Documentary telling the forgotten story of a heroic battle fought by the children of the British Memorial School in Ypres, Belgium to help liberate Europe from the Nazis.
Browse content similar to The Children Who Fought Hitler. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This is the secret history of how a small group of British children
became entangled in extraordinary events during World War Two.
It is an epic tale, complete with all the excitement of a Boy's Own story,
full of courage and patriotism, made all the more dramatic because it's true.
The children seen here in this archive film grew up in a unique community.
They were all pupils at the British Memorial School in Ypres, Belgium,
the sons and daughters of the Great War veterans who returned to Flanders after the war
to build and maintain the war graves scattered throughout the countryside.
But when the Second World War broke out, and the German Army swept through Western Europe, the boys
and girls of the Memorial School were forced to flee for their lives.
In the years that followed, many Memorial School pupils would take up arms against the enemy.
70 years later, three of these old school friends reveal for the first time
the remarkable story of how they fought back.
One became a fighter pilot in the RAF.
We had an enemy to fight
and our job was to destroy it at any cost.
To have shown fear would have been a complete failure,
in my estimation.
Another pupil became the leader of a French Resistance cell.
I don't know if it was because of our age but I thought that if I had
a Luger and six rounds, you could take on the German army.
Didn't realise that...
it was a mere nothing.
The other pupil became an undercover agent.
I don't frighten quickly. I don't think ever.
I think if I am what I am, I owe it to the British Memorial School.
These are the children who fought Hitler.
BUGLE PLAYS LAST POST
This is the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.
Here, every night for over 80 years, buglers have sounded the Last Post.
It is played in memory of the Allied soldiers who gave their lives
during the First World War, and who are remembered in cemeteries and memorials throughout Flanders.
The only exception to this historic ritual
came during the four years of German occupation which began in 1940.
As the Nazis entered Belgium, and the final plaintive note rang out for the last time,
it was a call to arms for the British children for whom the sacred soil of Ypres had once been home.
In their fight to regain their homeland, they would risk their lives and their innocence too.
But for the sake of freedom, and the memory of those
who had gone before them, it was a risk they were willing to take.
During the First World War, over a quarter of a million
Allied servicemen died defending the ancient town of Ypres.
In the heat of battle, their shattered bodies were buried in crudely marked graves,
or laid to rest in hastily constructed cemeteries close to casualty clearing stations.
In places, rotting corpses and body parts remained
on the battlefields and in the trenches long after the fighting had stopped.
While the army cleared the battlefields of their bitter harvest,
it fell to the newly formed Imperial War Graves Commission
to transform the temporary resting places of the dead into permanent memorials.
By the spring of 1919, a vast team of British ex-servicemen had been recruited
as labourers and gardeners, to begin the work of creating and maintaining the new cemeteries.
Some of these men brought their wives with them, while others married local girls,
and by 1927, the year the Menin Gate was opened, nearly 500 of Ypres residents were of British descent.
Stephen Grady's father was one of the ex-soldiers employed by the War Graves Commission.
He'd met and married his French girlfriend during the war, and they settled in France
in the town of Nieppe, just across the border from Ypres.
As a boy, the cemeteries became a place of great fascination for Stephen.
I remember that my father used to take me to the cemetery with him sometimes on Thursdays, because
in those days in France there was no school on Thursdays
and he used to take me on his cross bar of his bike.
I used to be interested in the cap badges, reading the inscriptions on the headstones,
and the regiment of... So many regiments in those days, so many regiments
and all these cap badges were all, all different and all exciting.
The British Memorial School was built to ensure the children
of the war graves gardeners were given a proper British education.
Championed by the War Graves Commission, it was funded by Old Etonians.
Nearly 350 of Eton College's finest had been killed in the fight for Ypres and what better way
to preserve their memory than to help fund a lasting memorial, built in their honour.
Indeed, when it opened in 1929, the school was initially known as the Eton Memorial School.
Prior to the creation of the Memorial School, the children of the gardeners were taught at the nearest
French or Belgian village school, where British history was not normally part of the curriculum.
Lessons were taught in Flemish or French, and for many British children,
English became their second language.
If parents wanted their children to have a British education,
they had little option but to send their offspring back home.
That's just what happened to Stephen Grady.
Until he was 13, he was educated at a French school, then his parents sent him to England.
I went to school in St George's school in Ramsgate for a year
and although I could speak English when I went there, I couldn't read or write and in that one year,
I really became
British in that one year.
This new-found sense of national identity remained with Stephen when he went back to school in France.
You know, being a kid, I was different to the others, really. That's what mattered.
I was British, I was very proud to be British, I was very patriotic and I was surrounded by French
and I felt, I don't know, I wouldn't say superior,
but I felt different and extremely proud of being British.
In 1938, Stephen started at the Memorial School.
It was a natural home for such a patriotic boy.
