Identity photograph found in the back of Francis (Frank) Hurst's paybook. 1939.Frank Hurst
Citation from General Eisenhower, early 1945.Frank Hurst
Special pass for Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. This document gave me complete freedom to act. September 17, 1944.Frank Hurst
Pages 2 and 3 of Frank Hurst's Soldier's Service and Paybook. Details at the time of his enlistment in the British Army. 1939.Frank Hurst
"They said, well, we have a son who has been taken prisoner by the Germans and we would hope that somebody who came across him would be caring enough to protect him,"
My name is Francis Hurst but I go by the name of Frank. I was born in Paris, France, on the 18th of May, 1914. I was interviewed to be part of SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force] headquarters and at SHAEF headquarters, our unit was a unit of 12 men. We were instrumental in making sure that all the information about the, the date, the place and how and when D-Day would take place was kept secret. So this was our main task. So we, we had to arrange all kinds of clearances for people that needed to know because traditionally in the British Army, if you achieved a certain rank, you expected to be told everything but with, with D-Day coming up, the only criteria was, do you need to know to do your job.
So we had that responsibility of interviewing people that thought they needed to know and we would then decide whether they would or not. And some claimed rank and went up, all the way up to the top but the top sided with us and we achieved a pretty good result.
When Paris was taken and we moved SHAEF headquarters and moved into Versailles, I was dealing with the situation of the French officials, trying to sorting out those who were really sincere and that had no blemish to their record; that had not collaborated more than they needed to. You see, the French had to cooperate to some extent [France had surrendered to Germany on June 22, 1940]. Some, some collaborated fully, others did so reluctantly. So we, we sorted out the people that were dangerous to what we were doing at SHAEF headquarters. Because you see, although the war was going well, it was nowhere certain that the Allies would come out on top, because the Germans were fighting very vigorously and so on.
We were known by the French police as the people to contact. And on one occasion, they brought a German soldier who had been badly beaten up, to hand him over to us as the proper authority to deal with him. Now, this was about two months after a German battle in that general area and the question that we had is, what the hell was this German soldier doing two months after a battle? And why was he beaten up by the French? So we took him under our wing and we found out that - we noticed then, when we had him stripped, that he was wearing some French underwear. So then we came to the conclusion that someone had sheltered him.
So we tried to find out from him who it was and he would not tell us. But we did find out later that the place he was sheltered in had hot and cold running water. Well, in that part of France, where he was picked up, there were not many places that had that facility. So we got in touch with the local plumbers and we found out one particular farmhouse that had that and it turned out, that’s where he’d been sheltered.
So when we went to these people, a French woman and her husband, we went to the, my captain and I went - he spoke French also - we wanted to know why they had sheltered an enemy soldier. And their story was that after a battle had taken place in where, near where they lived, they went out to find out what had happened and they came across German vehicles that had been destroyed. As they went past, they heard a voice whimpering and they found this German soldier wounded and they went home and got a wheelbarrow, put him in a wheelbarrow and took him home and sheltered him with the idea of sending him on his way the next day, to rejoin his troops.
The day passed and he was not fit enough and weeks and months passed and by then, it was too late for them to do anything about it. So when we finally interrogated them, we said to them, why did you do such a stupid treacherous thing, which really could be - the French could sentence you to death. They said, well, we have a son who has been taken prisoner by the Germans and we would hope that somebody who came across him would be caring enough to protect him, so this is why we protected this German soldier.
The war was over and I was demobilized and I still had this suit. And I decided to send it to the drycleaners. So as I was getting it ready to drop it off, there was a number inside the lining which had been written in, presumably by the people that were sending these French suits to the drycleaners. See, these clothes had been taken off French people that sort of came to Britain to volunteer and whatever. And inside the lining of this suit, there was a number. And one of the numbers was a seven. And believe it or not, the seven was an English seven - because the French seven has a bar across it. So I took the view that one, one out of every ten suits sent to the drycleaners during the war, there would be a seven. And if there had been a seven without a bar in it and an agent was picked up by the Gestapo [Nazi Germany’s secret police service], claiming he’d never been to Britain, how would it be that he’d have a suit that was obviously English.
So I wrote to the War Office- the war was over - I wrote to them, they thanked me for my concern and they said, it was really most unfortunate, which it was, it was bloody unfortunate. Because, you see, when we sent agents over, we parachuted them in or whatever, but when we sent agents over, they were in mortal danger because they had to assimilate with the French people, you see. And in my case, they wanted to parachute me in 1941 and the first story I tell when I relate this to a group is that as soon as they mention the word parachuted in, I would think of a church spire getting closer and closer to my rectum, you know. But there we are.
Although the, you know, war is an absolute stupid way of dealing with things, I had a very interesting job and I was very very lucky, I came through unscathed and I came through having done, I believe, a good job.