Major Mackintosh Walker’s Escape
Diary extract, Jun/Jul/Aug 1940
Major Rory Mackintosh Walker, then Capt., is photographed (seated, 2nd left) at the Reg. re-union in Jerusalem, February 1934.
THE DIARY OF MAJOR MACKINTOSH WALKER’S ESCAPE AFTER ST.VALERY WITH MAJOR TOM RENNIE
The diary of the escape after St. Valéry, by Major Rory Mackintosh Walker who was commanding the 4th Battalion Cameron Highlanders at St. Valéry and Major Tom Rennie, Black Watch who was on the Divisional Staff. It makes a fascinating read. Major Mackintosh Walker (who already had an MC and two bars from the 1st World War) would go on to command 227th Brigade of the 15th Scottish Division and was killed on 17th July 1944. Major Tom Rennie commanded the 51st Highland Division and was killed during the Rhine Crossing in March 1945.
Left Bethune 7am for Lille. Thomas and I decided to go at first opportunity.
About 10am fell out at ideal spot, bank with wood on top. Went up bank unnoticed to far side of wood. Chose hiding place and except when someone unknown looked in at us from 10x range spent uneventful day. About 10pm decided to start on our travels. Went back to road and found man rather tight who went to get us some food.
Returned with bread and wine and hunchback wife who was terrified. Shooed them off and. started. We had no map and no moon but general idea of direction i.e. West. Met La Bassee canal and kept it on our right. Bridge blown up. Walked some way along railway line. Eventually got to Venuelles about 3am and decided to stay the rest of night and following day in some bushes. Both pretty tired.
Woke to find we had chosen popular village resort and had many visitors. 1st an Italian brought by his son. He returned at intervals during the day with food and drink. Two young fellows arrived later and brought us a tremendous supper. All very kind. Italian came back about 9pm with an Englishman and two sets of civilian clothes for which we gave Frs 200. Englishman said between Boulogne and Calais 'vas useless and so we decided on Le Treport. Thomas said Spain but I couldn't bear the thought of it. Set off with the civilian clothes in a bundle but having put the shirts on, dumped the rest in a field.
Walked for about 5 hours, trying to get through the running area which we considered unsafe. Eventually did so and fetched up in a very dark wood west of Barlin.
Except for mosquitoes slept well, on awakening both went to different sides of the wood to connect with people and try and get food. Very unsuccessful. Farmers 'fife brought us bread and eggs, and old refugee man with son and daughter visited us at intervals during the day. Two other men also appeared and said they'd bring an Englishman at 8pm. Did so and produced Nordic, a Scotsman. He strongly advised civilian dress and said he'd try and get us bikes and would return 8am next day. Horrible night, poured with rain, saved by Thomas's 2 waterproof sheets.
Wordie and pals appeared with no bikes but 2 blue suits and shirts. Both on the small side. Thomas had a pair of evening trousers turned up at the end. Both had berets. Gave chaps Frs200 and our uniform to bury and left my cigarette case and tobacco pouch with Wordie until after the war.
They were all a bit jittery as the Gestapo had appeared in Barlin at 6.30 that morning. Set off as civilians, tried not to walk in step. Next village to Barlin saw Bosche ahead of us, apparently searching houses. Retraced our steps for 200x and turned left into a field and found a brook which we had to take off our boots and socks and wade. My left foot very sore from nails running into it. Walked till about 8pm and greatly daring had meal in Estaminet at Averders. Asked if we could sleep in a barn and a farmer's son, who was having coffee, took us to his father's farm. Pa and Ma charming, gave us milk and - we bedded down in loft with sacks and a tarpaulin.
After breakfast of milk and eggs walked on. Had lunch in an Estaminet and were advised to make for Bune-Au-Bois. Walked through village with Huns billeted in it.
Arrived Bune-Au-Bois about 8pm and found 2 Cameron Jocks in uniform getting food. Two more in the wood. Gave them some money. Estaminets said they had no food. Outlook a bit black. Asked at a brick house and sent next door, where farmer and wife most kind. Lady from brick house brought in strawberries and we had a good supper and then to bed, what a joy even though I didn't get much of it, as Thomas either lies on his back with his elbows out or in his side like a question mark.
