War Diary

The account which appears in this webpage was  published in The Ross-shire Journal in April 2018 and is reproduced courtesy of the Editor.

All photographs associated with the article are courtesy of Hector W Munro of Foulis.

The incident, photograph and letter are courtesy of Hector W Munro of Foulis.

Postscript 2018 to War Diary of Captain Patrick Munro of Foulis

Page 14


4th Seaforth officers, PoW Camp Oflag VIIC, Laufen, Germany, 1941, sent by PGM via Croix-Rouge and Switzerland, addressed to CQMS Jack Matheson, c/o Dr Duncan Macrae, Kyle of Lochalsh, Ross-shire, Scotland

Standing, l-r:  Allan Wallace; 'Tosh' Mackintosh QM; ?; Rev Cecil Lake; Ramsay Bisset;  ?; George Cameron (Tain);  Cargill;  Shand;  Hector Gascoigne.
Seated l-r:  Paddy Heffernan;  Rory Tarbat (later Lord Cromartie); R A A S Macrae, Adjutant; Patrick Munro of Foulis.
 

77 years later .....

l-r:  Michael Gasgoigne, John Munro, Hector Munro, Harry Munro, Charlotte Hunt (nee Munro), Angus Cheape, Alistair Irwin, Laura Mackenzie, Patrick Gascoigne.

Six cousins with strong Ross-shire connections made an emotional journey to the former prisoner of war camps in which their fathers were held for nearly five years.

The poignant visit to Bavaria took in Laufen, Tittmoning and Eichstatt castles, all used as PoW camps from 1940-45 after around 8000 men of the 51st Highland Division were captured at St Valery-en-Caux prior to the fall of France.

The men were force-marched through France, Belgium and Holland, crowded onto barges going up the Rhine and finally herded onto horse wagons into captivity.  

Hector Munro of Foulis, who was on the trip said:  "Our late fathers rarely spoke about their time as PoWs but it affected them all very deeply and we felt we needed to lay the ghost of that significant part of their younger lives to rest."

He was joined by Harry Munro, QC, of Nova Scotia;  John Munro of Lejre in Denmark;  their sister, Charlotte Hunt, of Balfron;  and first cousins, brothers Michael Gascoigne and Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Gascoigne, MBE (Scots Guards).

All are children of brothers Captain Patrick Munro of Foulis and Captain Hecctor Gascoigne (Seaforth Highlanders), captured on 12 June 1940.

Hector Munro said on the trip the group were joined by their partners and three other children of PoWs:  Laura Mackenzie, whose father Lieutenant Colin Mackenzie, MC (Seaforth Highlanders) was held in Laufen and later the notorious Colditz Castle;  Angus Cheape, younger son of Lieutenant H B Cheape (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), held at Eichstatt;  and Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin, KCB, CBE (Black Watch), whose father Lieutenant A D H Irwin (Black Watch) was held at Eichstatt and Tittmoning.

The emotionally-charged visit took in the beautifully maintained Durnbach Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery.  The majority of the 2934 young servicemen buried there are airmen shot down over Bavaria, Wurtemberg, Austria, Hessen and Thuringia.

The remainder are men killed while escaping from prisoner of war camps in the same areas, or who died towards the end of the war on forced marches from the camps to more remote areas.  Among them lie individuals from all the Highland regiments. 

Laufen Castle (Oflag VIIC), an austere and forbidding court-yarded castle described by Hector's father as his first and worst PoW camp, stands much as it was in 1940.

Hector Munro said:  "Although now redeveloped into blocks of flats, there was still a disturbing feeling inside the buildings.  With the help of contemporary plans and our ability to explore the upper floors, the exact line of the perimeter fence that contained the tiny exercise yard hard up against the fast-flowing Salkzach river, now forming the frontier between Germany and Austrai, could clearly be made out."

To relieve overcrowding, some of the officers were transferred in 1942 to Oflag VIID in the almost inaccessible Tittimoning Castle perched high on a crag above the town, which was also visited.

