New play tells story of war hero minister

A new play about the life of a Kirk minister who helped save more than 2,000 allied service personnel during the Second World War is being staged in Glasgow next month.

Rev Dr Donald Caskie, who was known as the Tartan Pimpernel, was leading the Scots Kirk in Paris when the Germans invaded France in 1940.

Caskie Bible
This Bible was used by Rev Dr Donald Caskie when he worked in France. Credit Etienne Des Haynes

Playwright John Hughes was inspired to write about his wartime exploits after reading an article in a national newspaper about the return of the minister’s Gaelic Bible to the Scots Kirk.

The story was produced by the Church of Scotland’s communications team last August and widely published.

Mr Hughes said the article led to him reading Dr Caskie’s book, The Tartan Pimpernel, which left him “overwhelmed” by his humanity.

He said he wanted to ensure that the late minister’s story was more widely known.

Dr Caskie’s nephew, Tom Caskie, gifted the leather bound Gaelic Bible to the Scots Kirk for a permanent exhibition in honour of the war hero.

He revealed that his uncle, who used it when he worked in France, often used the language to hide information that he did not want to fall into the hands of the enemy.

Donald Caskie
Rev Dr Donald Caskie

Dr Caskie, who was raised on Islay in the Inner Hebrides, denounced the Nazis from his pulpit and when the Germans invaded Paris he had to flee the city.

While in southern France, he refused the chance of safe passage on the last ship bound for the UK and fled to Marseille instead.

There he ran a Seaman's Mission, living a double life and passing the close scrutiny of the Vichy Police, and helped British and Allied soldiers to freedom across mountains into Spain.

He was eventually recruited by British Intelligence officers and was told that his mission was the last link of a chain of safe houses that they had set up, which stretched from the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France to Marseille in the south.

With nothing to trust but God and his instincts, the crofter's son operated in the Seaman's Mission for many months until he was betrayed by a traitor.

Imprisoned

Dr Caskie was eventually arrested by the Vichy Police, interrogated and banished from Marseille.

He moved to Grenoble where he continued to arrange for the escape of soldiers, seamen and airmen under the cover of being a university chaplain.

Dr Caskie was finally imprisoned by the Gestapo and sentenced to death.

The minister, who was given his nickname by the BBC, had ignored repeated calls from British Intelligence and the Church of Scotland to return home.

His life was only saved through the intervention of a German pastor and he spent the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War camp.

The proceeds of the book penned by Edinburgh University graduate Dr Caskie, whose first charge was Gretna St Andrew's Church, helped rebuild the Scots Kirk after the war.

John Hughes
John Hughes

Mr Hughes said: “I saw a newspaper article last year which revealed that Dr Caskie’s Bible had been returned to the Kirk in Paris and then I read his book.

“I was overwhelmed by his humanity and was surprised his story was not well known.

“The main message I got from the book was that he was driven by a need to help his fellow man whether they were British soldiers, local French or, as in the case of Helmut Peters, a German Lutheran minister.”

Patriotic

Mr Hughes, a third sector worker from Glasgow who has written two other plays, said he hoped to take the production to Islay.

Church records, known as Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, state that Dr Caskie was "engaged in church and patriotic duties in France 1939-44".

The war hero returned to Scotland and became minister of Old Gourock Church in Inverclyde and later Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay North Church in Ayrshire.

Jan Steyn
Bible homecoming - Rev Jan Steyn and Aileen Caskie, a relative of the Tartan Pimpernel.

Dr Caskie retired and after his death in 1983 at the age of 81 he was laid to rest in the family grave at Bowmore on Islay.

His medals are on display at nearby Kilarrow Parish Church.

The play, titled The Tartan Pimpernel, is being staged on 20 May at The Bungo in Nithsdale Road, Glasgow, as part of the Southside Fringe festival.

Tickets cost £8 on the door and can also be bought in advance via www.tickets-scotland.com