Story of Gaelic speaking soldiers who escaped Nazis will be film

Collect of three soldiers (L to R) Corporal MacDonald, Lance Corporal James Wilson and Private William Kemp in 1940 at Glencoe. Picture: SWNS

Collect of three soldiers (L to R) Corporal MacDonald, Lance Corporal James Wilson and Private William Kemp in 1940 at Glencoe. Picture: SWNS

Share this article
6
Have your say

The true story of three Scottish soldiers who escaped the Nazis by pretending to be Russian by speaking Gaelic is to be turned to a film.

Heroic Private William Kemp, Corporal Sandy MacDonald and Lance Corporal James “Ginger” Wilson fled Hitler’s clutches in June 1940.

They managed to escape weeks after their Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regiment had surrendered to enemy forces.

They are already famous in their native Highland village of Ballachulish but will now appear in the Second World War film The Darkest Hour.

After initially escaping the trio were captured by the Germans again at a checkpoint and taken to a prisoner of war camp.

But they used their native Gaelic which confused the Germans and the Scots were able to convince their captors they were actually from the Soviet Union,

In his memoir, Private Kemp said: “In the morning we were brought before the German commander, whose first action was to point his revolver at each of us in turn.

“We took this to be a warning to speak the truth or take the consequences. A French officer, acting as an interpreter, asked us to state our nationality.

“I replied in Gaelic: ‘I do not know’. When he asked what country we were from, I then said: ‘Ardnamurchan’.”

The Scots were released and made their way through occupied France to Spain, where they discovered a British consulate and boarded a vessel.

Once out of Spanish territorial waters, they transferred to a British warship and returned to Scotland.

News of the soldiers’ escape spread and German forces, angered by being made to look stupid by the Scots, were said to have sent any Gaelic speakers straight to labour camps as punishment.

All three soldiers have now passed away but Private Kemp’s niece, Susan Kemp, still lives in Ballachulish and said her family were proud of her uncle’s story.

“It’s always something I thought would make a great film,” she said.

“I understand the film will be loosely based on my uncle’s story but I have only just heard about it.

“As children we were aware of it but, as was often the case with that generation, they didn’t make a big deal of it. They must have had nerves of steel.’’

Scottish film company Burning Horseshoe Productions and Northern Ireland-based Silver Sombrero Pictures are behind the new drama.

Funding for its development has been secured from Northern Ireland’s national screen agency and promotional trailers are due to be filmed this week.

Back to the top of the page