TOM McGrath, the Waterford man who escaped a German prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War, is to be honoured with the staging of the cross-Pyrenees Tom McGrath Historical Memory Trail.
A remarkable chapter in the life of this Waterford man, who was born in Portlaw in 1904, was discovered by his son Tom Jnr who, until a few years ago, had no idea that his father had served in the British Army.
In 1942, Tom escaped from a Nazi POW camp in Poland and made his way through Germany, Holland and France to the Basque Country.
In June 2023, the Basque Pyrenees Freedom Trails’ Association will commemorate the Basque stage of this escape with a guided weekend mountain trail from St. Jean-de-Luz on the Basque coast, across the Pyrenees frontier at Col d’Ibardin, and down to Bera in Navarre, thus paying tribute to Tom and all those who helped him.
The event takes place from 2nd to 4th June 2023.
Tom Jnr and his son Eric plan to join the BPFTA to retrace what will be a very personal journey for them.
Joe Linehan, who is co-founder and president of the Basque Freedom Trails, lives in northern Spain, but he is originally from Waterford.
The Basque Pyrenees Freedom Trails’ Association is a voluntary organisation based in the Basque Country, with an international membership, and registered with the Basque Government and Hernani Town Council as a cultural non-profit entity. It is dedicated to the recovery of the historical memory of the WWII escape lines across the Pyrenees frontier, which aided many evaders and escapers in their bid for freedom from Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII. The commemorative events are aimed at paying tribute to those involved in all the Basque WWII escape lines.
During WWII, routes across the Pyrenees along clandestine smugglers’ paths were a major link in the escape lines’ networks. Allied government agents, young Frenchmen escaping obligatory military service, Jewish families and Allied personnel, amongst others, escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe across the Pyrenees to the Iberian Peninsula. These dark times were full of heroes on both sides of the border, many of whom have remained unknown – the Basque guides, men and women responsible for safe-houses, communications and supplying accommodation, false papers, food and clothing for the fugitives, those responsible for logistics, the couriers, and the fugitives themselves.
The aims of BPFTA are to disseminate knowledge of the WWII escape lines over the Pyrenees through commemorative walks across the frontier and by passing on the history of these clandestine fugitive routes to second and third level education students.
Earlier this year, Tom McGrath Jnr launched his best-selling book ‘Unspoken’ which tells the story of his father’s conscription into the British Army, his escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in Poland, his daring journey across Europe and subsequent recapture – and the devastating news that awaited him in England. Tom’s research also led him to discover that his mother also carried a heart-breaking secret.
‘Unspoken’ pieces together an extraordinarily rare tale that encompasses memoir, family history, and two parallel stories that were almost lost for ever.
The book is available in local bookstores and online.