Homecoming for war hero's Gaelic Bible

A Bible that belonged to a Kirk minister who helped save more than 2,000 allied service personnel during the Second World War has been returned to his former church.

Rev Dr Donald Caskie, who was known as the Tartan Pimpernel, was leading the Scots Kirk in Paris when the Germans invaded France in 1940.

His nephew, Tom Caskie, 76, decided to gift the Gaelic Bible to the congregation which is creating a permanent exhibition in honour of the war hero.

He revealed that his uncle, who used the Bible when he worked in France, often used the language to hide information that he did not want to fall into the hands of the enemy.

Caskie Bible
This Bible was used by Rev Dr Donald Caskie when he worked in France. Credit Etienne Des Haynes

Dr Caskie, who was raised on Islay in the Inner Hebrides, denounced the Nazis from his pulpit and when the Germans invaded Paris he had to flee the city.

While in southern France, he refused the chance of safe passage on the last ship bound for the UK and fled to Marseille instead.

There he ran a Seaman's Mission, living a double life and passing the close scrutiny of the Vichy Police, and helped British and Allied soldiers to freedom across mountains into Spain.

He was eventually recruited by British Intelligence officers and was told that his mission was the last link of a chain of safe houses that they had set up, which stretched from the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France to Marseille in the south.

With nothing to trust but God and his instincts, the crofter's son operated in the Seaman's Mission for many months until he was betrayed by a traitor.

Donald Caskie
Rev Dr Donald Caskie

Dr Caskie was eventually arrested by the Vichy Police, interrogated and banished from Marseille.

He moved to Grenoble where he continued to arrange for the escape of soldiers, seamen and airmen under the cover of being a university chaplain.

Dr Caskie was finally imprisoned by the Gestapo and sentenced to death.

The minister , who was given his nickname by the BBC,had ignored repeated calls from British Intelligence and the Church of Scotland to return home.

His life was only saved through the intervention of a German pastor and he spent the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War camp.

The leather bound Bible bears Dr Caskie’s name and address in Paris in his own handwriting.

Memorial

Mr Caskie, whose father Thomas was the minister’s older brother, said: “Donald bequeathed his Bible to his brother Neil with whom he lived in Greenock until his death in 1983 at the age of 81.

“When Neil died about 30 years ago, I was offered a choice of one of his books as part of my inheritance so I chose the Bible.

“It is in good condition and I recognise Donald’s distinctive handwriting inside the cover.

“When I heard that the Scots Kirk wanted to install a permanent memorial to my uncle, I thought it was more appropriate that the Bible lived there rather than anywhere else."

Caskie Tom
Tom Caskie

Mr Caskie, who lived in Auchterarder in Perthshire for many years with his late wife Cairine but now stays in Edinburgh, said his family were immensely proud of the minister, whom he described as one of Scotland’s “precious heroes”.

"Donald was motivated and sustained by his Christian faith,” said the retired civil engineer.

“He was a very gentle person and clearly he loved humanity and would help anyone he could.

“Donald rejected the chance of personal safety and risked his life time and again to ensure others could be safe and free.”

Edinburgh University graduate Dr Caskie, whose first charge was Gretna St Andrew's Church, wrote a book about his war time exploits, entitled the Tartan Pimpernel, and the proceeds helped rebuild the Scots Kirk after the war.

Jan Steyn
Rev Jan Steyn, minister at the Scots Kirk, holding Dr Caskie's Gaelic Bible with Elder Alisdair Gould. Etienne Des Haynes

The book, which is still in print today, illustrates the tremendous heights the human spirit can soar to in the face of conflict.

After the war, Dr Caskie returned to the Scots Kirk near the Champs-Elysees in the 8th Arrondissement where he stayed until 1961.

Homecoming

Rev Jan Steyn, 56, the current minister, said he was delighted that the Bible had been gifted to the congregation.

“I gladly accepted it and as the inscription in the front of the Bible indicates, he acquired it while still in Paris,” he added.

“Its return marks a homecoming after more than 50 years.

“We are not sure if this was the Bible which he used during the war but it is most probable as Gaelic Bibles were not generally available."

Caskie Papers
Dr Caskie's identity card

Mr Steyn, who led Cupar St John’s and Dairsie United in Fife Church until April this year, said Dr Caskie, who was made an OBE in 1945 and honoured by the French Government, was remembered for his “humble yet joyful nature”.

Church records, known as Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, state that he was "engaged in church and patriotic duties in France 1939-44".

Medals

The war hero returned to Scotland and became minister of Old Gourock Church in Inverclyde and later Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay North Church in Ayrshire.

He retired and after his death in December, 1983 he was laid to rest in the family grave at Bowmore on Islay.

Dr Caskie's medals are on display at nearby Kilarrow Parish Church.