Eichstatt, where most of their fathers were transferred in 1942, was also visited.  It is well known that on 14 April 1945 as the US Army approached, the officers were marched out of the camp and that only a short distance from the camp the column was attacked by American aircraft, which mistook it for a formation of German troops.

Hector Munro said:  "Fourteen British officers were killed and 46 were wounded but what is less well known is that as the aircraft strafed the column and the British officers dived for cover they swept up a young German boy who happened to be passing them at the time and undoubtedly saved his life.  The position of the escape tunnel dug for over a hundred metres from one of the camp latrines to a villager's chicken run outside the wire, through which 65 prisoners escaped in 1943, was pointed out to the group."

Looking back over the visit, he said:  "Probably the most poignant moment of the whole trip was when the three pipers, John Munro, Patrick Gascoigne and Angus Cheape, paid tribute to their fathers and all PoWs held at Eichstatt by playing a selection of tunes including The Black BearThe Green Hills of TyrolScotland the BraveAmazing Grace and The Rowan Tree alongside the line of the perimeter fence.

"The nearby kindergarten came out to listen, even the police cadets playing on the sports field alongside paused for a moment and there were moist eyes among the group who had met nothing but kindness and courtesy wherever they went in Bavaria, and a genuine desire to help them fulfil their quest."

He added:  "World War II had a great impact on all our lives, politically, economically and socially.  Wounds have healed and we have had over 70 years of peace in Northern Europe. 

 

Returning to 1940 and the force-marching of troops following their being taken prisoner on 12 June of that year, Captain Munro described an incident, written on an envelope enclosing photographs, as follows: 

"My brother Hector (Captain Hector Gascoigne 'B' Company 4th Seaforths) and I were taken prisoner on 12 June 1940 at St ValĂ©ry (near Cherbourg) while serving with the 51st Highland Division.  I had been billeted with M. Laversin (Mayor of Lieres) and his wife, who had been extremely kind and hospitable, earlier on, during (I think) March/April 1940."
[See "M. le Maire de Lieres" on page 1 of War Diary]

"In some remarkable way they had found out that we were both alive and well and had even located the column of prisoners we were with and sent an 'emissary', their brave and courageous grand-daughter, aged 16, on a bicycle with a bag of food and a bottle of water for us.  She actually found us in a column of perhaps 500-700 men, on the march under guard, heading North, perhaps 50 miles from her home (!) and safely accomplished her mission, saying 'I will be back with more food tomorrow'.

She did indeed return late the following evening.  However, our guards had got wise to what was going on and, after trying several times, with amazing courage for a child, she was caught in the act of handing over the food to us.  She was hit with the butt of a rifle by a Kraut guard, knocked off her bicycle into a ditch, where the guard proceeded to crush her machine to twisted iron by jumping up and down on it with his jackboots, and then told her that she 'would be shot if she tried again'."

"In floods of tears she left us, saying:  'Grandpa and Grandma - ET MOI AUSSI - will pray for you'."


M. Laversin, Captain Munro, Mme. Laversin and their grand-daughter.

 

And, finally, a letter  ....

The kindness of the Laversin family continued when a French Nun (Sister St Denis), from a Convent in Warwickshire and sibling of Mme Laversin, wrote to Mrs Eva Gascoigne, mother of Patrick and Hector, in early December 1940 as follows:

"A few days ago I received a letter, dated 5th August, in which my dear sister, Madame Laversin, was asking me to inform you that your two sons had let her know they were in good health, but prisoners since 21 June.  My sister wrote to you then, but fearing you have not received her letter, she asks me to tell you that she and her husband have been praying for your dear sons, and they hope to see them again after the war."

News was very scarce in wartime and this was probably the first that Mrs Gascoigne had received.  Although the letter being relayed had been sent on 5th August it had taken four months to reach the UK.


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At Laufen Castle 1941.  l-r:  Captain Patrick Munro of Foulis, Captain Cluny Macpherson, Captain Koch de Gorynne, Captain The Hon. J Elphinstone, Captain Hector Gascoigne.
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