On the day heroes are remembered: a poignant thought


This morning I sat glued to my seat on the 08.07 to Fenchurch Street because a gobbet of unnoticed chewing gum, stuck to the seat of my journey, became stuck to the seat of my pants. As I endeavoured to lever the masticated rubber from my strides I read in The Times about the unveiling of a memorial at Flossenburg, the fomer Nazi concentration camp, to 15 agents of the Special Operations Executive. These were the men and women sent into occupied Europe to carry out espionage and sabotage. They included journalists, lawyers and yachtsmen: one of whom was the late, great George Millar, who wrote many sailing books about his cruises in Brittany and the Med. All knew they faced certain death if caught yet many went back more than once. The unfortunate 15, who are being remembered in Bavaria today, were starved, beaten and kept in solitary confinement before being either shot or hanged just six weeks before World War II ended.
They put their lives on the line to help defeat a system which treated youths who stuck chewing gum on railway seats as ‘national parasites’. Such ‘deviance’ was seen as ‘biologically determined’ and juvenile delinquents as young as 12 were sent to two camps: Moringen for boys and Uckermark for girls. Once they were 18, those who could be re-educated were sent to the front, those who could not were forcibly sterilised and sent to an adult concentration camp.
One of the 15 executed at Flossenburg was a British officer of Armenian descent, Flight Lieutenant Agazarian, captured by the Gestapo in Paris while on his second mission. As the camp guards came for him he tapped in Morse to a neighbouring cell: ‘Looks like my turn now chaps. Cheerio and love to my wife.’
In my own small way I salute those men for their sacrifice and shocking bravery and I will wear my chewing gum patch with pride, for today at least!