Indeed, it was this level of national pride that the Commission
hoped to instil in all the children of their employees.
After all, Ypres had become a sacred site, and upholding British values and traditions
amongst the British colony went hand in hand with preserving the memory of the dead.
This rare archive film, shot just weeks before the outbreak of the
Second World War, shows the children of the British Memorial School, performing for parents and local
dignitaries at the school's annual prize-giving ceremony.
It was one of the many festivities enjoyed by the pupils of this very British school.
Although it existed for just ten years, the school
helped to create and nurture an extraordinary set of pupils.
Many of these boys and girls started life with little knowledge of Britain, yet in time they would
come to embody a particular kind of Britishness, one of patriotism
and self sacrifice, where dogged determination and a stiff upper lip were the order of the day.
And when the time came, many were willing to risk their lives for king and country.
Like Stephen Grady, gardener's son Jerry Eaton had been educated in France before joining the school.
The change was quite enormous, changing from French teaching to English teaching.
I found it quite difficult at first.
I think we all did.
In France we were treated at school as French boys
and everything emphasised the French aspect.
The difference really
was that when we came to Ypres, the British side of life was accentuated.
We had maypole dances, and we celebrated all the national days that Britain celebrated.
We did the usual things like running, hurdling, long jump, high jump and I was particularly fast
and I could jump well and I won the sports prize for the school.
My prize was a book called The Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling.
Jerry became a model pupil and proud school captain.
His transformation from French schoolboy to patriotic British subject confirmed
when, at just 15 years of age, he asked his headmaster Mr Allen to help him join the RAF.
He managed to approach the MOD and eventually,
the exam papers for the entry for January, 1937 were sent out.
I took them in Belgium, supervised by Mr Allen and... found that I'd passed
and that's how I became a young airman in January, 1937.
Elaine Madden started at the British Memorial School when she was five years old.
Up until then she'd lived a lonely existence.
Though loving, her Belgian mother was always
busy in the family hotel where her father propped up the bar when he wasn't working for the Commission.
The school, shown here again in this film, provided her with the friendship and affection she craved.
I loved every year, every day, every minute I spent in that school.
I had friends, and the teachers were absolutely fabulous
and if anything was wrong with you, they'd help you.
They would say, "Is something wrong? Don't you feel well?"
They were all very helpful, they were all very nice.
And I've never been as happy as when I was in school.
But that happiness wasn't to last.
When Elaine was ten years old, her mother died after suffering a miscarriage.
Abandoned by her father, she was sent to live
with her Belgian grandparents in the nearby town of Poperinghe.
She was devastated when they took her away
from the friends and teachers she loved, and sent her to a boarding convent run by Catholic nuns.
You had to get up every morning at six o'clock and go to Mass and then they had
an awful-looking uniform.
We had dresses right down to your ankles and black stockings,
and I hated it.
I hated having to learn my lessons in French because everything
I'd done up to, up to then for five years had been in English.
I couldn't write French properly and I didn't know anything about what their lessons were all about.
I'd been punished a lot in that school.
I was put in a corner with a thing on my head that looked like a dummy
and I couldn't do anything right and I didn't want to do anything right.
So eventually I got an idea in my head and I thought well, I know what I'll do,
and I got a pair of scissors and I cut my dress to knee length, and I cut my black woollen stockings
to ankle socks and there I came and it was tremendous outcry from the nuns and they were
shouting and screaming at me, and I was not allowed to go back to that school any more.
Elaine's act of rebellion had the desired outcome.
She left the convent and returned to her beloved Memorial School.
Back amongst her friends, she flourished and before long became a school prefect,
her confidence and independent streak set to shape the rest of her life.
The outbreak of war in September 1939 had little effect on the majority of the children
of the Memorial School, although the handful who lived across the French border, like Stephen Grady,
were no longer able to travel into neutral Belgium, and were forced to leave.
The Commission urged the gardeners to send their dependants back to England,
although the men themselves were expected to remain in their posts.
But most families stayed together in Ypres.
It was, after all, the town they'd called home for over 20 years,
and they were unwilling to be separated at this uncertain time.
In March, 1940, the children were photographed for a magazine article on the British colony.
As they posed in the school playground, they could have no idea what fate had in store for them.
But just weeks after these photos were published, the Memorial School closed its doors for the last time
and they were fleeing for their lives.
On 10th May, 1940, Hitler launched the Blitzkrieg,
the lightning invasion of France and the Low Countries that heralded a new kind of mobile war,
quite unlike anything seen in Flanders during World War One.
Parachutists and Panzer divisions swept into Belgium and Holland with
a speed and ferocity that caught the Allies completely off guard.
Within hours, the Germans had captured key defensive positions, and as tanks and infantry began
their drive to the Channel ports, Stuka dive-bombers rained terror from the skies.
Within weeks, the men of the British Army were in retreat, blowing bridges as they left.