After breakfast called on Englishman who looked after war graves , but windy of the Boche. Gave us some chocolate and took us out of the back door. Very hot day. Stayed the night at big farm at Maison Roland. Family of Abbeville refugees staying there. They told us not to go for Abbeville as it was full of Bosche. Their house was blown up. In fact all the houses in the centre of the town were in ruins. Slept in barn.
All the girls of the village came to have a look at us before supper.
Started off and crossed Somme at Port Reny. Bridges blown but were repaired with wood. No sentries. Houses a good deal knocked about. Lot of refugees returning. Found more or less deserted village but managed to buy 12 eggs and some bread. Stayed night in evacuated house. Boiled eggs for supper. Didn't know how long to boil them for, tried 3 ½ minutes and found it about right. Thomas ate lot of red currants. Shared a bed with 2 rather worse for wear blankets on top of us. Had a good wash in hot water for the first time.
For the third day running the sun was in the wrong place in the heavens and we set off in the wrong direction. Walked along a railway line until we saw a Bosche sentry on it, so we cut away left handed over the fields. About 8pm arrived at Tully and had supper with a wheelwright on outskirts of the village. He gave us the name of a man at Ault who lived by the gasworks and had been a smuggler between France and Belgium before the war. He said if anyone could get us a boat he could. Looked very promising. Walked on to Marcel where we slept in the barn of an evacuated farm.
Asked for milk at a farm near Ault and the lady gave us some, but was obviously frightened of Germans. We saw several German cyclist patrols on the roads. Went and lay up in a wood 2 km from Ault till 2pm.
Saw lots of Huns on the beach. Decided to go and interview the smuggler. Persuaded Thomas, much against his will, not to come into Ault, one being less conspicuous than two, and walked into Ault. Luckily the gasworks were on our side of town and I had no difficulty in finding the smuggler. He said it was hopeless, there wasn’t a boat on the coast as the had all been sunk by German M.G.’s. Said the four big houses on the beach were full of Germans (reported this to the RAF when I got home). Went back very dejectedly to Thomas and was passed by 2 Hun cyclists en route who took no notice of me. Decided to try St Malo and Channel islands, failing that Spain.
Found a nice farm where we were about to spend the night when the Mayor who had seen us going through the village and two of the village elders turned up.
They said that a Cengalese had killed a Bosche that afternoon in a village1 km away and the Bosche were starting to search for him and that we ought to move on. This we did, and walked 8 km, to Burgny where the Mayor gave me an old pair of French army boots and sent the policeman with us to show us an evacuated farm where we could spend the night.
Crossed the Bresle at Gemache, no sentries and not many Huns about, though a troop of cavalry moved out as we were going in. Uninteresting day spent night at Avesmes Au VAL at a farm where we had our first couverture which kept us lovely and warm. Had lunch at an Estaminet of some bread butter and 6 of 12 eggs we had bought. Just as we finished a Bosche car drew up outside and a Bosche came in. We left so hurriedly we forgot the 6 eggs over and had to go back and get them.
Another uninteresting day. My French boots were rather uncomfortable and it was very hot. Found nice looking farm for the night. The lady of the farm was rather good looking. Small son called Charles, who followed us into our barn when we went to bed and had to be rescued by Mamma. French children seem to stay up very late.
Did 30 odd km and arrived at Epinay, 7 km north of the Seine. Very nice youngish couple at the farm where we spent the night with 4 topping little boys. We'd been able to buy some chocolate for the 1st time that day and so were popular with the boys.
Arrived at La Traite and found ferry the other side. No sign of Bosche. Ferry came back and we had to wait an anxious hour before put off again. Nice looking pub the other side, where we thought we might have lunch, and in asking boatmen found it was full of Bosche. About 10x from landing stage, to our horror, saw Bosche soldier sitting on chair on landing stage, reading a book. Too late to go back so we landed and walked left. Bosche went on reading. Got lost in a wood, but eventually struck main road.
Given lift by 2 Frenchmen in a car, who knew what and who we were. Gave us very useful Michelin map and advised going left of big town in front, they also told us that the Bosche had taken the Channel islands.
