Scottish minister who plotted PoWs escape from France

Reverend Donald Caskie

Plaque unveiled at fort near Nice to honour Reverend Donald Caskie who helped an estimated 2,000 Allied soldiers escape Nazis in World War Two

A memorial plaque has been unveiled outside a fort near Nice to mark the daring escape of Allied soldiers in 1942.

The soldiers scaled down the walls of the fort to freedom using pieces of rope. Outside helpers had climbed up to their cells in the toilet piping system and sawed the bars off the windows so the men could escape.

The plaque was unveiled in a ceremony at the Fort de la Revère in Èze on Saturday, October 19. The event was organised by the association Le Devoir du Memoire, whose aim is to keep alive the memory and history of the people who served in World War Two.

The plaque specifically commemorates Reverend Donald Caskie and his role in helping the prisoners to escape from the fort. He served as the military chaplain there and so knew the compound well. One day, he noticed a manhole cover on his way to the Fort and realised that it could be a viable escape route. Together with Albert Grévisse, the leader of the escape line, Reverend Caskie hatched the plan to rescue the prisoners.

In total 10 RAF pilots escaped from the building, five of whom were able to return to England. The other five were taken into hiding in Nice and Monaco. The secretary for Le Devoir du Memoire, Nicole Pinon, said: "These men were heroes of the shadows who did not seek reward and only thought about whether or not they had done their duty."

Donald Caskie became the minister of the Scots Kirk in Paris in 1938. However, following the German invasion of Paris he fled to Marseille where he met a fellow Scot, Captain Ian Garrow, who led an escape route network.

Reverend Caskie became involved in the network and continued to support its work even after the arrest of Captain Garrow in October 1941. The network was taken over by a Belgian doctor – Albert Grévisse – whose code-name Pat O’Leary became the nom de plume of the route.

Reverend Caskie's official role was to help all British people in France during the War by providing them with food, clothing and official documents.

In secret, however, he helped rescue Allied soldiers and organised their escape from France. As well as aiding the escape from the Fort de la Revère, he hid fugitives at his home in Marseille under the floor, behind cupboards and in the attic.

He gave them maps, compasses, money and found guides to take them from the city to the Spanish border, from where they travelled to Gibraltar in order to get back to the UK.

It is estimated Reverend Caskie helped more than 2,000 men in their escape bids from France. Along with Captain Garrow and Albert Grévisse, Reverend Caskie was therefore one of the first links in the Pat O’Leary escape route - one of the most important and efficient of all of the escape routes used during the World War Two.

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