Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A village in the mountains...

This picture was taken when the grand-daughters of French gendarmes were honoured in the small village of Saint-Martin Vésubie, in the moutains above Nice this month.
The village has a history, and is now praised for its valiant attitude then, but things were not that simple - they never are, and neither what they seem to be at first sight.
Here is my comment, after reading much on the topic:

Without wishing to diminish the merits of some of the villagers of Saint Martin Vésubie, nor the solidarity and help provided by some righteous people there who deserve to be honoured, it cannot be denied that when the Nazis arrived, 980 Jews had to flee from the village where they had previously been parked, assigned there "on residence" against their will, and also forced upon the villagers.

This new population was as large in its number as the regular inhabitants, meaning co-habitation must have posed a few problems.

However, the village was still under Italian occupation, and life was much more relaxed than when they were replaced by the German occupants, in September 1943.

Obviously, the situation was the same there as in many other villages, there were both acts of hostility towards them and generosity.

When all the Jews fled towards Italy, 350 of them were arrested on the Italian side. They were subsequently deported.

Only around 15 of them came back.

The accurate lists of their names can be read in Serge Klarsfeld's book: Mémorial de la Déportation des Juifs de France, and, for the Italian side, in Alberto Cavaglion’s: Les Juifs de Saint-Martin-Vésubie, Septembre-Novembre 1943, Nice, Editions Serre, 1995, 174 pages.

The situation in Saint-Martin Vésubie was quite different from that noticed in another village of the region: Saint-Léger, whose entire population rallied to feed, hide, save its Jews, in even harder conditions, AFTER the Italians had left, earning the courageous Mayor’s daughter the title of RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS.

But then, there were only 19 Jews there…

(And of course everyone knows of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, which is the only place to have earned this title as a village, for its whole community).

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Re-dedicated WWII Memorial

The St Mary’s R.C. Parish, Cleator WWII Memorial
Rededicated in 2010 after being ‘missing’ for some years

For additional information click on ‘Comments’ below

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Escape from Singapore (part 2)

I would appreciate some assistance from members of this forum.
In my previous post (my first in this forum) I narrated the story of Captain Mark Pillai's escape from Singapore in 1942.
I reproduce below the cover letter accompanying his debriefing in September 1942 which I found in the Singapore War Archives in 2000. It is from the Distribution List that I deduce that this is the Australian copy.
Can anybody help with the name of the Brigadier DMI signing the cover letter (I think RA........)?
Also can anybody expand the acronyms appearing in the Distribution list (PSV, PSC, CGS ....)?
For those interested, the website of "3000 Miles to Freedom" at Lancer Military Publications is:

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

First Allied POW escape from Singapore in 1942

My father died in 1988 leaving a manuscript of his escape from Singapore and his return to India after the fall of Singapore in 1942. He would have been 99 on 11th August this year.

He was the first Allied prisoner of war to escape from Singapore and return to India. He used to tell us that he had travelled a thousand miles on foot, a thousand miles by boat and a thousand miles by train to make his journey of 3000 miles to freedom. In 1968 he visited me in England (where I was studying) and tried to get a copy of his official debriefing report from the War Office in London. He felt he needed to cross-check his manuscript written from memory long after the event. But he found that the report had been classified "MOST SECRET" to be held confidential for 50 years.(Ref: DMI/3756/70/G.S. 1,(e), 8th September 1942).

Capt. Mark Pillai c. 1950

In early 2000 I found that a copy of the official report was available in the Singapore War Archives. The report had been circulated to all the Allied Armies in September 1942 and the Australian copy had found its way into the Singapore Archives sometime after 1992 when the material was declassified. Apparently the 50 year classification was because the report contained not only the names of people who had helped him along the way but also the names of people he felt were Japanese collaborators and some rather frank assessments about the loyalties of different ethnic groups.

He was accompanied by two others; one of whom (Capt. Natarajan IMS, a medical officer) decided to settle at Prome along the way. The second was a civilian friend S. Radhakrishnan. To avoid the unneccessary hassle of getting a civilian back through Allied front lines they invented a story about the creation of the “Singapore Volunteers” after the fall and passed Radhakrishnan off as an officer in this fictitious regiment. The subterfuge served to get through the Allied check-posts and later Radhakrishnan was properly commissioned into the Indian Army.

(A separate report was written about the fictional Singapore Volunteers "Armindia No. 21123/I of 30/8/42" which I have not been able to access. To the best of my father's knowledge the Singapore Volunteers only ever had one member)

For about 6 months after his return my father had a “minder” – a brother officer from a different regiment but who came from his part of the country in Southern India – to ensure that my father’s escape was not a ruse to establish a ”sleeping” collaborator.

Eventually the manuscript was checked against the debriefing narrative and a publisher ( Lancer Military Publications) interested enough in an old Second World War escape story was found.

3000 Miles to Freedom by Brig M M Pillai MC

Capt Mark Pillai was a Bombay Sapper officer in Malaya when Singapore fell and the Allies surrendered. This is the story of his escape from the Changi POW camp in 1942. He was 31 years old at the time and he was accompanied by an Indian medical officer and an Indian civilian acquaintance. Mark Pillai was awarded the Military Cross by Field Marshal Archibald Wavell for his gallantry.