A unique memento of a hero from The Great Escape will go to auction after being found by a plumber at the back of an airing cupboard. 

The Gresham School swagger stick had once belonged to Marcel Zillesen, one of the masterminds behind the famous Second World War Nazi prison break.

Sitting forgotten for 20 years, the find coincided with the escape's 80th anniversary last week. 

The 70cm long stick has a lacquered malacca cane body and a nickel pommel which bears the badge of Gresham School Officer Training Corps (OTC). 

Eastern Daily Press: Zillessen’s name etched on the swagger stick (l) and the Gresham School OTC badge (r)Zillessen’s name etched on the swagger stick (l) and the Gresham School OTC badge (r) (Image: Hansons/Mark Laban)The name ‘Zillessen’ is scratched into the stick and the words ‘Gresham’ and ‘Holt’ are both visible.

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Matt Crowson of Hansons Auctioneers said: "It belonged to him when he attended Gresham School OTC as a teenager from 1930 to 1933.

“His swagger stick, a short crop usually carried by a uniformed person as a symbol of authority, is a memento of a man who will never be forgotten."

Mr Zillesen, who is believed to have been the inspiration for The Scrounger character in the 1963 film, played an integral role in the escape as he could speak fluent German. 

Eastern Daily Press: Hansons’ Head of Militaria Matt Crowson with the swagger stickHansons’ Head of Militaria Matt Crowson with the swagger stick (Image: Hansons/Mark Laban)Mr Crowson said: “The estimate may appear modest but the memories it’s likely to unleash will be monumental.

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"Had the piece been connected to Zillessen’s wartime service and the Great Escape it would be worth much more, but this is a pre-war piece from his teenage years in a school officer training corps.

"Nevertheless, thanks to the impact of the Great Escape, the find may surprise us all under the hammer.”

The swagger stick will be auctioned on May 15 at Hansons Auctioneers’ Medals and Militaria Auction with a guide price of £100 to £150. 

Eastern Daily Press: Prisoners at Stalag Luft IIIPrisoners at Stalag Luft III (Image: Hansons/Mark Laban)

The Great Escape

Marcel Zilleson, who passed away at the age of 81 in 1999, was born to a German father and Irish mother and spent his early life in Bradford. 

In 1943, he was sent to Stalag Luft III, a prisoner-of-war camp that held Allied Air Force personnel, after his Hurricane plane was shot down in North Africa.

An expert at document forgery and outwitting Nazi guards, he was last in a queue of 200 men waiting to escape the three tunnels out of the camp.

His life was more than likely saved after the plot was foiled and he managed to flee back to his barracks.

Of the 76 who escaped, most were caught within days and 50 of the recaptured men were executed on Hitler's orders.

The Nazis had believed the camp was escape-proof but on the night of March 24, 1944, in a great act of defiance, they were proven wrong.