War hero leapt to freedom from Nazi train

Bert Conville
Bert Conville

THE amazing feats of a Kirkintilloch soldier who escaped from the Germans during World War II will be remembered at a special anniversary.

Bert Conville was just 24-years-old when he jumped from a prisoner of war train as it passed near Brussels, in July 1940 on its way to Germany.

His bid for freedom was just the start of a long and dangerous journey back to his home in Gallowhill Road, Kirkintilloch, which took more than two years.

Bert served with the 1st Glasgow Highlanders, 51st Highland Division.

His wife, Peggy, was told her husband was missing, presumed dead. But amazingly the couple were reunited in January 1943.

Bert made it back thanks to a resistance group in Belgium and France who helped allied soldiers and airmen return to Britain.

Bert and fellow Scot Allan Cowan were the second British soldiers to escape along what has became known as the Comete Line.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the first escapees to travel down the escape line, the Comete Kinship, a group set up to recognise those who esaped and those who helped them, is holding a commemoration weekend in Brussels later this month.

Bert, who was a milkman with the Co-operative Society, died aged 65 in June, 1982. His wife Peggy passed away in 1993.

Their daughter, Margaret Lawson, lives in Westergreens Avenue, in Kirkintilloch.

As a young girl, Margaret vistied Brussels with her dad and mum.

She said: “Dad wanted to go and see everyone who had been good to him and had helped to hide him.

“I was about seven years old at the time, but the memories are still so vivid in my mind.

“Everyone remembered my dad. Madame Duchesne, who my dad stayed with, was a lovely woman.

“He tried everything he could to help find her daughter who was taken away. The Belgian people had a tough time.”

Bert told the amazing story of his escape to the Herald in 1981, when he recalled spending almost two years in Brussels flitting from one ‘safe’ house to another.

He spent most of his time in the home of Madame Duchesne, an Irish woman who had married a Belgian and who risked her life to save Bert and others like him.

Bert’s long journey home saw him travel to Paris, then over the Pyrenees mountains to the British Consulate in Bilbao and on to Gibraltar.

It was there that Bert got the first chance to send a message home by telegram which read: “All is well. Hope to be home soon, possibly for New Year. Be sure and get a bottle in.”