Frank Pickersgill

Frank Pickersgill

Frank Herbert Dedrick Pickersgill (May 28, 1915, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada - September 14, 1944, Weimar, Thuringia, Germany) is a Canadian hero of World War II.

Holding an English degree from the University of Manitoba and a Masters degree in Classics from the University of Toronto, Pickersgill had originally set out to cycle across Europe, and then returned to Europe in 1938 to work as freelance journalist for several Canadian newspapers. During his travels he met with Jean-Paul Sartre, whose work he had hoped to translate into English though the oncoming war distracted his labours.

He served the first two years of the war in a labour camp as an enemy alien; he escaped by sawing out a window in the now-cliché style of a hacksaw blade smuggled into the camp in loaves of bread. Once he was safely back in Britain, Capt Pickersgill rejected the offer of a desk job in Ottawa, and instead requested a commission with the newly created Canadian Intelligence Corps.

Because he was fluent in German, Latin, Greek and especially French, he was working in close connection to the British Special Operations Executive .

Along with fellow Canadian, John Kenneth Macalister, he was parachuted into the Loire Valley in occupied France on June 20, 1943, to work with the French Resistance. The two men were picked up by the SOE agent Yvonne Rudellat and the French officer Pierre Culioli, but their vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint set up in response to a tip that the four spies were headed this direction. After blowing their cover at the checkpoint, Culioli tried to speed away, but the Germans opened fire hitting Rudellat in the head and Culioli in the leg, causing the car to crash.

In March 1944, Pickersgill tried to escape the Parisian Fresnes Prison they were being held in, attacking a guard with a nearby bottle, and throwing himself out the second-storey window. He was shot multiple times in the escape attempt and recaptured; on August 27 he was shipped with members of the Robert Benoist group to Buchenwald concentration camp.

Pickersgill was executed by the Nazis on September 14, 1944, along with 35 other Canadian SOE agents, including Roméo Sabourin and John Kenneth Macalister. Though there are conflicting reports of their death, they are commonly thought to have been hung on meat hooks and strangled with piano wire, a painful death typically reserved for traitors and spies.Fact|date=August 2008 Their bodies were then incinerated.

Posthumously, the government of France awarded him the Legion of Honor, and as one of the SOE agents who died for the liberation of France, he is listed on the "Roll of Honour" on the Valençay SOE Memorial in the town of Valençay in the Indre département. Captain Pickersgill is also honored on the Groesbeek Memorial in the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands, and the University of Toronto has designated a "Pickersgill-Macalister garden" on the west side of the "Soldiers' Tower" monument.

Frank was the younger brother of Jack Pickersgill, a member of the Canadian House of Commons and a Cabinet minister.

Further reading

* In 1948, "The Pickersgill Letters", written by Pickersgill during the period 1934-43, were published by George H. Ford.
* His letters were republished in 1978 by McClelland & Stewart as "The Making of a Secret Agent: Letters of 1934-1943 by Frank Pickersgill." The book expands on the original publication and includes a new introduction by George H. Ford.
* In 2004, two of his letters, sent to his family from war-heading Central Europe in 1939, were enlisted into Charlotte Gray's acclaimed book "Canada: A Portrait in Letters".

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