A letter to… My dad, the secret hero
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.