About 8am came to village which looked alright, but found it occupied by Huns. Retired out of it and circled right till found farm who gave us supper and bedded down in barn. Hun officer had been there 5 minutes before we arrived and his eggshells were still on the table.
Made a poor start as we had to cross big stream and found Huns on bridge. Went west along stream. Thomas very interested in fish. Found wooded bridge and crossed to nice old village. VG lunch, jelly, fresh bread and butter.
Walked on to St Georges. Decided to have shave in barbers. Thomas done first and I explored. Wandered into bike shop and asked if they had any for sale and to my great surprise they said yes; bought "Maggie" for 450 frs and "Gertie" for 150 Frs. Had tea and set off full of hope, but Maggie broke down outside next village. Hired a small lorry to take us all back to St Georges.
Maggie repaired and we returned to Satherne in lorry. Driver said we could get a room in hotel which we did. Had VG dinner, everyone very friendly, listened to 9 0' clock news in driver's house. Heard 1st Lord of the Admiralty's speech saying that we had done in the French Navy.
Started off full of hope on bikes but Gertie went wrong behind about 12.30. Walked 3 km and luckily found cafe and bike shop. Had lunch and Gertie had new wheel and fixed gear, ie no free wheel. Arrived at farm which looked alright for the night, but farmer very sticky. After a certain amount of argument we bought some milk and were allowed to sleep in the barn.
Showery day. Got on fairly well till lunch when Gertie went wrong again. Sunday and no shops open. Walked on to St Ouen, and found shop open. Gertie repaired.
Now very late and pouring with rain so we risked a hotel a Georges and Jean Reire, Belgians; no Huns in village.
Another showery day. Biked in fine intervals. Paid farm for bed and met charming farmer from another farm who offered us hospitality. Biked to farm behind his cart. Had marvellous meal and shared a bed in the stable. Very comfortable. During day biked along main road. Lot of Hun lorries. One screamed at me for being too much in the centre of the road. Hope I meet him after the war. Decided it better to get on quieter road.
Our big day, as we had to cross Loire. All villages north of river full of Huns. Thought we would cross at Amboise. Had lunch 3 km away in estaminet and just as we'd finished 2 brownshirts walked in and we walked out. Decided Amboise too risky so went 6 km east, but saw no sign of other bridge. Only a boat which looked OK, but on being reconnoitered had a Hun fishing just by it.
Decided to spook at Amboise. Found bridge intact and biked over thinking all was well, when we suddenly came to another bit of the river with broken bridge and 2 boats tied together being used as a ferry. Ferry being used by Huns and civilians.
Sat and watched double trip and saw Brown shirt our side who appeared to be inspecting people getting in. However as it neck or nothing we wheeled our bikes down, bought our tickets and went aboard. No one took the slightest notice of us. Disembarked and rode 18 km at full speed to get over the Selle before 8 pm. Bridge OK and things looked lovely when, turning a corner just after the bridge, we found a barrier 5Ox ahead with a sentry on it. Luckily there were some French girls arguing with the sentry. A jolly looking young chap, and when they came back they told us that it was the frontier and you had to get a pass to cross.
Went to an estaminet and had a bottle of red wine. Decided to go round.
Biked east along river across two fields and when covered by wood turned south. Maggie punctured front wheel. Came to farm who were prepared to sell us milk but not house us. Very tired and feeling worn out with the strain. Walked 2 km to next village. No sign of accommodation, and Thomas went into an estaminet for food and drink. Very angry so went off by self and connected with schoolmaster and wife. Excellent couple gave us 2. beds, whi.ch had housed at various times both French and German soldiers. Gave us supper. Listened to the news and schoolmaster produced wherewithal to mend puncture.
After breakfast schoolmaster wrote down route to Toulouse. Though we didn't realise it we were now in the unoccupied territory and never saw another Bosche. Made quite good going and got 7 km south of Chateau Roux. Asked at farm for milk and bed in granary. Old woman said yes, but a drunken old man turned up, asked if we were “Anglais” and then said we must go, however the old girl said stay. I gave him a cigarette and we had an. armistice.
Discovered he was on reserve of Officers and didn't like the French fleet being sunk.