They joined the thousands of desperate refugees
fleeing the seemingly unstoppable German Army in a race to the coast.
As France and Belgium burned, the War Graves Commission finally decided the time
had come to evacuate the gardeners and their families back to England.
On Saturday 18th May, over 200 men, women and children gathered in the schoolyard
to board the unlikely fleet of vans, cars and bicycles that would take them to the coast.
A week later, after an arduous journey,
during which the families were bombed and separated,
they made it to Calais, where they boarded some of the last boats to leave for England.
It was a miraculous escape.
By 26th May, Calais was in German hands.
The British Army continued a desperate rearguard action
as it retreated towards Dunkirk, but the sheer strength of German firepower was impossible to resist.
With its back to the sea, the British army faced annihilation.
Despite the impending danger, not all the war graves gardeners
and their families had left with the official evacuation party.
Stephen Grady's mother was blind with cataracts
and his father chose to go into hiding rather than leave her behind.
But 14-year-old Stephen was determined to try and escape.
Two days before the fall of Calais, he set off on his bike
with his French neighbour, Lombard, hoping to get to England.
We cycled all the way to Calais, slept in a farm on the way up,
all the way to Calais. Absolute pandemonium there, a few bombs dropping here and there.
Tried to get to Dunkirk. I met some British troops there who didn't want to have anything to do with me.
I had no passport.
All I could do was speak English.
There was no question of my being shipped back to England
when there were 300,000 soldiers waiting to be shipped back.
The evacuation of Dunkirk began on 26th May.
By then, the town was in flames.
Tens of thousands of beleaguered soldiers made their way to the
beaches as boats of all shapes and sizes headed across the Channel in a desperate attempt to rescue them.
And all the while, Stuka dive-bombers carried out their deadly work with impunity.
It was into this hellhole that 17-year-old Elaine Madden headed during the last week of May.
In the early hours of the morning, she left her grandparents' hotel
in Poperinghe with her young Belgian aunt, Simone.
By then, Poperinghe had been badly damaged.
It looked as though practically half the town had been bombed out and there were parts of bodies
lying over, lying on the pavements, on the streets, and there was even a
just a head, just one head lying in the gutter.
And then we saw a lot of refugee people on the road so we just followed them.
Elaine and Simone walked for days, sleeping rough and sheltering from
the dive bombers that mercilessly targeted helpless refugees.
By now the Germans were everywhere.
The girls spotted some crossing an adjacent field, and ran as fast as they could to get away.
With their chances of escape diminishing by the hour, the girls
came across a convoy of British lorries heading for the coast.
When Elaine showed her British papers, one of the older soldiers took pity on them
and helped them on board.
They didn't have a moment to lose.
And he said, "I've got a daughter your age.
"We can't leave you here, but you know we can't take civilians aboard,
"but I can't leave you here.
"I mean, you are British.
"I have to take you."
And when we got on the lorry he said, "Well,
"we're not allowed to take civilians, so put these helmets on - put your hair up, and put these helmets on,"
and they gave us each a greatcoat to put on and said, "Just sit there,
"don't move, don't show your faces, just let us get ahead."
And we eventually got to Dunkirk.
By the time Elaine arrived in Dunkirk, Stephen Grady and his friend Lombard had already left.
In the chaos of the burning town, they'd been unable to find anyone willing to help them get to England,
so had little option but to return home.
Yet, for two inquisitive teenage boys, it wasn't all bad news.
As they headed back, they cycled past the vehicles and equipment
abandoned by the British Army during its retreat.
The troops had dropped everything on the way. There was just anything you imagine laying about.
Rifles, grenades, tanks,
armoured cars, cars, telephones.
We started collecting rifles.
We collected about six rifles, all of different types with some ammunition, some grenades,
and a light machine gun, and we hid all those in a box
and a friend lived in a farm... in one of the fields.
But it was an absolute...
treasure trove for a boy of that age - there was just everything about.
Back in Dunkirk, Elaine and Simone, still masquerading as soldiers in their army greatcoats and helmets,
had joined a long queue of exhausted soldiers waiting on a wooden pier for help to arrive.
It was a terrifying place for the grown men of the British army,
let alone two teenage girls, not long out of school.
I don't know for how many hours we were on this pier and it was like sleep-walking...
and stopping and waiting and waiting and waiting and going ahead again with all these flames around us and,
bombers coming over and bombs falling into the sea and it was...
it was a nightmare.
And I think I was just numb.
Finally, their turn came, when a fishing boat moored
alongside the pier and the two girls climbed on board.
Well, I went down first, it was kind of a rope ladder
and when I got to the bottom, I heard somebody say, "Ah, ladies' legs."
So I kind of looked around and I said, "Yes, but I'm English,"
so as not to be kicked off the boat and then Simone came down.
Of course, "Another pair of ladies legs." "She's my aunt!"
