The Tartan Pimpernel is a play written by John Hughes about the life of a Kirk minister who helped save more than 2000 allied service personnel during the Second World War.
The play tells the true story of a forgotten Scottish hero the Reverend Donald Caskie, who was the Minister in the Scots Kirk in Paris when the Germans invaded France in 1940. He fled Paris and reached southern France where he refused the chance of safe passage on the last ship bound for the UK and fled to Marseille instead.
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.
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 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.”
The play is based on Caskie’s 1957 autobiography “The Tartan Pimpernel” a bestseller in the 50’s but little is known of his story now.
After the war Caskie returned to the Scots Kirk in Paris until 1961, before coming back to Scotland. After a series of postings in Inverclyde and Ayrshire, he died in 1983 aged 81 and was laid to rest in his home town of Bowmore in Islay.