Another good run. Spent night at farm. Bit sticky at first but ended up with us having supper with them and discussing the metric system with the old man, 7 km south Guerville.
Our best day up to date. Got to 50 km north of Tulle. Slept in a barn over some cows. Gertie had a slow puncture all day and eventually went flat the last 2 kms.
Started before breakfast 8 km nearest village. Had shave in barbers, breakfast and got Gertie mended. Had good lunch in hotel, funeral of sorts outside. Anyway some band played the dead march very badly.
Dined at restaurant 18 kms south of Breve. Very good dinner, nice owner who put us in barn across the road where we were joined later by 3 refugees.
Maggie died with a broken frame on top of hill and so had 'to walk 8 km down hill. Sickening. Had lunch and small lorry took us and bikes and innumerable other things into Cahors.
Couldn't get a frame or new bike anywhere and in disgust started off again, when Thomas found a shop on the outskirts with one for sale. Swopped Maggie plus 100 Frs for George.
Biked on to Caussads where we had our first really good dinner couldn't find anywhere to sleep and so biked on in the dark and got into a farm where the women gave us permission to sleep in the barn. Both very saddle weary but in spite of Maggie we'd done over 100 km.
Started before breakfast and Gertie again misbehaved. Luckily road flat so towed Thomas into next village. Had shave and breakfast and got Gert repaired. Arrived Toulouse in afternoon.
Found American Consul had gone, no one knew of any British or American residents. Taken round by friendly Belgian looking for American lady who ran refugee home. She was away and Thomas got exhausted so said goodbye and went and had a drink tried to get rooms at hotels but failed. Had dinner and eventually went and spent night at refugee place.
Were given six small sacks each. Miserable night. Draught down back of my neck. The police post outside Toulouse stopped a man on a bike 100 yrds in front of us, so we waited for two French girls behind to catch us up and rode on with them.
French police thought that we were courting couples and let us pass without stopping us.
Got up early and sat in park till coiffeur and breakfast place open. Went to Swiss Consul at 9.30 am. Very nice but couldn't help. Advised Marseille and American Consul. Met Miss Halton Fagge who took us to the police to get a Sauf Conduct to Marseilles. Police said they couldn't do it as foreigners weren’t allowed to travel about. Had lunch with her and tried to send off cable, but found it had to be countersigned by the police. She took it back to her hotel.
Left at 3 pm missed tea, our 1st meal missed, and did 60 km 7 km from Catres, spent night in byre with cows, nice and warm. Farmer roused. us very early by cleaning out the cowhouse.
Did our record run up to date. Self 130 km, Thomas 160 km. West wind behind us and road mostly slightly downhill. Dined in hotel 30 km from Montpelier. Thomas refused to move after dinner, so I went on to book a room, which I did at a small town 8 km on. Got 2 bedded room. Waited on the road for 1 hour for Thomas. Had arranged if we missed each other to meet next morning at 1st hotel in Montpelier.
Had coffee in hotel and a French officer came up and said he was town commandant and would like to see my papers, I explained I was a canteen worker and had lost them and was on my way to Marseilles to get new ones from the American Consul General.
I don't think he believed me but he pretended to and shook hands.
Got up at 6 am and raced into Montpelier where I arrived at 7.15 Sat at the 1st restaurant on the right, drinking coffee and waiting for Thomas; who turned up at 9.10 having spent the night in a field and been bitten by mosquitoes. He didn't think I'd start so early and so had lain in his field until 8 am. Had a lovely west wind behfnd us and good roads. I did 190 km Had very good supper at hotel which was also French flying officers mess. After supper heard a motor bike arriving behind us and I said to Thomas" we are being chased by Gendarmie", and then discovered that we were. They stopped us and we told them the same story about being canteen workers. They said we would have to get papers quickly in Marseilles or we would be locked up. We then shook hands all round and proceeded on our way. Slept in a quarry 20 km from Marseilles. A bit cold and hard but not bad.
Had a shave and breakfast on the outskirts of Marseilles and were then stopped by the police cordon. The old, old story came out again and we were allowed to proceed. Cobbles awful, we got tenderer and tenderer. Left George and Gertie in the Splendid garage and bought shirts, ties, socks and trousers. Went and had baths, what a relief, our first for about 6 weeks and donned our new raiment. Went to American Council and were sent on to British Consulate who were working unofficially.
