Accessibility Statement
Chat icon Chat with us live

Harold Eric Dixon (3532574)

By Mrs G.J. Lawler (Eric’s Sister)

Harold DixonThis is the story of my brother, Eric who, along with thousands of other 21-year olds, was called up for military service in 1939.

He had been well educated at Stretford Grammar School and was particularly good at languages. During the long months in hiding he became fluent in French and also had a sound knowledge of Spanish. He had to do all the talking during the great escape.

Eric dictated this account shortly before he died. I think he wanted his daughter and other family members to have a record of his experiences.

Sadly, there wasn’t a happy ending. After two or three years, during which time he married (Norah) and conceived a child (Ann), he contracted Multiple Sclerosis which spread very rapidly. He soon became blind and paralysed and eventually had to end his life in a St Dunstan’s Home for Ex-Servicemen.

It must be said he bore this awful illness with immense patience and fortitude; he never complained. He died in June 1949, aged 30.

The following is an article copied from the ‘St. Dunstan’s Review’ and is reproduced here by kind permission of ‘St Dunstans’:

A Year in One Man’s Life

(The author of this article – Harold Eric Dixon – died on June 24th at our Blackpool Home after great suffering. It is his own story of the experiences which led to his blindness and general breakdown, and we publish it since it was his wish, and the wish of his wife).

I enlisted on October 16th, 1939, and was passed fit. On May 14th 1940, I proceeded overseas with the B.E.F. in France. I was taken prisoner on June 8th, 1940, and made my escape one week later. In the company of three other members of my unit*. I wandered for about a fortnight, depending on the good nature of French farmers to give us food.

On the last day of June, I was given shelter by an American and until May 30th 1941, still in company of my three friends, I was virtually a prisoner in one house, not being able to go out at all except occasionally in the night time for fresh air and exercise. During this time food was limited, my staple diet being potatoes. German patrols paid many visits to the house, and I was forced to go into hiding in either the roof or well-camouflaged cellars, being forced to remain in complete darkness and great discomfort.

On May 30th the four of us were taken to Le Havre, 16 miles distant, and given refuge in a waterside café whose patrons were almost all exclusively German troops. After 14 days spent in one room we were given money, civilian clothes and false identity cards and, in company of two Frenchmen, proceeded by rail to Paris. The six of us made our way to a café, when the two Frenchmen told us they would go to the railway station to purchase railway tickets for the following days proposed journey to Poitiers, this town being close to the demarcation line separating the Occupied and the Unoccupied Zones. That was all we saw of them and approximately one thousand francs which had been collected in Le Havre.

When it was realised we were alone we decided to try and contact a certain M. Charlon, who was the father-in-law of the American with whom we had stayed during the winter. The hour was then 10 O’clock in the evening – curfew being midnight. We found the aforesaid M. Charlon at ten minutes to midnight. At this point I must mention that I was the only one who had any knowledge of the French language, and had to do all the talking necessary.

The following day we decided to make our own way to Poitiers; fortunately friends of M. Charlon had given us more money. On arrival we made our way to a frontier village and, awaiting darkness, hid ourselves in the woods. After many efforts to cross into Unoccupied France, all of which were frustrated by enemy patrols and police dogs, daylight came and we were forced to get out of a very unhealthy spot. We then made our way back to Poitiers and took a train back again to Paris, and from Paris we went back to Le Havre. After staying at the café from which we had originally started, once more we made our way to Paris, this time being escorted by another Frenchman, who turned our to be more helpful than his predecessors. From Paris we made our way to Southern France, still in the Occupied Zone.

At this point the Frenchman left us, and once more we were alone. We entered a small café, and after bluffing the proprietor, found that we were only a matter of half a mile from the border. Apparently he was in the habit of helping young Frenchmen to escape, and told us we were to stay in the café until 10 O’ Clock that night, when a woman whose description he gave me would enter the café. On her departure we were to follow at intervals of fifty yards.

This we did, and after much crawling and waiting we found we had crossed the frontier. By morning we reached a village from where we took a bus to the town of Pau. Seeing Lloyd’s Foreign Bank in the main street I entered and found a cashier who was English. He gave me the address of a French woman who would help us. We stayed at this women’s house four days, and were told that the only way of escape was to cross the Pyrenees into Spain. It was arranged that we should go to a friend of hers at a town called Beziers. This we did and, after a few days’ rest, were given instructions where to cross the Spanish frontier. We made a hazardous journey by foot and crossed the mountains and sought food and shelter from the Spaniards, eventually arriving in Barcelona some hundred kilometres distant. There we were looked after by the consulate, being sent to the Embassy in Madrid a few days later. From Madrid we were escorted by Spanish civilian police as far as Gibraltar.

Twelve momentous months. I alone had knowledge of the languages; I alone was responsible for the safety of our party.

* Harry Abrahams (3533122), Victor Hope (Believed to be Edmund Victor Hope 3533102) and Kenneth Ballantyne (3532947).