Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Europe's "Secret Army" of WW2



Display about the European “Secret Army” of WW2
Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre
(RAF East Krkby, Lincolnshire)
[Photograph taken with permission]


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4 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(1) The "Secret Army" display at RAF East Kirkby

The above photograph shows part of the award-winning "Secret Army" display of the 'Escape Museum' in the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at RAF East Kirkby, Lincolnshire. The centre holds the RAF Escaping Society collection and is a fitting tribute to all those men and women who helped crashed airmen attempting to evade capture in Occupied Europe and make it back to the UK.

Included in the display are many stories of evasion and escape as well as actual items used by some of the airmen to aid evasion. This is how the Heritage Centre describes why it has included a complete display section to Europe's "Secret Army":

"Between 1941 and 1945 thousands of Allied aircrew were shot down over Europe. Most were captured: but 3500 got back to their home base.

They were given refuge and help by ordinary people of occupied Europe who performed acts of spontaneous heroism in order that highly-trained airmen could be smuggled home to continue the fight.

At first disorganised, these evasion workers cool or lucky enough to survive became a "Secret Army". Under the leadership of brave and dedicated men and women, they set up escape lines through Holland, Belgium and France."

All the men and women who helped escaping Allied airmen or soldiers did so at great personal risk. Many of them made the 'ultimate sacrifice'. Their paid for their courage with their own life. Unlike a recaptured Allied serviceman - who had some protection by the Geneva Convention - any members of the "Secret Army" captured by the Gestapo were classed as civilians and had no protection. As this museum is primarily dedicated to the RAF in WW2 the 'Escape Museum' display concentrates on escaping airmen. For every airman who made a "home run" back to the UK four members of the "Secret Army" died. Hence, this is an extremely important display dedicated to these men and women of great courage.
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Sunday, 24 April, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(2) The courage to say "No"

During the darkest years of the war much of continental Europe was under Nazi Occupation. Nevertheless, in the hearts and minds of a few of at least some of the people of these occupied lands there remained a flickering flame of freedom and liberty. Living in an open and free society one might think it a simple thing to say "No!"

Yet, saying "No" to Adolph Hitler and all the Nazis stood for in Occupied Europe was not an easy choice. Even so, enough people were courageous enough to say "No". Little by little, Europe's "Secret Army" of otherwise ordinary men and women grew to help the Allied cause in the only way they could - by setting up escape lines for Allied airmen and soldiers. The Allied airmen and soldiers were then able to return to the fight.

In the UK one of the 'myths' about WW2 is that between the 'Spitfire summer' of 1940 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 (which brought the USA into the war) is that Britain stood alone against Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. In some respects this may have been so. But in another sense Britain and its Commonwealth was not alone.

For example, towards the end of his now famous radio broadcast to the French people on 18 June 1940 General Charles de Gaulle said:

"Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not and shall not die".

On the same day, 18 June 1940, during his '"Finest Hour" speech, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was at great pains to confirm Britain still shared, and would continue to share, a common cause with the French people and indeed with the people of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium. Here is the relevant part of Winston Churchill's speech:

"However matters may go in France or with the French Government, or other French Governments, we in this island and the British Empire will never lose our sense of comradeship with the French people. If we are called upon to endure what they have been suffering, we shall emulate their courage, and if final victory rewards our toils they shall share the gains, aye, and freedom shall be restored to all. We abate nothing of our demands. Not one jot or tittle do we recede. Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians have joined their causes to ours. All these shall be restored".

Thus, with this encouragement, the 'flame of resistance' - at this time in June 1940 merely a spark among the dying embers of European freedom - never really died out. But how could the ordinary French, Belgian or Dutch man (or woman) demonstrate their resistance to Nazi tyranny? On this first day of resistance De Gaulle's main aim was to ask French servicemen and skilled workers to join him on British territory, and then get in touch with him. Although not everyone could make this move. But perhaps they could do something else?

Night after night skilled Allied airmen were flying over Occupied territory taking the fight to the Germany. When their aircraft were shot down if the aircrew were able to crash land or parachute to the ground they could be given shelter and possibly helped back to Britain to continue the struggle. Thus the "Secret Army" slowly grew from nothing to help many Allied servicemen in the struggle.
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Sunday, 24 April, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(3) A few personal thoughts

The "Secret Army" display at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is of an exceptionally high standard, featuring an aspect of the war. Other than in the Imperial War Museum, London this is an aspect of the war not often seen in British museums. In towns and villages all over France, Belgium and the Netherlands one often finds memorials to local members of the "Secret Army" who gave their lives to help Allied servicemen evade capture.

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Following defeat at the Battle of Pavia in 1525 the French king Francis I was taken hostage and endured a year's exile on foreign soil. In a letter to his mother he included the following analysis of his, and Fance's, situation at that time:

"Everything is lost but honour"
('Tout est perdu fors l'honneur').

The king and the country were forced to sign a disadvantageous treaty. This was later largely overturned, initially by the deputies of the duchy of Burgundy effectively saying "No". Four centuries after the time of Francis I - in 1940 - a few French men and women also said "No" at a time when everything seemed lost. Honour had not been lost in 1940, only a battle.

The men and women of the "Secret Army" of France, Belgium and the Netherlands upheld honour and eventually were able to play a part in overturning the imposition of Nazi tyranny in their lands. Without the help of this "Secret Army" many Allied servicemen would never have been able to make it back home. The true story of the "Secret Army" is one that should be better known in Britain.

While some of the men and women who made up the "Secret Army" became known after the war there are still many whose names and deeds remain unknown and may never be known. After the war they simply returned to their 'normal' civilian way of life. They had followed what their conscience led them to do. That job had been done and they had moved on with their lives.

'Ad honores'
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Sunday, 24 April, 2011  
Blogger Cathie said...

A visit to Lincolnshire is definitely required now!
I liked the reference to gold old François 1er, his quotation has lived on, and is adequately used here.

(But why is the "like" button missing from this blog?)

Monday, 25 April, 2011  

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