Corporal Tom McGraths medals

Son Receives Father's War Medals... 75 Years After German POW Camp Escape

The son of an Irish Second World War hero has been given the medals his father never received.

Corporal Tom McGraths medals

Corporal McGrath's 1939-1945 Star, Military Medal and War Medal (Picture: PA).

The son of an Irish Second World War hero who spent a year travelling across Europe after escaping from a German prisoner of war (POW) camp has been given the medals his father never received.

Two years ago Tom McGrath, from County Waterford, discovered that his father Tom Senior had served in the British Army after he was conscripted at the outbreak of war.

Further research revealed that his father had been captured in Dunkirk in 1940 and taken to Stalag XXA, a German prisoner of war camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

After two years, he decided to escape and left the camp after finding a gap in the wire.

He was looked after by locals for a short time before he was put on a train to Berlin and then travelled on to Paris using a fake ID.

Around three months later he arrived in Paris before heading onto the Spanish border and crossing the Pyrenees.

He was in Spain for a short time before he was arrested by Spanish authorities and kept in a concentration camp for four months.

Through the help of diplomatic channels, he was allowed to leave and went to Gibraltar before returning to England a year after he escaped the German camp.

In June 1943, the UK Government said he was to be awarded a Military Medal for his bravery in escaping the camp, but he never received it and instead he returned to Waterford.

Cpl Tom McGrath's German prison records
Corporal Tom McGrath's German prison records (Picture: PA).

His son Tom says he was "gobsmacked when he heard about his father's escape during the war": "He never spoke about the war or his experience.

"I went to the national archives in London where I found his account of the escape.

"I have read a lot of books on that period and particularly soldiers who were captured and escaped.

"The conditions in which they were kept were horrendous. The food rations were abysmal.

"They suffered with lice and were working 12 hours a day.

"It was a very tough existence and what he went through for that year when he was on his own, where he had uncertainty every day he got out of bed, he didn't know who he was going to meet, or what he was going to face."

Tom was given the three medals - the Military Medal, the 1939-1945 Star and the War Medal - at a ceremony at the British ambassador's residence in Dublin on Tuesday.

"We are extremely proud and I am so happy," he added.

"Like every child you have your father on a pedestal and he was a strong man and loving man, and it's only since I found out what he has done do I know how high that pedestal is.

"We are so proud and I think he would proud too.

"At this stage of my life to find this out has just changed my life."

British Ambassador to Ireland Robin Barnett said: "It's a wonderful story of an incredibly brave man.

"We have all seen the movies but we all know that the reality of escaping from a prisoner of war camp is something completely different.

"To get from Poland to the Pyrenees is something truly extraordinary."