In the first week of June, over 338,000 British and French troops
were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk.
In England, the press was full of praise for the courage of the little ships that had
saved the British Army from disaster and quick to pick up on Elaine and Simone's extraordinary story.
But for the girls, it was a relief just to be back safely on dry land.
When we got on the ground I thought, "Thank God I'm safe at last," you know...
that this atrocious nightmare had suddenly stopped.
It was calm, it was light and people were talking English and...
there were no bodies lying around and
it was as though I'd suddenly landed in heaven. I'm safe.
However, as Elaine was enjoying her first taste of freedom,
Adolf Hitler and his entourage had swept into Ypres.
This rare archive film captured the moment he walked triumphantly through the Menin Gate,
finally in possession of the town the Germans had failed to conquer during the First World War.
The Last Post was played no more.
In the months ahead, the children of the Memorial School
would have to risk everything to regain the little bit of Europe they used to call home.
But the time had come for them to fight back.
By this time, ex-school captain turned RAF volunteer Jerry Eaton had completed his three years' training,
and was now a fully qualified aircraft technician.
But as the Battle of Britain raged in the skies above southern England,
Jerry's patriotism and competitive streak demanded he take a more active role in the unfolding events.
In 1940, I was stationed at Montrose in Scotland, and during one of my holidays back to Ilford,
I actually saw that on a particular afternoon, the German bombers attacking the city
and it was quite incredible watching bombers being shot down, seeing the fighters, Hurricanes and Spitfires,
diving in between and the odd parachutes opening as people ejected.
That night, of course, the whole of the dock area was on fire.
It seemed as if the whole of London was burning.
And I think, having seen that, seen the fighting and the bombing, that I might perhaps try to get onto a
pilot's course myself and do some of the fighting which was taking place.
After pleading with his commanding officers, Jerry's wish was granted,
and he was sent to America to train as a pilot.
While Jerry was learning to fly planes, on the other side of the Channel, 15-year-old Stephen Grady
and his friend Lombard were beginning a prison sentence
meted out after the pair were caught stealing parts from the wreckage of a German plane,
and writing anti-German graffiti on its fuselage.
Like many of those suspected of minor offences,
they were interrogated before being imprisoned.
Stephen was terrified that the Germans would search their homes,
as not only was his father in hiding,
but the arms cache they'd found on their return from Dunkirk was hidden on Lombard's farm,
and if the arms were discovered, the consequences could have been disastrous.
It was a terrible place, this prison, terrible place. A lot of people were shot there.
If your sentence was anything to do with arms...
death sentence, no problem, you were shot.
You couldn't do anything, you couldn't sing, you couldn't whistle,
you couldn't shout, you couldn't talk loud.
There was a window too high, you couldn't look out of it anyway.
It was just terrible.
Stephen was held captive in the same tiny cell for the next three months.
Missing his family, he drew these simple pictures of home to help keep up his spirits.
It was only after the Mayor of Nieppe made a desperate plea for clemency
that Stephen and Lombard were finally released,
but not without a warning from their captors.
There was a German officer there
who called us in,
and he said, "I'll give you a very severe warning.
Leave the Germans alone, because next time, if you do anything,
"it'll be very, very serious."
I didn't listen to that, I don't think, not for long.
This wasn't the only major influence the Mayor had on Stephen's life during the war.
As well as providing Stephen's father with false identity papers, he also gave Stephen the job
of gardener in the three British cemeteries in the commune of Nieppe,
the small income helping to keep his family afloat during the occupation.
But, more dramatically, he also recruited Stephen into the Resistance.
And Stephen wasn't the only Memorial School pupil to be recruited
into the undercover world of clandestine operations.
Elaine Madden was working in an office in London when she
received her call-up papers for the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women's branch of the British army.
Convinced that she could do something better and more useful, particularly given the fact that she
could speak three languages, Elaine complained to a friend in the military.
And, as word of her enthusiasm got around,
she was called for an interview with T-Section, the Belgian arm of the Special Operations Executive.
Well, I suppose you're wondering why I sent for you.
The SOE was set up in 1940 to carry out sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines.
It was extremely dangerous work, and operatives faced torture and execution if caught by the Germans.
Not that Elaine knew at this stage exactly what she was letting herself in for.
She was sent on a series of training courses and assessments
designed to test both her physical and mental endurance to the limit.
Assault courses, weapons training, and silent killing techniques were followed by
lessons in code-breaking, wireless operation and resistance to interrogation.
In one humiliating exercise, Elaine was woken in the early hours of the morning by one of her trainers,
dressed as a German officer.
Said I was a prisoner and I had to come down into the interrogation room, and it was a big room.
It was dark everywhere except for some kind of big headlight over the
table and there was three German officers sitting there,
sitting behind the table.
I was in pyjamas and I was just taken
out of my bed as I was and then they started interrogating me.
