A let­ter to… My dad, the se­cret hero

Dear Dad,

Chat - - Contents -

I can’t imag­ine the fear you must have felt...

Known as Freddy to your Army mates, to me and my big sis­ter Mar­garet you were just Dad.

We couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter one.

From run­ning around in the gar­den, to our hi­lar­i­ous camp­ing trips, you were so much fun.

You were the strong­est man I’d ever known, too – taught me the value of hard work, lead­ing by ex­am­ple.

You’d left school at 14, but made a suc­cess of your­self as a Sales Di­rec­tor.

It wasn’t just your charm that got you there.

En­cour­ag­ing me to join the Navy at 17, you said, ‘Best ap­pren­tice­ship you’ll ever get.’ You were right. I trav­elled the world, climb­ing the ranks.

You’d fought in the Sec­ond World War and I felt proud to fol­low in your foot­steps.

You never spoke about it, but you’d been cap­tured in Nor­way.

Taken to a pris­oner of war – POW– camp in 1940 by the Ger­mans, you were held there un­til the end of the war. Or so we’d thought... Twenty years af­ter you’d died, aged 74, I learnt the truth.

It all started for me in spring 2010, when I be­gan re­search­ing the fam­ily tree.

Re­mem­ber­ing your old suit­case in my loft, I lugged it down. And what I un­cov­ered in there was a se­cret that made me gasp in sur­prise.

Two let­ters be­tween you and Bri­tish In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers – and count­less oth­ers be­tween you and the mother of an­other sol­dier and fel­low POW named An­thony Coulthard, dated just af­ter the war.

And, as I read them, a tale of hero­ism un­folded...

Ar­riv­ing at the POW camp in 1940, you’d made friends with An­thony, 22.

‘We’re get­ting out of here,’ An­thony had promised.

From your let­ters, and doc­u­ments from the Na­tional Archives and Reg­i­men­tal His­tory mu­se­ums, I learned the two of you had hatched a dar­ing es­cape plan.

Over 18 months, you’d ar­ranged for false pa­pers, with Ox­ford-ed­u­cated An­thony teach­ing you Ger­man for three hours ev­ery night.

Slip­ping out of a hole in the fence in Au­gust 1942, you’d posed as sales­men, dis­guised in suits, hats and over­coats, even with brief­cases, brought to you in se­cret by Pol­ish guards, who’d turned on the Ger­man regime.

You’d hopped on a train to Berlin, stum­bled into a car­riage of Ger­man sol­diers re­turn­ing from the front.

I can’t imag­ine the fear you must’ve felt, Dad, an English­man amid the en­emy. But you’d held your own.

At the Swiss bor­der, An­thony breezed through, but the po­lice ques­tioned your forged pa­pers. The game was up. You were both ar­rested, and hauled back to sep­a­rate camps till the end of the war.

When you fi­nally came home to Mum in 1945, you set­tled down, had Mar­garet and me.

I don’t know why you never told us your amaz­ing story. Maybe it was be­cause your dear friend An­thony had died months be­fore the war ended. Maybe you needed to lay the ghosts to rest.

But, when I learned of his brav­ery and yours, I knew that I had to do some­thing.

So I tracked down An­thony’s fam­ily, and helped to find his grave in Ger­many.

Lay­ing flow­ers on his fi­nal rest­ing place, I thanked him for all he’d done for you, Dad.

Sent a prayer up for you both. Two brave friends re­united.

It would’ve been a trav­esty to keep the story of my dad the hero to my­self. So I wrote a book telling the world. I’m so proud of you, Dad. Al­ways have been – and al­ways will be.

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