|On the French Spanish border looking into Spain and 'freedom'.|
In 2010 I was solo and the following year I helped a group complete the Trail as their D of E Gold expedition. This year I helped with the walk that is organised every July to commemorate the escapers, evaders and helpers or 'passeurs' who made the journey during the dark days of the Nazi occupation of France. At various points along the route, including the site of a crashed RAF Halifax bomber, there are memorials where wreaths are laid and speeches made . There were over 100 participants this year - more than in previous years in part boosted by the publicity from a BBC Radio 4 programme in 2011. Those taking part included a group raising money for the Royal British Legion and a group of soldiers representing NATO. By chance there was also the father of an ex pupil of mine from my days as a teacher in Kent!
The group I looked after included walkers from Britain, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands. One of the only groups to finish the walk as a single unit and singing! A great bunch!
|The Four Nations Team|
|Looking down on the Refuge des Estagnous|
Not all the walkers made it to Spain this year with several dropping out with injuries. There is always next year!
|An injured knee for this walker made it too painful to continue|
|Nazi propaganda about the STO. 'The bad days are over. Dad earns money in Germany.'|
The helpers or 'passeurs' were local men who knew the mountain paths and tracks by heart and were crucial to helping people escape. Many paid with their lives - caught and shot immediatley. This was sometimes due to betrayal by fellow countrymen who passed on information to La Milice - the feared and hated Vichy-run paramilitary force. More than 100 helpers or 'passeurs', like 19 year old Paul Barreu, were arrested and shot.
|The memorial to Paul Barreu|
The Freedom Trail escape route remained operational for the duration of the war in part due to it running through such difficult terrain - it was very difficult to police.
I thoroughly enjoyed helping out with the Commemorative Freedom Trail in 2012 which was well organised by Scott Goodall and Paul Debons. Thanks to them, all the helpers and of course all the walkers.
Have you been inspired by what you have read and seen? Are you ready for the challenge? Pyrenees Mountain Adventures can help you organise your Freedom Trail Escape. See the website for more information www.pyreneesmountainadventure.com