Catherine Bergin: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
I am a student of escape. Nothing intrigues me better than a good escape story, the more odds the protagonist has to overcome the better. Such stuff, we are lead to believe, is the work of myth makers or novelists. In my research on escape lines helping British soldiers escape France during the Second World War, time and time again truth emerges and continues to emerge as stranger than fiction.
Take for instance the British soldier who avoided captivity after Dunkirk. Crossing a river on a boat, he was surprised to see that German soldiers were signalling for him to come back. Afraid of what awaited him, this soldier compiled. Imagine his shock when the Germans not realising he was British requested him to ferry them across. Imagine his double shock when he was paid for his services! This enterprising fellow, not one to turn down a profit, hired out his services to the Germans for the day before making good his escape.
Yet with each humorous account of success, there is an equally devastating reality check. Civilians helping British, and later American, soldiers and airmen risked imprisonment, concentration camps and death.
This is my interest. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things with all the odds stacked against them. Words alone cannot bring to life the depth of these human experiences. This is why I think this project is of crucial importance. As historians, we struggle to re-create the past with words … we can only write about our research… but what if we could do something more….? This project allows us to take that leap. Research can now leap into art, no longer confined by the words on the page but engaging our senses in a way not yet experienced.
It is a metamorphosis.