Met Consul General Dolds and Vice Consul Deen. Both charming. They made out our identity cards and passports and gave us £5 each. Took papers to American Consulate for signatures and wrote a note to Consul General asking if he would see us, which he did. Most charming man, very interested in our story and said he'd lend us money
Took room, 2 beds, in Gambelta hotel and had slap up dinner in Cintra restaurant.
Got our cash from John P. Hurly, Frs 10,000. He refused to take even an IOU, but gave us the address of a bank in London to pay it into. Went to Cooks and paid Frs 1000 each for reserving passage on boat from Lisbon as we couldn't get our Portuguese visas without this, and changed Frs 5,000 into £5 notes.
Had snails for dinner, rather good.
Spent all morning getting Portuguese visa and met Miss Gold, very nice American girl. Gave her lunch and dinner. Being Saturday after one couldn't get our Spanish visas so Thomas went to sleep on his bed, and I had another bath and read a Penguin in the park.
Met Miss G for lunch, she produced a most interesting Russian journalist, who couldn't get out of France as he'd written articles against Germany, Spain and Italy. We all went out by tram to the sea, had tea, slept on the beach and dined together
Sea water looked very dirty. Thomas ate an Octopus for dinner which he pretended to like but confessed later that he didn't.
Spent morning getting Spanish visas. Tried to get Sauf Conducts to Perpignan in the afternoon. All went well until we were just about to take them away, when the policeman said "come back for these in 7 days". Went back to British Consulate and told them. Tilly, who was helping them, said he'd go round and see a friend of his in the Prefecture.
Came back to say he would get the answer at 11am next day, so we decided to wait and see. Had rather a sell at dinner as we ordered fish and two octopuses were produced. Couldn't afford to send them back, so had to eat them. Horrible, I thought.
Tilly's friend could do nothing so decided to risk the 6.40 pm train. Bought tickets at 3 pm no difficulty. Came back to the station at 6.15 and pretended not to know each other. Sat in different 3rd class carriages with our heads in the corridor, watching for police to come along, but none came.
Pretty mouldy journey, including a wait from 11 - 3 am at some station. Got to Perpiquon at 6 am. Had shave and breakfast and when we asked for the American Consul found there wasn’t one.
Decided to interview the Prefect, M.Mousseau, whom Dodds had told us was very pro- British. Delightful man. I told him who were and that we wanted permission to leave France. He was very sympathetic but said he would have to send the papers to Vichy which would take 7 days. I said we couldn't wait as long as that and he advised hiring a boat and going in to Spain that way.
Caught 6 pm train for Banyules where we stayed quite a good pub and tried to find a man named Reae whose name we had been given in Harseilles, but no one knew him.
Boats were all out of the water and Thomas was most insistent that it would be quite easy to cross the Pyrenees. I thought otherwise as I imagined they must have sentries along the frontier.
Caught 9.30 am train to Cerbere. stopped by a policeman as we were waiting for our "permission de sortir" to come through from Marseilles and that meanwhile we were staying 3 or 4 days at Cerbere. Walked up the road to the French frontier post to have a look see.
The Spanish one was 200x on round the corner. Had lunch at the railway station and took rooms in the hotel and slept till 5 pm. Had a look at the mountains and decided where we would cross.
Met 4 more British officers in the town. They had arrived on bikes with no papers. They had been told that the railway tunnel was unguarded between 8 pm and 9 pm and were going to try it, so we thought we would too. However when we went to have a look after dinner we found a sentry sitting outside.
They said they were going to try and pinch a boat so we wished them well and started off for our mountain passage. Beastly thorn bushes all over the mountains. I fell once and had thorns in my hand for days afterwards. Very lucky in finding paths going the right way and also 2 springs where we had a rest and ate chocolate.
Having got over the top by about 1 am we were gaily descending the other side when a dog started to bark. Thought it was a police dog but then heard goat bells and decided it belonged to a farm.
