The Greatest Escape by Peter Grose records the extraordinary story of how a small French community saved over 5,000 people from both Nazi and Vichy clutches during WW2. The community simply absorbed people into their homes, farms, barns and a few hostels, without question.
We were delighted to hear more about the heroism of some of the central characters from the author himself when he talked to Year 10, 11 and Pathway students last week. The Pacifist Pastor Andre Trocme, for example, who masterminded the operation; the talented forger who managed to supply thousands of false papers, and the female resistance agent with a wooden leg (called Cuthbert!) who guided people across the mountains. Many Quakers also contributed to this operation, specifically by assisting with safe passage to Britain and America.
Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of this story is the total silence and co-operation maintained by the community, so much so that their story remained a secret until relatively recently. No one gave interviews and no one boasted of their bravery. It was, for them, simply a matter of duty and compassion towards those in desperate need.
It was a pleasure to welcome Peter and his wife Roslyn to Sidcot. In the lunchtime talk, they elaborated about the researching and writing process for this book. Peter needed to access and read hundreds of papers, records and eye-witness accounts of these events in order to ensure he produced a reliable account of this remarkable story. Roslyn’s fluent French was invaluable for this task.