The Freedom Trail – Following one of the hardest wartime escape routes across the central Pyrenees into Northern Spain
By Scott Goodall
Inchmere Design – £15.00/€22.00
There’s an openness aligned with an altogether welcoming feel about this book; which, although part history book and part travel guide, is nonetheless anchored to that of one fundamental, decisive theme: freedom. That all too crucial and oft overlooked mode of intrinsically invisible, yet sacrosanct human endeavour, that to this day, many people are still prepared to put their lives on the line for.
Especially those who don’t have it.
As for those who once had it, and have since had it denied; there is nothing on this earth they won’t do, no hardship they won’t endure, no mountain they won’t climb, in order to regain it – if not secure it.
Herein lies the premise upon which The Freedom Trail – Following one of the hardest wartime escape routes across the central Pyrenees into Northern Spain is essentially based. As author Scott Goodall succinctly states on the back cover: ‘’The Pyrenean Mountain Chain forms the border between France and Spain and stretches for 270 miles (430 kilometres), from the Mediterranean Sea in the east, to the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
During the Second World War, between the years 1940-44, more than 33,000 civilians and 6,000 Allied servicemen were forced to tackle these peaks in an effort to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe and regain their liberty via neutral Spain.’’
That Spain was neutral however, didn’t necessarily stop them from taking sides, as Goddall makes clear in the chapter ‘Escape to a Spanish Jail’: ‘’For several years, General Franco’s Fascist government had been quietly sympathetic to Adolf Hitler and the German cause. It was well known […] that escapees caught on or near the French/Spanish border were promptly handed back to the authorities.’’
One such escapee was a proud Frenchman by the name of Paul Broué, who, I not only had the utmost pleasure of recently meeting at the Chemin de la Liberté Museum in St. Girons, but who also lives in my village. Along with having had the misfortune of spending his 20th birthday in the infamous Lerida jail, he also spent several weeks in the Miranda del Ebro Concentration Camp, before finally being released to serve with General de Gaulle’s Free French Forces in North Africa.
Moreover, as mentioned at the outset, The Freedom Trail isn’t just a history book about the actual escape route; it’s also a guidebook for those wanting to re-trace said route for themselves.
Replete with maps and charts for the five-day trip, historical references and landmarks, an equipment checklist and a colour photo gallery, there’s nothing this guide doesn’t touch on or tell you. And it quite often does so in a light and comedic manner, which in truth, does much to juxtapose some of the harsh, density of the subject matter. For instance, in the chapter ‘Day Three – La Cabane de Subera to Le Refuge des Estagnous, Goodall writes: ‘’We’re in marmot country now, so keep your eyes peeled for this thickset, ground-dwelling relative of our friendly squirrel. […]. They’re often seen sitting bolt upright on boulders keeping watch over their immediate territory. When alarmed (and often just for fun), they emit a shrill, high-pitched whistling call uncomfortably reminiscent of someone’s dying scream. The sound is so sudden and unexpected that it can easily scare the goretex pants off any unwary walker.’’
Simultaneously fun and informative to read, The Freedom Trail is essential reading for anyone remotely interested in this particular aspect of the Second World War. As well as paying homage to those who took part in this remarkable escape route, it also salutes their spirit.
More importantly, it substantiates some of their reasoning(s). To quote the escapee Jean Souque: ‘’You never really know what freedom is until you’ve lost it.’’
For further information on/how to maintain copies, please contact Marie Feltham on 00 44 (0)1295 661000 or via email: email@example.com
Finally, there will be a general get together at the Maison de Chemin de la Liberté Museum in St. Girons this Saturday March 2nd at 14.30 – which will include various guest speakers, among them Scott Goodall and Paul Broué.
Anyone wishing to come along should contact: Peta Edwards via