Went down into valley and started to climb the next lot of hills when we saw Port Bon (Spanish frontier town) down the valley. The bay was exactly the same shape as the bay at Cerbere, but there were bright lights shining and so we decided that we were in Spain.
Frightful smell of sage, I shan't eat sage and onions again without thinking about the Pyrenees.
Went on to Port Bon about 8 am and got hold of Mr Cook's man We were absolutely all right as regards papers except that we had nothing on them to show how we had come into Spain. MrCook took us to the station where his policeman friend put a stamp on it, then in to the railway official who was rather sticky and said we must see the local dictator.
However luckily Mr Cook knew that he was a Red in the civil war and said that unless he stamped our papers. to say that we had come in by train, he'd report the fact to the authorities. So we got our papers stamped. Left by train at 3.30 pm and got to Barcelona at 8 pm,
Went to a hotel recommended by Mr Cook and I went straight to bed Thomas went had supper. When he came to bed he said we’d got to report to the police first thing in the morning, which rather spoilt my night's rest.
While we were dressing, we rehearsed our story to get it pat and at 9 am went with the landlord to the police station, but the secretary didn't turn up till 10 am so we had to sit kicking our heels for an hour.
However when he appeared he just glanced at us and our passports and said that we could go, so all that worry for nothing. We reported to the Consulate, bought some new clothes as I had torn my trousers in rather a vital place sliding down the Pyrenees.
Caught the train at 8 am still 3rd class and arrived Madrid at 10am.
Had met Mrs J on the train and she stuck to us like a leech. We had very little money but she appeared to have less, as having fed her all day we had to pay her taxi fare back to the hotel when she came to see us off at the station.
Had a bath in the Nacunal hotel, then lunch and a siesta. Went to look at the King's Palace, had tea and went for a walk. I had a splitting headache and blew up at Thomas and Mrs J and so went back to the hotel and had an aspirin. Thomas went to the Embassy and I picked him up there at 8:15.
Went to the station and had dinner and caught the 10 pm train to Lisbon. 1st class - what a joy.
Arrived Valencia and had to go through the Spanish customs which took hours. Over the frontier the Portuguese did it in the train, and did it very quickly. We had joined up with two young gunners - John Goschen and Barney Brook-Fox, who were masquerading as 17 and 18 though they were both 22.
They had come via Switzerland. On arrival at Lisbon at 8 pm were very lucky to get two double rooms at the Motel Franefort. We sent Barney in to get them as he was the only one respectably dressed.
Had a 1st class dinner and then to bed.
Went shopping and then to the Embassy where we saw the Military Attache, Col Parry Jones, who was most helpful and asked Thomas and self to lunch. Sent wires home.
After lunch we got £20 each from the Consul.
Did more shopping in the morning. Mrs j turned up again.
Got our leaving visas from the Portuguese. Went out to Estorel after dinner and booked rooms in the hotel de Parque.
Went out to Estorel by train. Grand place, very nice hotel. Sat on beach all afternoon. Went to cinema at night and lost 60 escudoes at the tables.
I went into Madrid in the morning to get our tickets as we were flying next day. Heard that the Government were paying our passage. Went swimming in the afternoon but the sea was very cold. Mrs J turned up again, but luckily couldn't get into our hotel, so got away with standing her tea. She is a bore that woman;
At 6 pm Airways rang up to say we weren't going on the third as the aeroplane hadn’t left England. Rang up Parry-Jones, who said that we were priority and would go on the 1st plane that arrived.
Went to the casino. Thomas got cheated out of £1 as he had a counter on 35 when it turned up, but was claimed by a fat old woman and while I was trying to get it out of her my own number 15 turned up and I hadn't backed it.
However did quite well and turned 150 escudos into 520.
Went into Lisbon by train, was told we would go tomorrow. Had the tickets altered. After lunch Thomas and I played golf. Lost a quid through taking 3 putts in the last game.
Went to the Casino again, but had very little money and so retired with a 10/- profit.
We were called at 5 am, got to the Aerodrome at 6.30 to find the plane didn't go till 8.45 am. Had a very comfortable journey but very little food and arrived at airway and house at 6 pm ravenous.
Fatty and Button (sisters) were waiting for me and our journey was at last ended.