‘Last surviving member’ of St Malo evacuation to revisit scene of rescue

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A JEWISH woman who fled Nazi persecution as a small child will today visit the spot from which she was dramatically rescued by members of the St Helier Yacht Club 82 years ago.

Irene Probstein (91) from Brookline, Massachusetts, is thought to be the last survivor of the club’s remarkable wartime mission to recover British soldiers from St Malo as the German army advanced on the town on 18 June 1940.

It was less than two weeks before the start of the Occupation.

One of those organising the boats as they prepared to leave St Malo for Jersey took pity on Mrs Probstein, with her mother Claire and brothers Sylvain and Irwin Weindling, giving them refuge in the cabin of the Callou as it prepared to make its perilous passage.

They were on one of 18 small crafts as enemy aircraft fired on the departing convoy.

‘We had no sooner got on the boat when the French authorities yelled “allez” and the English sailors set off.

‘For a time there were some German planes flying low overhead and firing at the boat as the soldiers on board took up their guns and fired back,’ Mrs Probstein remembered.

Along with the brief visit of General Charles de Gaulle – who had stopped-off in Jersey en route for England only a few hours earlier – the episode is etched in the Island’s wartime history in those June weeks when Islanders prepared for an occupation that was by then inevitable.

In Jersey’s mini version of the Dunkirk evacuation, members of the St Helier Yacht Club responded to a request from the British Admiralty to sail to St Malo to rescue soldiers similarly trapped by the rapid German advance across France.

The club’s involvement remains a source of great pride today and members continue to mark the anniversary with an annual race and visit to St Malo, displaying the defaced red ensign awarded as a battle honour in recognition of the achievement.

Mrs Probstein’s story, as a civilian whose family were fleeing persecution, has pride of place in this year’s celebrations, and she will travel by Condor Ferry to St Malo to visit the slipway from which she boarded the Callou – a 35ft motor yacht owned by the Langlois family – to make good her escape.

With her mother and brothers, she then stayed briefly with the family at Sion Hall Farm in St Saviour before they left for England.

‘We have always been so grateful to the people of Jersey, who rescued us, and the Langlois family, who took us in and fed us and housed us and made sure we had some English money to buy passage on the last ferry to leave Jersey for Southampton.

‘[Their] generosity has always remained as the most memorable of all of our war experiences,’ she said.

Tomorrow, following an Island tour, Mrs Probstein and her family will visit the Langlois farm for afternoon tea and will have the opportunity to meet the descendants of those who helped guarantee their safety 82 years ago.

Their remarkable escape was completed in September 1940, when the family boarded the RMS Duchess of Atholl.

The troop ship formed part of a British convoy for the passage to America, where they were later to be reunited with their father and elder brother, who had successfully escaped through Spain and Portugal. On Monday at noon a commemorative plaque will be unveiled at the St Helier Yacht Club followed by a drinks reception for members and invited guests.

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