THE man thought to be the oldest surviving and longest-serving British prisoner of war has died aged 98.

Alfie Fripp, a former technician at Brockenhurst College in the New Forest, died in hospital in Bournemouth today surrounded by his family.

Mr Fripp spent almost all of the Second World War in captivity after his plane was shot down by the Luftwaffe in 1939.

He was held at 12 different PoW camps, including Stalag Luft III, the scene of prisoner escapes that were dramatised in the film The Great Escape.

Mr Fripp, who lived in the Southbourne area of Bournemouth, joined the RAF in 1930 and married his sweetheart, Vera Allen, in September 1939, just three days after war was declared by Britain on Germany.

His squadron of Blenheim bombers was sent to France, and just weeks later his aircraft was shot down by the Luftwaffe during a reconnaissance mission and the crew was captured.

As well as spending time in Stalag Luft III, he was also on the Long March of 1945, when thousands of PoWs were forced to march in winter from the camp in Zagan in Nazi-occupied Poland to Spremberg in Germany. Many perished from the cold and starvation.

In 2009 Mr Fripp returned to Stalag Luft III for the first time in more than 60 years to remember colleagues who did not survive the war, including Flight Lieutenant Mike Casey, the 21-year-old pilot of the plane Mr Fripp was shot down in.

He was one of 50 Allied airmen who escaped from the camp, only to be caught by the Nazis and executed on Hitler's orders.

''I'm glad I came to remember Mike - you reflect back on all the memories and the people you knew,'' he said.

''As for the Germans, I've forgiven them but not forgotten.''

Casting his mind back to the fateful day in 1939 when they were shot down, he added: ''We were forced to hedge-hop at six feet to avoid being attacked again by a Messerschmitt in a cloudless sky.

''We crash landed after colliding with the treetops.''