Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Guides - Part Two

Odile de Vasselot

Chemin de la Liberté- Pyrenees
Florentino Goicoechea

In this second post on a ‘Guide’s Guide’ some of the extracts from a booklet might have looked like as below, had one ever been written.


Consider using trams when moving evaders from one location to another. Providing everyone knows exactly what they have to do, this mode of transport is useful when travelling across the bigger cities and suburbs.

Whilst riding on trams can speed up operations, caution must still be exercised. Follow your instructions exactly, no matter how trivial or simple they may seem. ‘Convoyers’ should not look as though they are travelling with their charge(s) but must be ready to intervene at any given moment if an outsider tries to start up a conversation with the evader(s) under their care.

Trams are liable to ‘stop and searches’ by the enemy and also ticket inspections. The latter can also involve presentation of identity papers and the need to answer questions. If either of these occurs you will be required to make an instant judgement as to your next action. Once a check is in operation there may be little you can do to help your evader. If the evader is carrying an identity card signifying they are a deaf mute, care should be taken when involving yourself, as the enemy has a number of ruses to expose this practice.

To anticipate problems, position yourself so that the evader is within easy reach, you can see the stop ahead in good time and the second exit door if there is one is nearby (usually on the road side of the tram). This will enable you to spot a ticket inspector/ possible ‘stop and search’ and get off the tram with your charge well before it reaches the next stop.

As with travelling on foot, if the handover to another guide contains a signal or action, be sure that your charge can see it and that it is safe to pass them on. Also be certain that you have identified the new guide correctly by way of appearance (if known) or signal e.g. 'the new guide will be standing at a prearranged street corner wearing a brown raincoat with a rolled up newspaper in his right hand. Approach him and shake hands, the guide will move slowly away and your charge should follow him at the usual distance. If the newspaper is in the left hand, it is not safe to approach and you must proceed to the standby location to await further instructions.'  


Adopt similar strategies to those of travelling on trams. If you are responsible for buying train tickets, you will already have any necessary documentation (if required) in order to do this. Do not buy tickets together so they are sequential, this can arouse suspicion if the travellers are sitting or standing next to each other and do not appear to be acquainted.

Consider giving your charges a copy of Signal magazine. This is a German propaganda publication and will give them something to look at in order to avoid eye contact. It may also help discourage someone trying to begin a conversation.

If you need to give tickets to your charge(s), approach them and shake hands passing over the ticket. Their papers will already have been arranged unless you have been told otherwise. It may be too dangerous to travel in the same compartment or carriage, so be sure that you know whether your charges have been briefed on this in advance. If not, inform them of your strategy e.g. they look out for you when it is time to leave the train and know what to do after that - i.e. handover to another guide or follow to the ticket barrier and proceed as briefed.  


Be sure that each of your charges can ride a bicycle. Ask the question – some cannot!

Be clear of your route and use back streets, isolated country lanes and tracks to minimise the risk of encountering checkpoints and being observed. Approach towns away from main roads and travel around the edges if possible.

You will often journey with another guide accompanying the party (usually four evaders to two guides). Best strategy is for a gap of no less than 100 metres between each cyclist. This will help avoid suspicion that the party is travelling together. One guide leading and one bringing up the rear is the best methodology. Ensure you have a clear signalling system for the guide cycling in front to warn of impending danger and that your charges know what action to take when they see that signal. 

Across the Mountains

These are usually undertaken with personnel who have specialist knowledge and if it is the Pyrenees, Spanish Guides will take over for part of the journey.

If you are walking the more severe mountain routes, ensure that your charges have a walking stick, espadrilles (special shoes for grip) and that they tie something white to their sticks (usually a handkerchief) so the person in front can be seen in the dark. At night the party must travel as close together as possible to avoid getting lost and falling, and it is good practice for guides to wear a white disk on their back or pack to assist the party in following.

Good speed is essential as travel should be done in the hours of darkness wherever possible, but care must be taken to avoid accidents. Remember that your charges will not be experienced climbers; they do not know the location and may tire quickly. The mountains are full of ravines, sheer drops and places where someone can fall.  

Be ready to link together to ford rivers if necessary and watch out for German border patrols, Spanish guards and smugglers. The latter may be using the same route as your party.

Remember Spanish prisons can be very unpleasant.  Avoid capture.  

Next few weeks – Drawing from official reports, books, diaries and memoirs - what really happened.

© Keith Morley


  1. You really had to have you wits about you to be a guide, like remembering to ask if the escapee can ride a bike, and buying train tickets separately. Both questions make perfect sense! However, I don't know how they remembered it all...

  2. The unexpected was always a problem waiting in the background Maria. Sometimes these best practices came as a result of being caught out previously. It is amazing to think that they coped with all of this in addition to trying to closet the evaders from a distance if that is possible. Some evaders were careless and simply did not look right. I think many were able to pass through because of the amount of foreign laboureres in the occupied territories and some patriots on the streets choosing to look the other way.

  3. Love that last line 'avoid capture.' Brilliant.

  4. The escapers and evaders here had to keep wits about them constantly which must have been a terrible strain but unavoidable. One miniscule slip and the game would be up. Think of the scene in ‘The Great Escape’ where a German guard speaks in English deliberately and our man answers him in English at the Station. One single lapse which cost him and many others their lives as they were rounded up and machine-gunned. Those who made it to safety after WW2 must have needed ‘debriefing’ and help forever afterwards. Perhaps never getting over it. In this nicely-constructed post by Keith we are on the perilous journey with the Guides and their charges.
    Evaders who passed through Spain over the Pyrenees also faced the possibility of capture by the Spanish authorities and internment in prisons in Lerida, Barcelona, Figueras, Zaragoza, Sort, and many others, prior to reaching the concentration camp of Miranda del Ebro. The camp at Miranda was overcrowded, and filthy. The prisoners lived in deplorable conditions and depending upon the speed that the British Consul was able to work for their release, prisoners could be held there for months. Under International Law, if the prisoners could prove that they were escapers, not evaders, they were often released. Evaders were to remain interned until the end of the war. The word soon spread back to England that, if captured, evaders were to proclaim that they were escapers from Germany.
    'It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.’
    (Shakespeare.) Await the next posts based on real accounts with interest and have my espadrilles strapped on as the author advised at the beginning for crossing the Pyrenees.........