They made me stand up on a chair and I was standing up on this chair
with a kind of a big floodlight into my eyes
and then they made me take off my pyjama jacket
and went on interrogating, so I just had pyjama trousers on
and bare from the waist up on this damned chair, thinking,
"What the hell are they playing at?" And then they turned the lights on
and all the other students were sitting around and when the light
went on they all started clapping, because there I was bare-breasted,
standing up on this chair. I could have killed them.
Despite the humiliation, Elaine had completed her preliminary training,
but there would be still one final test to come.
Jerry Eaton was by now a fully qualified pilot.
Posted to Four Squadron, he began flying tactical reconnaissance missions in the new Mustang One.
Once the fastest boy in school, the ex-school captain was now one of the fastest in the sky.
'The Mustang is a heavily-armed single-seater fighter and very fast.
'How fast? Well, Spitfires couldn't catch it, we're told.
'Anyway, it's the fastest army co-operation aircraft in the world.'
Our main role was to do photographic surveys of the coastline from
the top of the Dutch islands right through to Brittany.
This was done at very, very low level,
as low as you could make it with a camera pointing straight out level.
You had to get fairly close to the coast and, of course,
there was sometimes quite a fair bit of flak and then you faced a tremendous risk of being hit.
One never thinks an accident or being shot down can happen to oneself,
it's always the other chap who's going to buy it, to put it plainly,
and that is the firm belief that keeps most people going.
Even so, Jerry was not immune to the very real danger he faced
every time he climbed in the cockpit.
During one mission, over the Hook of Holland, he was lucky to escape with his life.
It was light ground fire, mostly tracer, and I saw this bright light coming
straight towards my cockpit and this had caused me to duck, because I felt sure I was going to be hit by this.
Had it hit me, it would have hit the airplane head on.
But it obviously missed,
Several weeks after completing her preliminary training, Elaine Madden was called back to T-Section.
It was only then that she found out for the first time just what was expected of her.
-Come and sit down, won't you.
And they said, "OK, now, you've done well in all your courses, now we go to Ringway."
And I said, "Ringway?"
And they said, "Yes, for the parachute jumping."
I said, "Parachute jumping?"
I must have gone white in the face and he looked at me and he said, "Yes, of course.
"How do you think we get you to Belgium?"
And I thought, "Belgium, now?"
And he said, "Well, of course, what do you think you are doing here?"
I don't know... I don't know.
I didn't know. I had no idea I was going to go to Belgium.
He got into such a filthy rage.
"How the hell did you get in here?!
"Now that you've passed all your training, we can't kick you out!
"What are we going to do?! And you're too bloody scared to jump from an aeroplane!"
And he got me so annoyed that I was stamping my feet and I said, "I will jump, I will jump, I will jump!"
And then he eventually said, "If you don't jump, my God, there'll be hell waiting for you."
So, off I went to Ringway.
With her usual indomitable spirit, Elaine passed the test.
She was now a fully trained SOE agent, ready for service in the field.
In Nieppe, Stephen Grady's job as a war graves gardener
was providing excellent cover for his clandestine resistance work.
In the early part of the war, this consisted mainly of the smuggling of
downed airmen back to Britain, the distribution of anti-German propaganda and minor sabotage.
Despite being only 16, he was soon promoted to head of his section.
I was the youngest in the group, but I was always available.
I spoke English, I did most of the
conveying of airmen
and I had a job I could leave at any time, paid by the Mayor, the Mayor was
in the Resistance, so all the other people in my group had a job to do, so they weren't always available.
And as I said earlier, being British, I felt different, I felt that I couldn't let the side down in front
of the French, so I was the head of the section and I felt I had to
give the example.
It was my job to lead and to do better than the others.
Back in London, Elaine Madden was issued with a cyanide pill, false identity papers
and briefed on the details of her first mission as an SOE agent.
She was to be dropped into Belgium with a highly experienced SOE operative called Andre Wendelin
and his radio operator, Jacques van der Spiegel.
-Hello, how are you.
-Fine, thank you.
You know each other, of course.
-It seemed to us a woman would be less liable to suspicion in Rouen on than a man, don't you agree?
-Yes, I suppose so.
-I've already explained the mission...
Elaine's main objective was to keep Andre and Jacques safe
as they collected vital information on German troop movements and the location of rocket sites.
It would be treacherous work.
Wendelin was wanted by the Gestapo and, although Elaine didn't know it, four of T Section's agents
had been captured and beheaded just weeks before.
But her first challenge was to parachute safely into occupied territory.
And I decided I would jump number one, because I knew that,
in that way I'd go.
If the other two went, I might not jump, so I jumped first.
The dispatcher opened
the hatch that we had to jump through
and then suddenly, this American dispatcher, he said,
"Honey, I'm gonna kiss you goodbye, because I'm probably the last
American man who will ever kiss you," or something like that.
