THE astounding story of a Wearside woman who was betrayed by her husband to the German Gestapo after saving the lives of British airmen during World War Two is today finally told.
“She was an amazing woman, who led an amazing life,” said family friend Doreen Middlemist. “It is not surprising, though, that she returned a changed woman after the war.”
Gladys Crozier, the adopted daughter of Tom and Maggie Crozier, grew up in Trinity Street, Southwick, and is believed to have looked after her parents for several years after leaving school.
At the age of 20, however, she fell in love with French-born sailor Pierre Dagorn, marrying him in 1923. The couple settled in Sunderland and, two years later, Gladys gave birth to their only child, a daughter called Aline.
“Gladys used to come to see my mother, Annie Russell, quite a lot,” said Doreen, who was brought up in Southwick. “She would bring Aline and have a good chatter with my dad, Robert, as he spoke fluent French.
“I remember playing with Aline as a little girl, as we were about the same age, and we would go out together when we got older. She was a nice girl, very well brought up.”
As the storm clouds of war started gathering over Europe, however, so Gladys decided to follow her husband to France, setting up home in Rouen, Normandy.
“It was here that she must have started working for the French Resistance, putting her life at risk to help stranded British airmen escape back home,” said Doreen, now of Seaburn.
“But she sadly got caught offering sanctuary to these airman. At the time she didn’t know who had given her away. It was only much later, after the war I think, that she found out it was her own husband.
“She was taken to court by the Gestapo and faced the death penalty. Her solicitor, however, argued that as an English woman, it was only natural that she should try and help her countrymen. Luckily, the Germans accepted this and put her to work instead.”
Gladys was sent to a munitions factory in Germany following her trial – forced to make bombs destined to be dropped by Hitler’s Luftwaffe on Britain.
“She later told my father that she sabotaged as many as she could, to stop them blowing up,” said Doreen. “I remember her being appalled by the lack of hygiene at the factory – she was a very particular lady like that.”
Gladys’ forced labour only came to an end when the Russians ‘liberated’ the workers. Her dreams of freedom, however, turned into a nightmare.
“She told my father that the Russian soldiers raped many of the women and beat the men, before sending them off to camps in Russia,” said Doreen.
“Gladys felt frightened all the time she was in Russia. She absolutely loathed the Russians, and always said they were worse than the Germans.
“She got appendicitis at one point and ended up in a Russian hospital. Eventually, after many months I think, she was finally sent back to Britain.”
Gladys revealed her astounding story to the Russell family during a brief visit to Sunderland in 1949 – the last time Doreen was to ever see her. “She was bright and breezy, but you could tell she had been through the mill,” she recalls. “We could all see there was a change in her.”
Records show that Aline went on to serve with the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps in the 1950s, but died in Surrey in 1989 – aged just 64.
No documents, however, can be found on the internet to shed any further light on the life of Gladys Dagorn or her husband, Pierre.
“Gladys told my father she was never going back to her husband, but I don’t know what happened. We never heard from her after that,” said Doreen.
“I would really like to know if she finally found happiness. It is such a shame to lose touch with people.”
Another person with memories of Gladys is Fulwell man Clifford Jones – whose mother, Gertrude, was one of Gladys’ adopted cousins.
“My mother was a good seamstress and made Gladys’ wedding dress. The wedding must have taken place in Sunderland, as my mother was a guest,” he said.
“I did meet Gladys, but I was very young at the time and can only vaguely remember her really.”
Gladys’ tale has, however, been passed down the family – including further details on her eventual release from Russia.
“We were told that it was Canon McMunn, of St Columba’s Church in Southwick, who finally managed to get Gladys back home,” he said.
“She wasn’t simply sent back. Apparently there were awkward negotiations and Canon McMunn did all the letter writing to get her repatriated.
“We heard Gladys was later decorated by the French for her Resistance work, but don’t know any more details as the family lost touch after that.”
l Can you shed any further light on what happened to Gladys after 1949? Write to: Sarah Stoner, Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland, SR4 9ER.