Unlikely Soldiers is one of the best historical books I’ve ever read and it left an indelible memory. I think about these two brave, young Canadian men at this time of year.
An assignment at the London Free Press a decade ago was to interview the author of this book, Prof. Jonathan Vance from Western University. He spent two years doing research for his book, published by HaperCollins.
Ken Macalister was a Rhodes scholar and Frank Pickersgill was a doctoral student in classics at l’Université de Paris. They both became double agents for the Resistance in France.
Pickersgill had previously worked as a freelance journalist for several newspapers back in Canada for a time.
With Britain’s Special Operations Executive, the men could have chosen any job in Ottawa during the war effort, Vance told me, but they chose the most dangerous.
Parachuted into France in 1943 with false identities, they were captured by the Nazis, tortured and sent to Germany.
Vance said they suffered appalling abuse but refused to reveal anything to the Nazis.
Pickersgill and Macalister were hung on meat hooks and their bodies incinerated.
“The thing that is most important about Remembrance Day, when the moment of silence comes, is to have a person’s face to think about. If these two guys can provide us a focus for remembrance, I’m delighted with that,” Vance told me.
Lest We Forget.