And he kissed me and then kind of took my parachute straps and just
dropped me in the hole, I didn't even have to the slightest movement and so I didn't jump, I was dropped.
After landing safely in Belgium, the team made their way independently to Brussels.
Elaine was to act as a courier, carrying the radio transmitter
for Jacques and liaising with the Resistance, to find safe houses from where he could send his messages.
They were soon up and running.
Wendelin bribed a German guard at a V2 rocket site
and Jacques began passing the vital intelligence back to Britain.
All the while, Elaine had to remain extremely vigilant.
The Germans had developed mobile radio detector vans to track down wireless signals
and it was Elaine's responsibility to ensure Jacques wasn't caught in the act.
Any mistakes could prove fatal.
While Elaine and her team were gathering and passing on vital information,
other operatives within the SOE were helping to arm and organise French Resistance groups.
Among them was one Captain Michael Trotobas.
In 1943, Trotobas took Stephen and the others to collect a large
consignment of weapons that had been parachuted in from Britain.
He decided that we were worth
being supplied with some of the materials that was being dropped.
So, we went on one occasion to a place called Hosalle, near Arras...
..and in this big mangelwurzel silo were seven containers of arms -
Sten guns, Gammon grenades, Mills Bombs and
then A28 explosive, the cortex all the stuff to detonate with, so we covered it with turnips
and we managed to get all the stuff back to Nieppe
in a farm, stacked it there.
The following day, we came back, the bus came back
and he opened all the containers
and he gave me a Luger.
Little did Stephen know just what effect the possession of that gun would have on the rest of his life.
But for now, Trotobas set about the task of training Stephen in the art of sabotage and bomb-making.
Over the course of the next few months, his group would disrupt the railways, the waterways
and by simply dropping nails on the road, would bring a whole German ammunition convoy to its knees.
I enjoyed putting nails on the road. I enjoyed seeing the Germans go down with all their tyres flat.
I enjoyed hearing the Germans screaming their heads off, because they couldn't proceed any further.
I enjoyed blowing up the railway line.
I enjoyed blowing up the sluice gates
and what I wouldn't have enjoyed is being caught in the act of doing it.
But I wasn't!
As Stephen was destroying German infrastructure on the ground,
Flight Lieutenant Jerry Eaton was attacking it from the air.
By 1943, Jerry's main role was still in reconnaissance work, but by then
the Mustang One had gained something of a reputation as a train-buster.
'The action pictures that follow were taken by the camera gun of pilot officer Grant, a Canadian,
'who beat up no less than 12 locomotives in one sortie.'
Towards the end of Jerry's attachment to Four Squadron,
his camera gun captured a brief glimpse of an attack on a train.
The grainy image of a locomotive, travelling diagonally from right
to left, just discernable when the film is slowed down.
There's a tremendous amount of excitement about
going out on sortie and destroying some part of the enemy structure.
But I think it was a sense of duty, more than anything else.
We had an enemy to fight
and our job was to destroy it any cost.
But in the Mustang, these kinds of missions came all too infrequently for Jerry.
Still determined to do more for the war effort, he put in a request to fly the new rocket-firing Typhoon.
Several days later, I was down at Tangmere, joining 257 squadron.
I didn't realise, of course, at the time, that the reason why I had been moved so quickly was because the
losses in Typhoons were fairly high and they were anxious to get any pilot who cared to fly them.
Losses were also high in the SOE, but Elaine Madden was living
something of a charmed life, as she carried out her duties undercover.
More than once, it was only her calm exterior and quick wittedness that saved her life.
On one occasion, Elaine was working out of town, when she got an urgent message from Andre,
asking her to bring the wireless equipment to Brussels without delay.
As the local railway line had been destroyed by the Resistance, the only alternative was to go by road
and the only offer of a lift came from a German officer, who was staying at Elaine's hotel.
In the circumstances, she couldn't refuse.
Mademoiselle, I insist that you allow me to help you.
Very well, monsieur. Thank you.
Right, this way.
And then he carried my suitcase, which was rather heavy, cos it had
a radio transmitter in it and he kind of looked at me.
"Oh, it's heavy."
He spoke French reasonably well, and I said,
"Yes, it's meat, ham, butter," and he said, "Oh, black market?"
I said, "No, no, for the family."
Nearly everybody was smuggling food stuff.
With the radio transmitter in the back of the car, Elaine and the German officer set off for Brussels.
The journey passed without incident, until they arrived in the city.
Suddenly realising it would be far too dangerous to go to Andre's apartment,
Elaine had to think on her feet and gave the officer a false address.
Thank God I'd remembered the name of the street which was close to
the apartment and he dropped me off at the address I'd given him,
got the driver to take out my suitcase and put
it next to the door and I stood next to the door and kind of...
And he kept doing this and he seemed to be waiting for me to go into the house.
