Rev Donald Caskie

Hello everybody,

my apologies again for the intermittent radio silence, my days just seem to fill up with ‘stuff’ which gets in the way of my blog writing – quite what this stuff is I couldn’t exactly say…

This evening I thought I’d write about the chap who has the square where I’m living named after him – the Reverend Donald Caskie. This story has a connection with the one about the Sunderland in my mind, I suppose due to the same time frame of the Second World War and the heroism of the people involved.

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Donald Caskie was born in Bowmore in 1902. From an early age he knew he wanted to be a minister, and studied divinity at Edinburgh University.

After a spell at a parish in Gretna, Donald was ‘posted’ (if that’s the correct expression) to the Scots Kirk in Paris, arriving in 1935. He found himself to be in his element in Paris – Donald Caskie was gay and the more flamboyant and outgoing nature of Parisian society seemed to suit him well. Equally, Paris took to Donald, and he is still fondly remembered at the Scots Kirk today.

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Drawing of Donald Caskie as a young man outside the residents’ lounge in Donald Caskie Square

When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Donald was allocated a place on one of the last boats to leave the country and instructed by the Kirk headquarters in Edinburgh to come home – but he felt his place was in France and elected to stay. In Marseilles, he worked to help stranded Allied servicemen escape – mainly to Spain – and thereby get home. It is estimated that he helped around 500 people to flee the Nazis by this route. Unfortunately he was betrayed by a British informer, but was lucky to escape unpunished due to a lack of evidence and a sympathetic judge.

Donald next went to Grenoble, still in France but nearer to the Swiss and Italian borders. Here he taught English at the university while hiding hundreds of escapees in the vaults underneath the university church! In 1942 the Gestapo finally caught up with him and Donald was sentenced to death. Having asked to see a minister while awaiting death by firing squad, he was saved by the German Army padre appealing for clemency on his behalf. Donald spent the rest of the war as a POW.

It is believed that Donald helped in the region of 2,000 civilians and servicemen pursued by the Nazis to escape from France during WWII.

After the war, Donald returned to the Scots Kirk in Paris and subsequently several small parishes on the west coast of Scotland. Depressingly, he spent many of the final years of his life homeless in Edinburgh – a topic close to my heart as some of you will know, although he was spared from living on the streets by staying in cheap B&Bs. He was at least able to stay with his brother in Greenock during the final year of his life, leading up to his death in 1983.

By the time he died, Donald had been honoured by the French Government, awarded an OBE, written his autobiography (‘The Tartan Pimpernel’!) and appeared on ‘This Is Your Life’. A BBC documentary was made about him in 2001. Proceeds from the Tartan Pimpernel went towards rebuilding the Scots Kirk in Paris twice, in the 1950s and 1990s.

Donald is buried at Kilarrow Church in Bowmore – a stone’s throw from Donald Caskie Square.

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Many thanks to the following sites for information about Donald Caskie’s life: https://www.scotsman.com/200voices/cultural-icons/rev-donald-caskie-war-hero-tartan-pimpernel/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Caskie http://www.kaleidoscot.com/caskie-4191 http://www.thenational.scot/news/15445049.Scotland_Back_in_the_Day__Reverend_Donald_Caskie__the_kirk_minister_with_a_double_life_as_a_war_hero/

3 thoughts on “Rev Donald Caskie

  1. The Reverend Donald Caskie was a truly awesome man. Having The book Tartan Pimpernel thrust at me by my sister with the words ‘you will like this story’ out of politeness I thought I would read one or two pages – I could not put the book down. I am a veteran and I am a part-time military historian in the sense I like to create presentations about individuals who are semi-hidden when they should be properly recognised. I have researched Rev Donald – ‘Monsiuer Lr Canard’ and created a presentation that I will give in February 2020. I have never visited Bowmore – yet – but I can whole heartedly agree that you have had a great man who walked amongst you and that man was Reverend Donald Currie Caskie.

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