Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Last Best Hope

Heroes are often portrayed by Hollywood as larger than life. In reality, they are ordinary people doing extraordinary feats.

That message is made very clear in the exceptional documentary, Last Best Hope.

Bill Grosvenor was a World War II pilot fighting over the skies of Belgium. In 1943, he crash-landed in the Belgian countryside, and entrusted his fate to the Belgian people. Through great peril to themselves and their families, the Belgians sheltered him in several safe houses, trying to get him out of occupied Europe via the Belgian Resistance line called the Com├Ęte. This line would take him through France and to the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, which, once crossed, would lead him into Spain.

Unfortunately, Bill never made it that far. In 1944, he and another pilot were found by the Gestapo and taken to the brutal Saint Gilles prison in Brussels. He was interrogated, and put in a tiny cell with no lights and just enough room to lay down. But it wasn't long before the British Army stood on the outskirts of Brussels. The Germans took all prisoners put them on a train, the infamous Ghost Train for transport to Germany.

The train never arrived. Due to the incredible sabotage efforts of the Belgian Resistance and even the train engineers themselves, the train only managed to move around ten miles. Wanting to save their own skin, the Germans finally negotiated with the Resistance, and all the political prisoners - including many of those who had helped Bill Grosvenor - were released.

But the airmen were not.

The train left for Germany, but in a strange twist, the Germans detached the box car Bill and his fellow airmen were in from the rest of the train. Left to starve and die, they were able to break out of the boxcar and make their way to Brussels. Once they got there, they were free - Brussels had been liberated.

Bill's son, David Grosvenor, did exhaustive research to retrace his father's steps. And sixty years later, Bill returned to Belgium and reunited with those who had put themselves in peril to help him. From the first farmer who saw him crash land in his field to the women who sheltered him, Bill takes a walk back in the past through nearly every stage of his adventure with his wife and son by his side.

Emotions simmer just below the surface. And it is here that you see just how important freedom was to these people. They literally risked their lives to help this man, and other downed airmen, to return to England because he was fighting for them.

But it makes you also stop and wonder: could I do the same? Could I risk my life for a man I didn't know? For an ideal? For freedom?

Those are questions we all need to think about. Hard.

It's an incredible film, and it shows the true face of a hero. It is not Hollywood's stereotypical character, but ordinary, everyday people, men, women, and yes, even children, who risked all for liberty.


Linda said...

Your question has haunted me for years: "Could I do the same? Could I risk my life for a man I didn't know? For an ideal? For freedom?" God bless those who had the courage and integrity to do so!

I can't help but wonder if you have a connection to Bill. Your other blog's URL has Grosvenors Square in it..... Just curious!

Thanks for another gripping story.


Melissa Marsh said...

Hi Linda - Nope, no connection. I came up with the name Grosvenor Square when I was writing Regency-set historicals. Since then, my interests have shifted just a tiny bit. LOL

And yes, those same questions haunted me last night...and made me really stop and think if I had the guts to do what these people did. But I don't know that we can make an honest assessment of our courage until we are put within trying circumstances, as they were.

Ron Scheer said...

Sounds like a doc that would haunt one literally for days - and nights. The urge to resist is powerful, and I don't know either whether I'm the kind of person with that kind of courage. I think part of you must grant that you are making a choice that has every likelihood of ending in death. I say this having recently seen a fact-based French film about the Resistance, ARMY OF CRIME. I think the motive is a compelling desire for freedom, but not as an abstraction, something experienced at the gut level of instinct and outrage.

Melissa Marsh said...

Ron - Excellent point. I think it's so easy to take our freedom for granted, and we cannot truly know what it would be like to make a choice like this unless we were in a similar situation. I would hope I would make the same choice, but I simply don't know.

That sounds like a good film. Will have to see if I can find it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa–
I stumbled across your blog while surfing for curiosities regarding "Last Best Hope." Thanks for your kind words about the film. I'm glad you got a chance to see it. I'm glad you liked it. Best wishes–David Grosvenor

Melissa Marsh said...

David - Thank you so much for the comment! I'm so glad you made this incredible film - and what a wonderful, lasting tribute to your father. Well done, sir. :-)

Joshua Ward said...

This is amazing! Bill's sister Alice Grosvenor Ward was my grandmother.