Well, I didn't know whose house it was, I didn't have slightest idea and so I kind of tried, you know,
pretended I was opening the door and kind of going...
Big smile and "Bye, bye", and then, thank God, he drove off.
When I told Andre I'd been driven back
with a German officer and a chauffeur, he laughed his head off - thought it was very funny.
Across the French border, Stephen Grady was about to have his own encounter with the enemy.
In April, 1944, he was given instructions
to kill a German officer who had threatened to expose the resistance group in a neighbouring village.
Armed with the Luger Trotobas had given him,
Stephen cycled to the bar where the officer was known to drink.
Well, I had my Luger in my pocket, with the magazine full and the safety catch off.
I walked in there,
I asked for a beer, she showed me a small glass of beer
and I said, "Is Mr Hanz here?" She said, "What do you want him for?"
I said, "I'm looking for a job on the coast."
So she went in the kitchen, out she came with this chap, who was in his shirt sleeves.
He just said, "What do you want?"
I just pulled my pistol out and shot him through the stomach, right through the middle.
So I rushed out,
the chain kept falling off my bike.
I was an absolute fool to take a risk like that.
After that, there was a big fuss.
Germans turned up the following day with dogs, apparently. Big inquiry.
I was told to go into hiding, in case somebody'd recognised me,
because if I'd been arrested, they were afraid that I'd talk
and give other people's names away.
Anyway, I spent three weeks in a little wood, in a chicken house.
Cold, not knowing what was happening.
There with my Luger, with a couple of rounds left, waiting to take on a German patrol.
The funny thing was, I don't know whether it was because of our age,
but I thought that if I had a Luger and six rounds you could take on the German army.
Didn't realise that it was a mere nothing.
Although he smiles about it, Stephen was troubled by the killing,
particularly as the German officer hadn't been able to defend himself.
I didn't like shooting a man like that,
I don't think it was cricket, if you know what I mean.
I felt bad about it.
But that's it, I was asked to do it, I went and did it.
Less than a month after he emerged from hiding, the Allies invaded Europe.
As troops and equipment landed on the beaches of Normandy,
resistance groups across France prepared to join in the fight.
Meanwhile, in the skies above Normandy,
Flight Lieutenant Jerry Eaton was in the cockpit of his Typhoon, flying into battle.
The sky was full of aeroplanes.
You just couldn't... You had to keep your eyes open in case of collisions.
There's no doubt we had total air superiority at that time.
Operating in what was know as "the cab rank system",
Jerry's squadron flew in support of the ground troops.
And when pockets of German resistance were encountered,
the Typhoons were called in to clear the way. The effects were devastating.
But, unlike Stephen Grady, Jerry was able to distance himself from the results of his actions.
I've always described fighting from the air, from our point of view, as being a rather clean war.
With the army, whether you were just an infantryman or a tank man,
you saw the result of your attacks - you saw bodies, you saw blood
and all that sort of thing - but we never did.
We hit the target, there may have been dozens killed, but you never saw them,
so, on the whole, compared to being a soldier on the ground, the war was much cleaner for us.
As the Allies fought their way through Normandy, Stephen Grady's resistance group continued with
their sabotage operations behind enemy lines, but they were desperate to take up arms against the Germans.
By 27th August, 1944, they could wait no longer and went in search of German stragglers.
They were helped by an American airman called Conrad Kersch, seen here on the right, with Stephen.
He'd been sheltered by the group since he bailed out of his Flying Fortress a few months earlier.
After capturing a handful of German prisoners, Stephen, Kersch
and the others took up position on a bridge just outside of Nieppe.
And then, during the night, on the second night,
suddenly I was with Kersch and another chap and we heard
"clomp, clomp, clomp" on the wooden bridge - Germans coming.
We didn't know how many there were, but Kersch spoke fluent German,
he said, "You're surrounded, drop your arms, give yourselves up."
And they did. Couldn't believe it.
75 Germans, we took, and young ones at that.
So, we had a hell of a lot of arms.
75 prisoners in one go.
When they saw there was about five or six of us, they went bloody mad.
By early September, the group had captured 130 German prisoners.
Their weapons confiscated, they were lined up in a
children's playground in Nieppe, where this photograph was taken.
But this early success did come at a price.
We started off the fighting.
There was about 20 of us, say, when we started off.
Of course, we started taking all these German prisoners,
rifles everywhere, people come, "Give me a rifle, I'll join you."
In no time at all, we'd grown up to 60.
But there was no military structure, no nothing, everybody shot wherever.
There was no discipline, it was a rabble.
We did some damage, but we were really a rabble.
Within hours, this expanded group was attacked by a unit of over 200 SS troops
and 40 resistance fighters and civilian volunteers were killed.
Stephen was lucky to survive.
By 6 September, the first British soldiers had arrived in Nieppe and the Germans were soon driven back.
