Fisherman’s secret wartime missions helping spies cross the Mediterranean revealed
- Credit: Nick Butcher
After the death of his mother, the last thing Barry Draper expected to discover was the secretive past of his father.
Alfred Draper, who was born in 1917 and died in 1991 at the age of 73, had a long and successful career as a fisherman in Lowestoft, including on the Suffolk Challenger, recently spotted rusting in Tunisia.
But as with many people who fought during the Second World War, Alfred hid a secret about his exploits during the war for decades before his son Barry discovered a citation for a Croix de Guerre, a medal awarded by the French to honour those who fought with the Allies against the Axis forces during the war, on the shelf of a kitchen wall cupboard following his mother's death.
The document, signed by Rear Admiral Reboul-H Berlioz, lists the crew members of the trawler Tarana who helped transport spies, agents, and escaped prisoners of war to and from Gibraltar and north Africa.
Mr Draper said: 'He was in and out of France to get important people out. My father had five or six medals, all those that you get for being in the navy, but there was also the Croix de Guerre and I never questioned why on earth he had it.
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'After he died, I was speaking to my mum's brother, and he said my dad was taken by the special boats services to get these spies and dignitaries in and out of France.
'I couldn't believe it. He had never mentioned any of what he did in the war but then again I guess a lot of people didn't.'
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According to records, the Tarana was part of the Coast Watching Flotilla at Gibraltar, established in early 1942 as part of the private navy for the government's espionage in occupied Europe organisation, Special Operations Executive (SOE).
The standard practice for the boat was to leave Gibraltar late in the evening as a minor British naval ship with a black hull and flying a White Ensign.
The crew would then discard their uniforms, paint the upper works in the fashion of local fishing vessels, spread gear about the decks in a casual way and hoist an appropriate national flag, often Morocco or Spain, before re-painting the ship following the end of a mission.
As part of the Coast Watching Flotilla, the Tarana and Alfred Draper helped 77 allied agents and 635 escaping prisoners of war.