Soldier Ebrahim Adams, born in 1916, was remembered on Wednesday in France at the 75th anniversary of the freeing of the Fréteval Evaders.
Adams fought in the war as a Sapper in the 1st Field Company, South African Indian and Malay Corps, which was part of the South African Engineer Corps (SAEC). His address at the time when he joined was 158 Long Street. He escaped from the Italian prison camp on May 7, 1944, and hid with other soldiers in the forest at Fréteval until they were rescued in August 1944.
Author Rob Belk and his wife Caire living in France share an interest in military history and have been researching a family relative’s part in the rescue of Evaders from the forest of Fréteval, which is about 160km south-west of Paris, between Le Mans and Orleans.
Belk’s research found that on November 23, 1941, Sapper Adams, was with the South African 5th Brigade at Sidi Rezeq, Libya about 32km south-east of Tobruk. They faced an attack by 150 tanks of General Rommel’s 15th Panzer Division. However, the South Africans were overpowered and Adams was carted off to Italy as a Prisoner of War (PoW).
“In 1942 while in the Italian POW camp he teamed up with private Rudolph Hoover, from Durban who was also captured. They survived incarceration with Russian POWs in Germany and in 1943 were transferred to Beauvais, France, to repair bomb damage to the airfield. On May 5, 1944, they were told that they were to be sent back to Germany. This spurred their escape plans and on May 7, 1944, they broke free.
“They were still clad in their army uniform, without papers and hid in the woods before they contacted a local farmer. On May 26 they were put on a train to Paris where they were met by Cométe Line members. By June 11 they were hidden in the forest at Fréteval,” Belk said.
Documents the author studied indicate that 152 Evader airmen and eight soldiers were hiding in the forest. The evaders were Americans, Canadians, British, Australian, New Zealand, Polish, South African and Russian. Sapper Adams was one of the two South Africans. The soldiers were evaders from the battle of Normandy and escaped prisoners of war.
Belk added they were far from safe and were still deep behind enemy lines and the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, brought the prospect of release. But it was only on August 14, 1944, that a rescue column from Airey Neave’s M19 reached them and the evaders whisked away to Le Mans and safety. He said the escape and evasion line was more than 2414km long and that the unfaltering helpers, ordinary people, young and old, passed the evaders along that line and paid a horrendous price in terms of betrayal, torture, execution and incarceration in concentration camps.
The author states that all the men were taken back to Britain for individual debriefing. Their reports were kept top secret for decades because of the growling Cold War threat. The reports was later declassified and Belk and his wife studied these reports and came across the Adams story.
In the report of the Fréteval camp commander Lieutenant Berry, there is a note of Berry saying he wished to very highly commend Private Adams, a non-European South African who had escaped from a prisoner of war camp. “His morale, spirit and discipline were very fine the whole time. He never complained and would immediately stop anyone else he heard complaining. He showed-up many white men by his cheerfulness and fine example”.
Belk said: “With the 75th anniversary of the freeing of the Fréteval Evaders and in honour of private Adams, I would like that this story be known to the people of Cape Town, and especially by descendants of Ebrahim Adams.”@TheCapeArgus