In this photograph, taken on the day the British arrived,
members of the Resistance pose with their liberators.
And at the back, wearing a hat, is Stephen's father, finally
able to come out of hiding, after four years of German occupation.
Across the border, the Allies had swept into Brussels and crowds lined the streets to welcome them.
As they celebrated, SOE agent Elaine Madden asked for her uniform to be sent from London.
No longer working undercover, she could, at last, wear her wings with pride.
The people who saw me in uniform with my wings on, they kind of looked at me and said, "Are you English?"
I said, "Yes."
"You're a parachutist?" I said, "Yes."
But I was the only,
you know, British girl, girl in uniform,
apart from the German girls, that they'd seen, and it was an uproar.
I couldn't even walk, they would carry me on their shoulders and kind of show off say,
"Regardez, la parachutiste!"
Look at the parachutist!
These are some of the most happy, the happiest days in my life,
because everybody seemed to be so proud of me and to kiss me and to love me and there was such
a lot of hugging and drinking and eating and invitations of people that I'd never seen in my life.
It was a fabulous feeling.
BUGLER PLAYS "THE LAST POST"
It is due to the courage and sacrifice of those who fought
in the Second World War that The Last Post has been played at the Menin Gate every night since 1945.
Throughout the Flanders countryside,
the cemeteries built and maintained by the Imperial, now Commonwealth, War Graves Commission,
remain as magnificent today as they did when they were first created.
Each year, 250,000 visitors make the journey
to the war graves and memorials, whether in search of the resting place of lost relatives
or simply to pay their respects to the unknown soldiers who gave their lives for their country.
And for the children of the Memorial School, there is an added poignancy.
Not only are these the cemeteries where their fathers toiled 80 years ago,
they are also the places where some of those who fought alongside them
during the Second World War are buried.
After the war, the British Memorial School never reopened.
But the spirit of patriotism it instilled in its former pupils had a lasting legacy.
Ex-school captain Jerry Eaton served in the Royal Air Force for 35 years.
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services during the war,
he retired in 1972, having risen to the rank of Wing Commander.
For the son of a gardener, for whom English was once a second language, it was a remarkable achievement.
I think during the whole of the period I was on operational flying
we felt we were part of a big effort and we felt very much alive, we felt we were doing something good,
there was never any thought of death or the possibility of it.
We were just happy, in a way, to be fighting a good cause
and doing as much damage to the other side as we could.
Following in his father's footsteps, Stephen Grady worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
for almost 40 years, eventually becoming one of its leading figures,
responsible for cemeteries in ten countries across the whole of the Mediterranean region.
But, although he had a long and successful career,
the four years he spent as part of the French resistance group remain amongst his most vivid memories.
The excitement that I had in those days at my age was something that you can't forget, really.
The danger and the excitement.
Those four years of occupation, seemed to be half my life, really.
The intensity of the feeling at the time takes precedence over the humdrum of the succeeding years.
If you're 16 or 17 and you're given rifles and plastic explosive
and things like that, it is an adventure, would be to any boy of that age, I would think.
Among the many accolades he received for his wartime services,
Stephen was awarded the Croix de Guerre, was mentioned in dispatches
and was given a personal message of thanks from US President Eisenhower.
After leaving the SOE, ex-school prefect Elaine Madden
was sent into Germany to help liberate the concentration camps.
Like Stephen Grady, she was also awarded the Croix de Guerre
and was mentioned in dispatches in recognition of her wartime achievements.
During the war, she was one of only two women to be parachuted into Belgium.
Of the 183 agents sent into the field by T-Section, a third were killed carrying out their duties.
But Elaine took it all in her stride.
The courage, confidence and spirit of adventure that she'd gained
during her time at the British Memorial School, enabling her, in her own way, to help win the war.
I felt proud of having been in the war, having helped out, and I wasn't frightened.
Maybe that's why I didn't get arrested or didn't get stopped,
I didn't maybe didn't look frightened enough for the Germans to suspect me.
If I am what I am, I owe it to the British Memorial school.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Documentary telling the forgotten story of a heroic battle fought by the children of the British Memorial School to help liberate Europe from the Nazis.
The school served a unique horticultural community of ex-First World War soldiers and their families living in Ypres in Belgium who lovingly tended the war graves. Steeped in ideals of patriotic service and sacrifice, many pupils and ex-pupils refused to surrender to the invading Nazi forces.
Three surviving school pupils tell their extraordinary stories of resistance, illustrated with rare archive film. Elaine Madden dramatically escaped to England where she joined the Special Operations Executive and was dropped into Belgium to work as a spy and saboteur. Jerry Eaton joined the RAF taking on especially dangerous missions over Europe and would later become a wing commander. Stephen Grady joined the French resistance where, as a young teenager, he became adept in sabotage and secret attacks on German troops.
The film is a much deserved tribute to the courage, sacrifice and heroism of the Memorial School children.