Ian Garrow's involvement with Pat Line in France in World War ll
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Compiled and edited by Sarah Long
On 8th June 1940, while Allied Forces were recovering from their defeats in France and mainland Europe, culminating in the Dunkirk and evacuations, Ian Garrow (then a captain with the Glasgow Highlanders, part of the 51st Highland Division) arrived in Cherbourg for reasons still not fully explained.
France in June 1940 must have been a chaotic place, with German forces sweeping west across mainland Europe with astonishing speed. The Allied forces' evacuations from the beaches of Dunkirk saved thousands of men, but many others were captured.
Some of these men managed to escape, and yet others evaded capture and either went into hiding or began to try to make their way back to the UK.
The 51st Highland Division was left to fight on after the evacuation at Dunkirk, successfully distracting German attention away from the main force towards St Valéry-en-Caux until they were ordered to surrender on June 12th, when many thousands of troops were taken prisoner. In the case of the Seaforth Highlanders, their surrender was forced by French troops marching across their front carrying white flags and masking their guns.
The Highland Division comprised, among others, the Seaforth Highlanders, Cameron Highlanders, Gordon Highlanders, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and the Black Watch. This may perhaps explain why there are photographs of Garrow dressed in the uniform of the Seaforth Highlanders rather than Glasgow Highlanders (was Garrow seconded to the Seaforths from the Glasgow Highlanders?).
It seems probable that Garrow's battalion was connected with this action and tasked to work with the French 10th Army, and thus he must have been one of the last Allied soldiers fighting on French soil before the Normandy landings of June 1944.
The next we know is that some 7 or 8 days later (around 15-17 June) Garrow and the rest of the 140-strong Transport section became separated from the division near Mortagne in Normandy. Colonel Carnegie wrote to Garrow's parents in late June 1940 describing how this happened. Surrounded by German forces, Garrow and a Major McClure were among those who began to make for the coast at St Malo but again were overtaken by events (notably the German occupation of Normandy by 19 June and the signing of the French armistice 22 June).
Garrow and McClure seem to have decided to split into smaller groups and by around 25 July Garrow's group reached Tours in unoccupied France, where they surrendered to the French and were duly interned.
Capt. Garrow, Capt. Bradford, Sgt Wyatt and Fl. Off. Lewis Hodges were all at the Ile Jourdain camp by 1 October 1940 and transferred to Fort St Jean on 18 October 1940 where they were relatively free to come and go on parole. Capt. Frederick Fitch was Senior British Officer (SBO) at Fort St Jean and already appears to have been organising escapes via Spain. By this early date, Donald Darling was in Lisbon in order to assist the escape process from neutral territory.
In Marseilles Garrow must have quickly met up with other members of the Transport section including Cpl W. West (Highland Light Infantry) who, with Capt. Fitch made a successful escape attempt across the Pyrenees in late December 1940 (possibly even with Garrow's help).
Many of the evaders and escapers from Dunkirk and St Valéry found their way down to Marseilles and the city must have been churning with Allied servicemen desperate to get back to the UK. Already in these early days escapes were being organised and Garrow rapidly seems to have become involved certainly by the end of 1940.
An early figure in helping escapers was the Reverend Donald Caskie, who made his way to Marseilles after the fall of Paris in June 1940 where he had spent several years as Presbyterian Minister of the Scottish church. By mid-July, Caskie had re-opened the Seamen's Mission at 46 Rue de Forbin, a place which became well-known as a venue for Allied servicemen in need until he was ordered by the French to close it early in 1942.
Caskie also gave regular church services for the men interned at St Hippolyte gaol, taking the opportunity to smuggle in escape equipment. Eventually arrested in April 1942, he ended the war working for the Allies as officiating Chaplain to the Forces.
Presumably at an early stage it was realised that escapes would be difficult without local and civilian assistance. By the 14th February 1941 Garrow is recorded by Lt. Richard Broad, Seaforth Highlanders, as liaising between the prison and the consul (presumably American, though it is possible that it refers to Dr Rodocanachi) while several other useful civilians are providing help many of them presumably introduced via the Rev. Caskie and his Seamen's Mission.
We will probably never know who recruited whom to help with escape activities, but many of the names which feature in Pat Line history begin to appear in witness accounts of the events of late 1940. For example, there is evidence that by mid December Garrow was working with Capt LA Wilkins, Capt Murchie, Harry Clayton and Tom Kenny.
In mid February 1941 Murchie is remembered by Richard Broad and James Langley as acting "as their chief" and as working with Caskie until his own escape in April 1941 (when, according to Varian Fry, he "appointed Garrow as his successor"). It seems that Nancy Fiocca (née Wake), Louis Nouveau and Jimmy Langley all met Ian Garrow around this time, and that Elisabeth Haden-Guest (later Furse) first consulted Dr Rodocanachi with her sick son Anthony, although he seems to have been involved with Caskie and Garrow considerably earlier.
