The Cooler King

In the movie, The Great Escape, Steve McQueen portrayed “The Cooler King”, famed for his escapes from WWII POW camps.  See the photo below showing him on his motorcycle in the film:

But the movie role was based on the actual experiences of the American-born Bill Ash, who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force before the U.S. entered the war.  His story is told in the book, “The Cooler King, The True Story of William Ash: Spitfire Pilot, P.O.W. and WWII’s Greatest Escaper” by Patrick Bishop, available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, thriftbooks, and AbeBooks.

See also Ash, William, Under the Wire, The World War II Adventures of a Legendary Escape Artist and ‘Cooler King’, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2005. Available from Amazon and AbeBooks.

For more on William Ash, see:

  • Meet the inspiration for Steve McQueen’s ‘Great Escape’ cooler king“, by Michael Kane, New York Post, Sept. 10, 2022 (originally Mar. 27, 2016).  Click here to view it.”
  • The man who inspired Steve McQueen’s character in The Great Escape, has died”  by Neil Clarke, Express, May 2, 2014.  Click here to view it.
  • The Cooler King, Bill Ash was the real POW whose exploits served as the basis for the portrayal by actor Steve McQueen in The Great Escape”, WWII History, Vol. 21, No. 6, pp. 13.

For a clip of the movie on YouTube, click here.