Highlands & Islands

New film inspired by soldiers who used Gaelic to escape Nazis

British soldiers fight a rearguard action during the evacuation at Dunkirk, shooting rifles at attacking aircraft. Bombs are exploding in the sea. The Dunkirk evacuation, codenamed Operation Dynamo by the British, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 26th May and 4th June 1940. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Gaelic-speaking soldiers were captured at about the same time as Allied troops were evacuated from the Dunkirk in 1940.

The true story of a trio of Gaelic-speaking soldiers who used their native tongue to "bamboozle" the Germans has inspired a new feature film.

Pte William Kemp, Cpl Sandy MacDonald, and L/Cpl James Wilson escaped their captors after convincing them they were from the Soviet Union.

Now film producers have used the tale as a premise for new World War Two drama In the Darkest Hour.

Scottish film company Burning Horseshoe Productions is behind the project.

However, it will not be a faithful re-telling of the story of the soldiers' escape from enemy clutches.

'Bamboozle the Nazis'

Stephen Don, a director with Northern Ireland-based Silver Sombrero Pictures which is also involved in the project, said it was a "brilliant premise" for a film.

He said: "The germ of the idea for this project came from my father who was a soldier in World War Two.

"He told me that two Scots soldiers got stuck in enemy territory and ditched their uniform in an effort to get back to their lines and avoid capture.

"Their only defence if captured was that one of the them was a fluent Gaelic speaker and would bamboozle the Nazis in a lingo which they couldn't understand."

He added: "I find it a brilliant premise to throw together two characters into a make or break situation."

The soldiers' escape from the Germans in June 1940 came weeks after their Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regiments surrendered to enemy forces.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Pte Kemp and his colleagues were first captured while defending a chateau near Abbeville

Pte Kemp's memoir charts their remarkable journey from Abbeville, in occupied northern France, to the safety of the British consulate in Spain.

In it, the soldier from Ballachulish, recounts the moment a German commander pointed a revolver at each of their heads after they were taken to prisoner of war camp.

When they were asked to state their nationality, Pte Kemp replied in Gaelic: "I do not know". When he was asked which country he was from, he said: "Ardnamurchan".

The men were then questioned in seven other languages - and to each they replied in Gaelic, to the confusion of their captors.

The memoir continued: "Next an atlas was produced. The interpreter took us over the various countries on the continent, one by one, and when he came to the Ukraine, I quickly pointed my finger to it."

Nazi interrogation room

He said the commander consulted three other officers, before saying "Allez" and opening the gate for the trio. "We were free once more", Pte Kemp wrote.

The soldiers were hailed heroes on their return to Scotland but once the Nazis got wind of the story, they targeted Gaelic prisoners for harsher treatment.

Their tale has been adapted for In the Darkest Hour, which features fictional soldiers Hamish McNeill, who speaks Gaelic, and his sergeant, Gordon McGregor.

It will look at the pair's fraught relationship as they move from the front line in France to a Nazi interrogation room in Berlin.

The film, which is still in development, is a "high concept World War Two action drama", said Mr Don.

It has received lottery development funding from Northern Ireland Screen.

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