George Lane is not a household name, but he was a war hero whose death now at the age of 95 is an occasion to tell his story. I knew George, and a handsome debonair man he was, too. Lane was an anglicized version of his name, for he was Hungarian-Jewish by birth, a refugee since early in his life. Sometime in the Thirties he came to England, where his talents took him quickly into high society. When the war came, he joined up, but as a foreigner was absurdly served with a deportation order. Influential friends came to the rescue, and he wangled his way into the Commandos, and was commissioned, in the end with the rank of colonel.
Several of his missions were behind the German lines, and the most astonishing of them occurred shortly before D-Day. Explosions were taking place just off the French coast, and George and another Commando were detailed to find out what these were, as they represented a possible danger to landing craft. The Germans had put in place underwater mines. George reported this, and was then sent back to do further investigation. This time, the Germans detected them, there was a fire-fight, and George was captured. Blind-folded, he was taken for a long drive, escorted into a house up a staircase, and when the blindfold was removed he found himself facing Field-Marshal Rommel and other German generals in their headquarters at La Roche Guyon. Rommel then interrogated him about his mission, saying that he suspected the Allies were about to invade. George of course spoke German but stuck to English, to be on the safe side. The more George hedged, the more Rommel played the good-cop role. But then one of the other generals butted in. If George was the British officer he claimed to be, why did he speak English with a foreign accent. “Because I am a Hungarian Jew,” was not the right answer in the circumstances. George said, “Because I am Welsh.” Oh, of course, the generals all nodded. George was given a cup of tea, and then sent to prison in Paris, and deported — not to a concentration camp as might have been the case, but to an officers’ prison. As for Rommel, a few days later he and his car were shot up by the RAF, so he played no part in D-Day, and then he was accused by Hitler of being part of the July bomb plot, and forced to commit suicide. George was surely the last non-German to see him alive.
The Daily Telegraph has his obituary but omits the brilliant improvisation that he spoke with a foreign accent because he was Welsh. A pity. The obituary also forgot to mention that he was Jewish. Now what was the reason for that?