Charlie Coward on the set of the film
about his exploits, The Password
is Courage, with Dirk Bogarde,
who played him in the film
A local newspaper story showing
Charlie and his wife beneath the
Blue Plaque placed in his honour
at Edmonton, north London, where
To most people in Britain, the name Charlie
Coward means nothing or very little at
least, and even in Lodge Camberwell Old
Comrades No. 4077 his name is now
Charlie joined this Lodge, formed by the
remnants of a pal’s battalion from the First
World War, in January 1955 and remained
a member until 1967.
To the outside world he is renowned
as the Count of Auschwitz – the only
Englishman to have a tree planted in his
honour in the Avenue of Righteous
Gentiles in Vad Yashim, and apart from
Bro Winston Churchill, is the only other
British recipient of the Israeli Peace medal.
This medal holds a place of honour in his
grandson’s home in Canada.
A movie was made on his exploits
starring Dirk Bogarde called The Password
Is Courage. How is it then that he is highly
regarded throughout the world and yet
hardly known here at home?
After speaking to some who knew him,
chiefly his pal and fellow Freemason Charles
Stancer of Tee Square Lodge No. 3219,
formed by members of the American Tee
Square Glee Club, it is not so surprising.
For Charlie Coward was a remarkable hero,
a modest and self-effacing man.
Ralph L Finn wrote of him in the Ha-Kol Jewish paper that he ‘was not one of
the world’s great conversationalists, or
one of the world’s geniuses. He was quite
unremarkable. But he was one hundred
and one percent a real human being.’
Charlie joined the Royal Artillery on
16 June 1937 and was serving with the 8th
Reserve battalion as Quartermaster Battery
Sergeant-Major when he was captured at
Calais by the Germans in May 1940. He
managed to make two escapes before they
even got him to a prisoner-of-war camp!
During his seven subsequent escapes he
managed to be awarded the Iron Cross
whilst hiding in a German army field
hospital, and he spotted experimental
v1 rockets and managed to send coded
information on them back to British
Intelligence via letters to his father via
Mr William Orange.
He said of this episode: ‘On the pretext
of writing to my father (who was dead),
in care of William Orange, I could get out
about a half dozen letters a week to let the
people in England know what was going
on. I figured that I could pass the censors
that way, and at the same time get the
information to the War Office.
He once explained about Auschwitz: ‘In
my letters I sent information that I thought
had military value and I also wrote about the
conditions of work for the civilians and the
inmates, as well as the British prisoners-ofwar.
I wrote giving the particular dates on
which I had witnessed thousands arriving
and marched to the concentration camp.
‘I used to inquire of the people in
Auschwitz where the next batch was
coming from. In my letters I would say that
600 arrived from Czechoslovakia, so many
from Poland et cetera. The turnover was
in the hundreds of thousands. You could
not count them. The majority of them
went into the camp next to us.’
His wife Florence was at first confused by
these letters and it took a few months before
she spotted the ruse and redirected the mail
to the War Office.
Charlie recalled: ‘I arrived in Auschwitz
in December 1943. Auschwitz was under
the supervision of Stalag viiib. The camp
at Auschwitz at which we lived was e715.
It was one of the camps grouped around
the IG Farben plant at Auschwitz.
‘At the time when I came to Auschwitz,
about 1,200 British prisoners of war were
working for IG Farben. Toward the end of
1943, our camp held 1,400 British prisonersof-
war. At the beginning of 1944, British
prisoners were sent to Heydebreck and
Blochhammer and about 600 British
prisoners of war remained.’
Piotr Setkiewicz, in his book Selected
Problems in the History of IG Werke Auschwitz,
wrote: ‘The following year, IG Farben took
over the Janina coal mine in Libia, where
150 British POWs laboured. The Britons
were quartered in a small camp known as
Kommando e562, Stalag viiib. Management
at the coal mine looked upon the Britons
as unwilling workers.
“The Britons were generally regarded
as having significantly lower productivity
than average while demanding the same
privileges as those accorded to German
workers. The same situation was reported
at other companies utilizing British POW
labour in the eastern part of Upper Silesia.
‘The management at one coal mine
summarized things thusly: ‘The English
deliberately work more slowly, and
sometimes state with utter frankness that
they have no intention of mining coal that
will be converted to aviation fuel and used
against their countrymen’.”