depicted in The Great Escape, adds layers of intrigue to the discovery.

Despite being slated to be the last man to emerge from the escape tunnel named ‘Harry,’ Zillessen’s fate took a different turn, ultimately sparing his life. Of the 76 who attempted the escape, only a handful evaded capture, highlighting the magnitude of Zillessen’s role in one of the most audacious acts of defiance against Nazi tyranny.

The unexpected find of the riding crop, hidden away in an airing cupboard, adds a surreal twist to its journey through time. Its origins, intertwined with Zillessen’s school days and military service, evoke a sense of nostalgia and reverence for a bygone era marked by heroism and sacrifice.

The seller’s account of the discovery, prompted by a routine plumbing job, underscores the serendipitous nature of historical artifacts finding their way into the light after years of obscurity. It is speculated that the original recipient of the riding crop may have shared a connection with Zillessen during their time at Gresham’s School Officer Training Corps, adding an intriguing layer to its provenance.

As the riding crop prepares to go under the hammer at Hansons’ Medals and Militaria Auction, anticipation mounts over the memories it is poised to evoke and the stories it may yet reveal. Despite its modest estimate, the riding crop’s significance transcends monetary value, serving as a poignant reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of individuals like Zillessen who risked everything for freedom.

In the annals of history, Marcel Zillessen’s name may be immortalized for his part in the Great Escape, but it is the discovery of his riding crop, tucked away in an airing cupboard, that breathes new life into his legacy, ensuring that his story continues to inspire generations to come.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *