The forgotten Australian hero who saved hundreds from the Nazis’ crimes | Second world struggle

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A younger Australian who joined the French Resistance, labored undercover for British intelligence, and helped to avoid wasting hundreds of lives in war-torn France was guillotined by the Gestapo in 1943 after he was betrayed by a British double agent.

But Corporal Bruce Dowding’s bravery and supreme sacrifice have been largely forgotten as a result of France’s try to award him its highest nationwide honours – the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur – got here up towards his personal nation’s paperwork.

Now Dowding’s household are calling for him to obtain the honours that he deserves and for Australia to recognise him as one in every of its heroes, after he aided the escape from France of allied servicemen and Jews fleeing the persecution of the Third Reich.

His nephew, Peter Dowding, instructed the Observer that the household had been astonished to find that Australia appeared to object to a overseas authorities bestowing posthumous honours on an Australian citizen.

“Protocol had required solely the approval of the Commonwealth of Australia, however bureaucratic indifference in his dwelling nation derailed the method,” he mentioned.

“The Australian authorities inquired whether or not he had been an Australian serviceman. Once they came upon he had fought for the British, they simply merely responded to the French: ‘Effectively, he wasn’t an Australian serviceman.’ ”

It is just lately after archives had been opened up that the household have pieced collectively Dowding’s full story. His nephew mentioned: “We simply didn’t know a lot of what had occurred to him. All of the sudden, during the last 5 or 10 years, archives have launched supplies which had been by no means obtainable earlier than.”

He’ll current the proof in a forthcoming ebook, co-written with Ken Spillman. Secret Agent, Unsung Hero: The Valour of Bruce Dowding tells the story of a younger instructor in Melbourne who took a 12 months off in 1938 to take up a scholarship on the College of Sorbonne in Paris.

He fell in love with France and its tradition, refusing to go away even after the beginning of the struggle. In a 1938 letter dwelling, he wrote: “Ought to ‘la guerre’ escape by any probability whereas I’m over right here in Paris, you’d guarantee all people that I’d quickly get out of hurt’s method.”

Whereas raised as a pacifist, Dowding needed to help France and so he volunteered as an interpreter with the British military in Boulogne. He was taken prisoner there in 1940, after the Nazis attacked the city. However he escaped by crawling by way of a sewer beneath the prisoner of struggle camp.

He managed to achieve Vichy France, the place he joined the French Resistance. Underneath the code title André Mason, he helped to smuggle escaped or shot-down allied servicemen out of Nazi-occupied France and on to Spain.

Men in a trench aim rifles.
French Resistance fighters. Bruce Dowding was lively in an escape line supported by British intelligence however was betrayed by a double agent. {Photograph}: Hulton Archive/Getty Photos

On an escape line supported by MI9 and the Particular Operations Govt in London, he helped to maneuver escapers to the foothills of the Pyrenees and others from a safe-house holding space in Lille. Dowding additionally labored with Varian Fry’s celebrated American rescue mission, which saved hundreds of Jews.

Within the ebook, his nephew writes: “He had utilised his presents – instinct, intelligence and a present for languages – to resolve advanced logistical issues in a hostile wartime surroundings.”

However Dowding was finally betrayed by Harold Cole, one of many second world struggle’s most infamous traitors. Arrested by the Gestapo, he was executed by guillotine in Dortmund jail in 1943, shortly after his twenty ninth birthday.

Peter Dowding, a lawyer turned politician who served because the premier of Western Australia on the finish of the Nineteen Eighties, has had little pleasure persuading his authorities to present his uncle the prominence he feels he deserves.

Final week the minister for veterans’ affairs, Matt Keogh, wrote to Dowding that “it seems the award might not have progressed as Cpl Dowding didn’t serve within the Second Australian Imperial Power”.

He added: “It’s the persistently held place of Australian governments that representations are usually not made to different international locations concerning overseas awards for Australians. Nevertheless, this on no account diminishes Australia’s respect and acknowledgment of the essential contributions Cpl Dowding made.”

Refusing to surrender, Peter Dowding mentioned: “I would like the Australian authorities to inform the French it’s their error that led to the deadlock. I want to see the French acknowledge we’re not asking them to think about an award however to finish the provide they made.”

Then he’ll flip his consideration to Britain, he added: “The British gave Bruce a point out in despatches – however earlier than the total particulars of his service was recognized.”

In his ebook, he writes: “Conflict is indiscriminate in the way in which it inflicts ache and struggling …

“A part of life is due remembrance … I stay decided that [Bruce] and the others who died with him – for France, and for freedom – is not going to be forgotten.”

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