Tartan Pimpernel war hero minister goes home to Paris
Published on 24 January, 2020
A war hero Church of Scotland minister is set to loudly condemn the Nazis from the pulpit once again.
Rev Dr Donald Caskie’s protestations against the rise of fascism 80 years ago will reverberate around the Scots Kirk in Paris, France next weekend.
Actor Graeme Dallas will bring the story of the courageous minister to life in a special “homecoming” performance of the play, the Tartan Pimpernel.
Dr Caskie was the minister of the Scots Kirk in 1940 when the Germans invaded France and this will be the first time that it has been performed in the church.
The Islay born minister helped around 2,000 allied military personnel escape occupied France during the Second World War.
Uphold human rights
The play is being brought to Paris on February 1 with the support of the Scottish Government, which has an office in the city.
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said: “I am pleased that the Scottish Government is supporting these performances in honour of Rev Dr Donald Caskie and his heroic actions.
“It is fitting that the play will be staged in the same week as Holocaust Memorial Day, especially this year, when we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“We must never forget the Holocaust as an example of what human beings can do when fundamental human rights are abandoned and bigotry and intolerance are allowed to flourish.”
Glasgow-based playwright John Hughes said bringing the Tartan Pimpernel home to Paris for two performances will be the “ultimate experience” for the cast.
He was inspired to write about Dr Caskie’s wartime exploits after reading an article about the return of his Gaelic Bible to the church on Rue Bayard in 2017.
Mr Hughes said: “We have toured the play around Scotland and performed in towns that have a connection to Donald Caskie including Irvine, Greenock and Skelmorlie.
“We ended the tour in Bowmore and we are delighted that we will be taking the play to where our story begins – the Scots Kirk in Paris.
“It starts in June 1940 with Donald Caskie denouncing the Nazis from the pulpit and this is where we will be performing.
“The cast are excited about performing in the footsteps on this unsung hero.”
After the Germans invaded Paris, forcing the closure of the church, Dr Caskie, nicknamed the Tartan Pimpernel by the BBC, fled to Marseille where he ran a Seaman's Mission.
He lived a double life and helped British and Allied soldiers to freedom across mountains into Spain.
Dr Caskie was eventually recruited by British Intelligence officers and 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.
Dr Caskie was eventually arrested by the Vichy Police, interrogated and banished from Marseille.
Instead of returning to safety in the UK, 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, who ignored repeated calls from British Intelligence and the Church of Scotland to return home, was betrayed again and imprisoned by the Gestapo and sentenced to death.
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.
Scots Kirk elder, Derek Bonin-Bree, played a key role in bringing the Tartan Pimpernel, based on the minister’s autobiography of the same name, to Paris.
He teaches English and history at a local secondary school and some of his pupils are attending the 11am performance.
Representatives from the UK Embassy in Paris, the Scottish Government office and others have reserved tickets for the 2pm show.
Jesus walks with us always
Mr Bonin-Bree said: “It is very symbolic to have the play on the very spot where Dr Caskie preached even if the building is not the same today.
“His faith and selflessness enabled him to engage and help people escape the Nazis.
“He is a true unsung hero who should never be forgotten and his story deserves to be told to future generations.
“It is our duty to pass on history and hopefully he will be an inspiration for others, to help them find guidance as well as solace through their faith in difficult situations and be comforted knowing that Jesus walks with us, always.
”Tickets are free but the Scots Kirk, which is led by Rev Jan Steyn, is encouraging people to make a donation.
Last October, a memorial plaque was unveiled outside a former military fort near Nice in the south of France in honour of Dr Caskie who helped PoWs escape through the sewer system.
The minister’s nephew Tom Caskie, who gifted his uncle’s Bible to the Scots Kirk, attended the ceremony at Fort de la Revere at Eze and said he was “bursting with pride.”
Dr Caskie died in 1983 at the age of 81 and was laid to rest in the family grave at Bowmore.
His medals are on display at nearby Kilarrow Parish Church.