Highlands & Islands

Church war hero 'the Tartan Pimpernel' honoured in France

Rev Dr Donald Caskie Image copyright PA / Google
Image caption Rev Dr Donald Caskie saved more than 2,000 prisoners of war and rescued men from Fort de la Revère, near Nice in France

A Church of Scotland minister, nicknamed the "Tartan Pimpernel", has been honoured in France.

Rev Dr Donald Caskie helped thousands of prisoners of war escape a hilltop fort during World War Two.

He and his French Resistance colleagues masterminded the rescue of RAF personnel under the noses of German soldiers through a sewer system at Fort de la Revère in 1942.

A memorial plaque marking his work has been unveiled at the fort near Nice.

Dr Caskie helped to bring 36 of the rescued men back to Britain in a submarine.

The crofter's son from the Hebridean island of Islay helped save more than 2,000 men during World War Two.

The plaque at the former military fort was installed by the Le Devoir de Mémoire organisation, which honours those affected by the war, including Resistance fighters.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The minister's nephews, Tom and Gordon Caskie attended the unveiling of the plaque

The minister's nephew, Tom Caskie, attended the unveiling service along with about 100 people, including local dignitaries, and said he was "bursting with pride".

He said: "The memorial is simply wonderful and it was very emotional to see Uncle Donald honoured in this way and seeing the Saltire on display.

"He was a hero of the Second World War and is still remembered with affection for his time as the minister of the Scots Kirk in Paris and the things he did with the Resistance to save thousands of lives."

'Heroes of the shadows'

Mr Caskie and his brother Gordon were presented with a commemorative medal at the ceremony on 19 October.

Le Devoir du Memoire secretary Nicole Pinon paid tribute to their uncle: "These men were heroes of the shadows who did not seek reward and only thought about whether or not they had done their duty.

"Our goal is to never forget and we are extremely happy to be participating in this event."

'Dr Caskie, whose codename was Monsieur Le Canard (Mr Duck) was leading the Scots Kirk in 1940 when the Germans invaded Paris.

Refusing to return to Scotland, he fled to Marseille and ran a Seaman's Mission, living a double life and passing the close scrutiny of the Vichy Police, helping British and Allied soldiers to freedom across mountains into Spain.

He was recruited by British Intelligence officers and the Seaman's Mission became the last link of a chain of safe houses stretching from Dunkirk in northern France to Marseille in the south.

Image copyright PA Media

The story of how he helped liberate prisoners from Fort de la Revère in 1942 is outlined in his book, The Tartan Pimpernel.

Officially acting as a chaplain to the PoWs, he discovered a sewer behind a large bush near the fort and informed his Resistance contact.

The entrance to the sewer inside the fort was in the boiler house and within 90 minutes 36 men had escaped.

Stuck in the tunnel

Dr Caskie wrote: "Another 22 men followed them, each ready to take his chance on making a solo getaway.

"Still more would have escaped but for a tragic comic miscalculation involving a fat man - a squadron leader from the RAF who got stuck in the tunnel.

"The poor man struggled furiously to get through the aperture and succeeded only in becoming more tightly wedged.

"Fourteen of the solo escapees were recaptured, eight got clean away.

"Not one of the submarine passengers was lost, all returned to England to continue the fight."

Dr Caskie was eventually jailed and sentenced to death but a German pastor intervened to save his life.

He spent the rest of the war in a PoW camp then returned to the Scots Kirk in Paris before heading home to Scotland in 1961.

He became minister of Old Gourock Church in Inverclyde and later Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay North Church in Ayrshire, and died in 1983.

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