Haden-Guest seems to have convinced Rodocananchi to allow his apartment, at 21 rue Roux de Brignoles (close to the Gestapo headquarters), to be used as a safe house, which he did from June 1941 until his arrest in February 1943, and indeed the apartment served as the headquarters of the escape line for a considerable period.
Dr George Rodocanachi could already be credited with the saving of hundreds of Jewish lives, providing the necessary urgently needed medical certificates to enable them to board the last remaining immigration ships bound for the USA. He also helped healthy escapers to obtain repatriation permission by coaching and preparing them before their appearance before the Medical Board on which he was one of the examining doctors until his replacement by a German doctor in August 1942.
Bruce Dowding (aka André Mason, an Australian executed in June 1943 at Dortmund) was "associating with the members of the escape organisation" by Christmas 1940. In February 1941 he seems to have been actively engaged in assisting the escape route and was a friend of Donald Caskie. He was responsible for taking prisoners towards the Spanish boarder by train, via Toulouse and Perpignan.
On the 8th January 1941 Allied servicemen from Fort St Jean were transferred to St Hippolyte. Presumably Garrow, Wilkins, Murchie and others chose this opportunity to go to ground in Marseilles many probably at Caskie's Seamen's Mission, although Murchie at least is known to have had a separate flat. Murchie apparently had frequent meetings with Allied servicemen there and many reported him as having organised their escape.
Meanwhile London had been interested in Garrow's progress ever since 18th June 1940 and, by the 19th Jan 1941, appeared uncommonly informed about his situation and to have some form of contact with him. Was Fitch's earlier escape planned so that he and Darling could establish communication and plan larger scale escaping and did Garrow take over the role of chief escape co-ordinator?
Certainly, Jimmy Langley claims that by the end of January 1941 Garrow has "established contact" with Barcelona and Madrid. This is also the time when London first hinted to Garrow's father that they are in contact with him. It seems clear that London continued to maintain secret wireless contact with those working with the escape line, at great personal risk to the wireless operators.
In 1942, two such wireless operators were Jean Nitelet, the one-eyed man known as Jean le Nerveu ('Jean the Restless'), and Tom Groome. Tom was aged 20, an Australian with a French mother. He was captured in early 1943 but managed to send a warning to London before throwing himself from a window. His runner, a young French girl called Edith Reddé, was able to escape and spent time in hiding in the Martin house at Endoume, near Marseilles. William Sparks, who was there at the same time, says in The Cockleshell Heroes, " We were also joined [February 1943] by Edit[h], who had been working with a British radio operator when they were both captured by the Gestapo and taken away to be interrogated. Upon arriving at Gestapo headquarters, the Britisher made a dive for the window, plunging to the street below. Edit[h] had no idea if he had survived the fall or not, but when all the Germans raced out to get him, she quickly followed them and slipped away. She now hoped to escape to Britain to join up with the Free French."
By 7th March 1941 Louis Nouveau's son Jean-Pierre succesfully escaped across the Pyrenees, at which point Garrow seems to have recruited Nouveau into the organisation. It appears he had already been helping Garrow financially for some time without knowing about the escape organisation. The Nouveau flat was used as a safe house for over a year from May 1941, offering shelter to over 150 escapers and evaders. As an example of how tightly security was maintained, Nouveau did not know until much later that the Rodocanahi flat was also used as a safe house, although Nouveau was a long-standing and close friend of the family.
A week later Garrow is reported as being in Perpignan, presumably assessing routes, guides and communications. Eventually the mountain routes with guides were found to be best, allowing escapers and evaders to make their way to neutral Spain. Once in Spain most men spent a period of time in the Miranda del Ebro internment camp.
At some point in 1941 Garrow went into hiding at the apartment of Fanny and George Rodocanachi, used as a safe house for escapers and evaders until George's arrest in February 1943. Soon after the end of the war Fanny recalled this to have happened in July, but Pat O'Leary, writing in 1985, remembered Garrow as having been at the apartment 'several months' before he himself took the same move in August 1941.
By mid 1941 there was a firmly established escape line, guiding escapers and evaders from northern France to the safety of Spain.
In Marseilles, the Rodocanachi and Nouveau flats were the most important of the safe houses, but escapers and evaders were also hidden by the Martin family of Endoume and Olga Baudot de Rouville, who was known as Thérése Martin, as well as, occasionally, Jean Fourcade.
Of the Martin family, William Sparks, in The Last of the Cockleshell Heroes, says "[February 1943] Our escorts led us to a high block of flats, where we caught the lift. We arrived at the top floor, and approached a door. One of the men knocked and the door was opened by a slim, dark woman. We were introduced: her name was Madame Martin. Inside we met her two little daughters, one aged about eleven and the other seven. Her husband worked at the docks: we would meet him that evening when he came home... Monsieur and Madame Martin were lovely people, doing all they could to make us comfortable. Their younger girl took a shine to me and decided to try and teach me French, mainly because she thought my pathetic attempts were hilarious. She would carefully shape her mouth to show me how to pronounce a word, getting me to copy her. But each time she'd roll up with laughter as I came out with the wrong sounds, and that set the others off laughing too. I knew she was sending me up but she was adorable. The girls must have been experienced in the task of assisting escapees for they never spoke a word at school about it: to do so would have been our undoing, as well as well as their parents'.. It became quite crowded in the flat, but there were plenty of beds or mattresses for us all to sleep on, and no-one went hungry. Sometimes friends arrived with a whole sheep, which they dumped in the bath and cut up."
