Donald Caskie lived from 22 May 1902 to 27 December 1983. Born and brought up in Bowmore on Islay, he was a church minister who is best remembered as "The Tartan Pimpernel" for his exploits in helping allied sailors, soldiers and airmen escape from occupied France during the second World War. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Caskie was the son of a crofter. He was educated at Bowmore School and then Dunoon Grammar School before going on to study arts and divinity at the University of Edinburgh. He was ordained in 1924 and his first charge as a minister in the Church of Scotland was in Gretna. In 1938 he became the minister of the Scots Kirk in Paris.
After the German invasion of France in 1940, Caskie ignored the advice of those he reported to in the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh to return home. He gave up the chance of a passage on a ship bound for Britain from Bayonne, and instead travelled to Marseilles, which was at that time part of Vichy France, governed by the Vichy French regime on behalf of the Germans who occupied the northern half of the country. In Marseilles, Caskie established a refuge for stranded Britons, using his contacts through the local church, the US Consul and British Intelligence to help as many as 500 allied service personnel to escape to Spain, from where they could reach Britain.
The Vichy French authorities arrested Donald Caskie and others after they were betrayed by an informer. A number of those involved in helping allied personnel to escape were subsequently executed, but Caskie's life was spared, apparently because of the lack of hard evidence against him. Instead he was given a suspended sentence and expelled from Marseilles. He went instead to Grenoble. There he took up a post as a chaplain at the university. He was later interned, along with other British-born civilians living in the occupied countries, though after being taken to Italy he was able to arrange his own release and the release of others incarcerated with him. By now the Gestapo were taking much more of an interest in Caskie, and in 1943 he was again arrested, before being put on trial at Fresnes Prison south of Paris, and sentenced to death. His request to see a pastor led to a meeting with the German army padre Hans Helmut Peters, who successfully appealed to Berlin to spare Caskie's life.
Donald Caskie spend the remainder of the war in a prisoner of war camp. After the war ended, he returned to Paris and resumed his role as minister of the Scots Kirk there. He was awarded an OBE for his wartime role, and honoured by the French Government. The Scots Kirk was in a sorry state after the war, and in order to help fund its rebuilding, Caskie wrote an account of his wartime exploits, under the title "The Tartan Pimpernel", which was published in 1957.