- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Captain Victor Gough
- Location of story:
- Vosges, France
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 June 2005
CAPTAIN VICTOR GOUGH
Born September 1918 --- died November 1944
Croix de Guerre with silver palms (posthumous)
Sadly, I never met my Uncle Vic; he was murdered in Erlich forest near Gaggenau on or about 25th November 1944. This is his story.
Victor Gough was a Captain in the Somerset Light Infantry, and had previously been a member of the shadowy “Auxiliaries”, groups of trained and armed men who, had Hitler invaded, would have led resistance in Britain.
In 1943 he volunteered for the Training Branch of SOE. He transferred to the operational branch in autumn 1943and became part of SOE’s “Jedburgh” project.
This was a plan to send teams of 3 men behind enemy lines after D-Day to liaise and direct French Resistance groups .The “Jeds” as they were known, would be dropped in uniform, and would be mixed teams, for example Victor Gough’s team, codename “Jacob” consisted of a French officer Lt. Baraud, and an English wireless operator Sgt. Seymour. There were only just over 100 “Jed” teams, of which “Jacob” was the twenty-sixth.
Team “Jacob” was to be dropped on the night of 12th/13th August 1944 in the Vosges area of France. Their mission was to arm and direct, up to 7000 resistance fighters in an area that had not been able to previously accept daylight arms drops because of a substantial German presence. Team “Jacob” was to be parachuted in along with SAS Team “Loyton” with whom they were to liaise and plan joint operations.
The drop did not go well. Sgt. Seymour badly damaged his ankle, and the wireless set was broken. This meant that Captain Gough was reliant for the time being on using the SAS wireless, entailing a 5 mile trek for each transmission.
Within 3 days Lt. Baraud was killed and Sgt Seymour captured following a German ambush on a steep heavily wooded mountain trail. Victor Gough’s short radio message tells the tale.
”Skye (Seymour’s codename) captured 17th August. Reported shot as reprisal on 20th
Please check with Red Cross. Connaught (Baraud’s codename) killed. I am now sole member of team Jacob.100 maquis killed, 100 captured in same battle. Rest dispersed.”
Seymour was not killed but survived in captivity which was quite contrary to the fate of virtually all other SOE and SAS parachutists.
By September 16th Captain Gough was in trouble. The last message he sent to Special Forces HQ said in part.
“Great difficulty working alone. Have contacted 800 maquis under Marlier. Can’t come up on regular skeds. Send more money and arms”.
Special Forces HQ continued to send messages to Captain Gough until 28th September, but they would not hear from him again, sometime in those 12 days he was captured.
What became of my uncle Vic was revealed in a very unusual way, from the eyewitness testimony of a German officer.
Captain Gough and a number of SAS Team Loyton had been captured over several days after 16th September 1944. They were all taken to the Sicherungs camp at Schirmeck la Broque and housed in the “Block” in effect a prison within a prison, with individual cells.
A number of them including Gough, Major Reynolds and Lt. Dill both SAS were taken to Strasbourg for violent interrogation by the Gestapo.
Also in the “Block” were 2 American flyers Pipcock and Jacoby, and 2 French priests, Abbe Roth and Father Pennerath.
On the 19th September, the “Block” had a new inmate Captain Werner Helfen of the German Military Police. He had been sentenced to death by the SS at Vittel on 26th August. Captain Helfen had been in command of a company whose main task had been guarding buildings and installations. On the 16th August he and his company were ordered to withdraw eastwards, as the Allies advanced deeper into France. They were also ordered to hand in their normal weapons, for use in the front line fighting. These weapons were replaced by sawn-off shotguns.
When Helfen’s company reached Chalon-sur-Marne, he ordered his men to thrown their shotguns into the river. His reasoning was that such weapons were outlawed under the Hague Convention and had they been taken captive, they would have lost their POW status. Thus the charge of “wilful destruction of government property” led to the death sentence pronounced in the Police Court at Vittel.
Helfen’s arrival at “the Block” was a blessing to the British paratroopers, for with his influence on the German guards; he was able to get medical attention for the 2 injured American flyers, extra food rations for Captain Gough and the SAS men and was very useful in the preparation of an escape plan. Helfen was appointed a “helper” by the Germans, and was able to move about “the Block” with ease, and had entry to individual cells. Escape plans had advanced to the making of a wooden folding ladder, to be used to scale the outer wire.
Helfen became close friends with Victor Gough, Lt. Dill (SAS) and Abbe Roth in particular. Lt. Dill had taught Werner the arcane skills of poker.
The Allied advance through France was plain to hear, for each day the bombing raids crept closer and closer to Schirmeck camp. The prisoners assumed it would be a matter of a few days before they were liberated and so they put their escape plan on hold.
Ironically the swift Allied advance was to seal the fate of this small band of brave men.
On the evening of November 22nd 1944 Werner Helfen, Abbe Roth and Captain Gough were together when orders were given to move the “Block” prisoners eastwards.
According to Helfen’s testimony Captain Gough read out the names of all the prisoners in the “Block” and thanked Werner for all his kindnesses to them. In appreciation Gough gave his SOE silk escape map to Werner as a token of gratitude.
The last lorry left at 5am on the 23rd November. Helfen was in that truck. As they passed through Strasbourg Helfen jumped from the vehicle, made his way on foot to his home in Offenburg where he hid until he was captured by French troops, and would later give evidence to Major Barkworth of 2SAS for his War Crimes investigation. Helfen also learned that his Nazi death sentence had been reduced to 10 years hard labour.
For his efforts to help the Allied prisoners, Werner Helfen was given a letter of commendation signed by Major Barkworth.
The rest of the small convoy was making its way to a camp at Gaggenau, further east from Schirmeck. The Allied prisoners had thought it would be a normal Stalag camp,
But they were not to know that 14 of them were already condemned to death.
Near the cemetery at Gaggenau, was the Erlich forest. It was here that the trucks stopped and the prisoners including Captain Gough, all his SAS comrades and the 2 French priests were taken to a bomb crater and murdered.
Major Barkworth’s investigation led to the capture and prosecution of the main culprits in these murders, but it should be noted that this was not an isolated incident. Nazi policy on SAS and SOE uniformed parachutists was severe and there were sadly many other instances of murders of POW’s captured behind enemy lines.
But this is not quite the end of the story.
Following a regional TV documentary in the West of England about some of these wartime murders of SAS men, Werner Helfen was traced and found to be in retirement having continued his police career after the war. After some correspondence, my Mother, Victor Gough’s sister, received a package.
In it was the SOE silk escape map that Captain Gough had given to Captain Helfen on November 22nd 1945 at Schirmeck.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.