What an astonishing film this was; not only did it serve as testimony to the capabilities of ordinary people in extraordinary times, those people were young people, some barely old enough to qualify for puberty.
The story told was a true one, but it could just as easily have been a gripping kids’ adventure story, and that was perhaps what made it quite magical. It was Enid Blyton meets The Hun.
We heard how some of the British ex-pat children at the British Memorial School in Ypres, Belgium, banded together – along with some of the adults involved with the school of course – to create a small but forcible Resistance movement. And again, I can’t stress enough how the recollections shared in this film made it feel as though one were hearing a fictitious account.
But of course it was all true; Stephen Grady was 14 years old at the time and we heard from him how he and his friends had cycled around the countryside collecting weapons and grenades in a fashion that in another time and place, could just as easily have been conkers.
When he was just 16 years old, Stephen became the leader of the Resistance group and as he recounted his experiences, one wonders how he managed to ever adapt to a normal life again. His recollection of shooting a German officer was told with a typical stiff upper lip, but it’s not difficult to see the abiding trauma that that incident spawned.
“I thought if you had a Luger and six rounds, you could take on the German army” Stephen said, but, when discussing his shooting of a German soldier, he added, “I didn’t think it was cricket, if you know what I mean.”
What an understated way to reveal an event that must surely affected a boy so young more deeply than Stephen’s jolly-hockey-sticks attitude let on.
But that Blyton attitude was endemic in this film, and as Elaine Madden, a one time SOE agent said, “They were some of the happiest days of my life. It was a fabulous feeling.”
And I should hasten to add that nobody in this film glorified or glamourised war, but the fact is, I got the distinct impression that by and large, most of those interviewed have the advantage of rose-tinted memories, which is no bad thing. If all this were to happen today in our society, there would be much made of PTSD and counselling.
Clichéd though it is, and as I mentioned right at the beginning, extraordinary times bring out the extraordinary in people and, in true war style, the children of this film simply did what they could and got on with it.
If you missed this documentary, I’d strongly recommend you catch it on BBC’s iPlayer here. It was truly a remarkable story and an inspirational tale of bravery.