Of Olga Baudot de Rouville, Louis Nouveau, in Des Capitaines Par Milliers, says " Jean de la Olla had sent us from the north a woman who was completely 'blown' near Lille and who worked for us under the name Thérése Martin, in reality Miss Olga Baudot de Rouville. Pat rented a small flat near Jarret for her and, especially after we left Marseille, she hid several pilots in this flat. She was very dedicated but had an extraordinarily difficult character: for example, she forbade the pilots to smoke in case the smell gave them away during her absence."
The involvement of several prominent Marseilles Greeks (including the Rodocanachis) seems to have led the Germans to refer to the line as 'Acropolis' (O'Leary recalls having noticed a file with this name while he was temporarily under arrest in July 1941), but it is known to history as 'Pat Line'.
The reason for this is the two-year leadership of Belgian-born Albert-Marie Guérisse, known as Pat O'Leary, alias Adolphe or Joseph.
O'Leary had been evacuated from Dunkirk on the last day of May 1940, three days after the capitulation of the Belgian army. A year later, 26th April 1941, he was on an undercover mission to France on board HMS Fidelity. The capsizing of his motor launch led to his arrest by French coastguards and his imprisonment at St Hippolyte for the next two months.
The date on which Garrow and O'Leary first met is equally unclear, but Helen Long, in Safe Houses Are Dangerous, claims that the two men had a rendez-vous in June 1941, shortly before the latter's escape from St Hippolyte prison. Was this meeting to arrange the details of the escape plans?
We can only speculate as to how much control London assumed over the activities of Garrow and others: were they, for example, encouraged to 'spring' O'Leary from St Hippolyte? In any event, O'Leary was already at the Rodocanachi's apartment by 2nd July 1941, when London sent one of countless seemingly insignificant radio messages ("Adolphe doit rester") instructing or allowing him to stay in Marseilles and work with the escape line.
Throughout the summer and autumn 1941 both Garrow and O'Leary were based at the Rodocanachi's apartment, which also housed a constant stream of escapers and evaders, until Garrow's arrest in October, after which O'Leary took charge of the escape line.
Once arrested, Garrow was eventually tried and sentenced in May 1942 to ten years' imprisonment. His parents continued to receive occasional news of their son, including a letter from Nancy Fiocca (Wake) written in March 1942 describing her visit to Garrow in prison.
Garrow's capture coincided with a crisis for the escape line. In the autumn of 1941 various members of the line, including Garrow himself (as he descibed in a letter to Donald Darling written in 1965), became suspicious of the colleague they knew as Paul Cole, mainly for theft of funds intended for reimbursing helpers. Cole was in fact a traitor, later killed by the French police in Paris in January 1946, and can be held directly responsible for the betrayal of over a dozen of the key members of the line.
At the beginning of November 1941 Cole was confronted in the Rodocanachi apartment by O'Leary, Bruce Dowding and others but managed to escape. The priority then was to warn endangered line members in the north of the country, and Bruce Dowding was arrested while he was attempting this.
Cole notwithstanding, Pat Line continued throughout 1942 to enable Allied servicemen to find their way through France and eventually back to Britain, where they were welcomed as much for their morale-boosting effect as for the actual manpower they represented.
In November 1942 the Germans occupied all France, so Marseilles was no longer technically under Vichy France control. The resultant threat to Garrow, then imprisoned at Mauzac, of deportation to one of the concentration camps, seems to have prompted O'Leary to organise a daring but successful escape plan to rescue him. After the rescue, of which Garrow's father was informed by letter from London in December 1942, Garrow used his own escape line to Spain, reaching his native Scotland by mid February 1943.
1943 was the year which saw the disastrous collapse of the escape line, with most of the members arrested or forced to flee. Louis Nouveau and George Rodocanachi were both arrested in February 1943 and later sent to Buchenwald, where Dr Rodocanachi died in February 1944. Pat O'Leary was arrested in March and later sent to Dachau, but survived the war and died in 1989.
Little or no mention has been made of many, if not the majority, of the escape line helpers: for example, the wireless operators and those men and women who worked further in the north of France, concealing escapers and evaders and providing them with food, clothing and false identity papers at enormous personal risk and in the full knowledge of the likely consequences of their highly probable discovery or betrayal.
Their story has not been told here, but they can assuredly be said to be heroes of almost unbelievable courage, risking death and worse for no personal or financial gain but merely doing what they believed to be right. How many of us, two or more generations on, could honestly say that in their position we could be counted on to act as honourably?
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