In June 2023, the Basque Pyrenees Freedom Trails Association organised a memorial tribute in memory of Tom McGrath’s father, Thomas, who escaped from Stalag XXA concentration camp in 1942. Tom retraced his father’s steps, describing the emotional experience and warm welcomes he received along the way


Six years ago, I discovered extraordinary things about my parents which I never knew because they died when I was very young and had never spoken of them. These discoveries changed my life, all in an enormously good way.
In order to preserve this information, I decided to write an account for my grandchildren. As it happens, this account ended up being published and was very well received, reaching number one in the best sellers listing.

The reason for this was that my parents’ stories, as told in my book Unspoken, were representative of what all of their generation had to endure in a very different world than the one we live in today.

My father left his native Portlaw, County Waterford, in the 1930s to seek employment in London. At the outbreak of World War 11 he was conscripted into the British Army and sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force.

In June of 1940, his regiment of 10,000 men were captured. For three weeks they were marched across northern Europe suffering severe brutalities at the hands of their captors. Eventually, he ended up in Stalag XXA in Torun in Northern Poland. There the conditions were horrendous, where starvation, lice and cruelty was rampant.

In March of 1942, my dad escaped on his own wearing civilian clothing under his Army uniform. He slept in a nearby wood overnight and the following morning he knocked on the door of a house he came upon. An elderly Polish man took him in and hid him in his attic for a few days before bringing him to meet the Resistance in Torun.
After hiding there for a few months, he took a train to Berlin where he stayed for three months.

Thereafter, with false papers, he went to Paris where he hid for four months.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own