William Sharp - Héro de la Résistance
Some people argue that William Sharp should be recognised on the Dover War Memorial, referring to him as "Dover's forgotten hero."
I have no argument about my maternal grandfather's cousin having been a hero but, as the following shows, he turned his back on his home town and assumed French nationality, so can we really call him a Dovorian? And is he really forgotten in his adopted town?
Make up your own mind after reading his story.
William Thomas Sharp was born on 30th March 1893 at no. 6 Chapel Street, the son of Albert Edward Sharp and Alice Annie (nee Gillman). He was baptised at St Mary’s Church on 3rd December 1895. As a young boy, he moved with his parents to no. 35 Albany Place, where the family were living in 1901.
He attended St Mary’s School in Queen Street, just round the corner from the family home. On leaving school he went to work as an apprentice pastry-cook with the well-known firm of Igglesden and Graves in the Market Square.
In 1910, aged 17, he joined the army, serving with the 4th Btn., The Rifle Brigade, in India. In 1914 he returned to Europe and to Flanders, where he fought at Ypres. He was at Ypres when the Germans first used poison gas in the trenches. At this time, his parents were living at no. 5, Sidney Terrace, Malvern Road.
After the war, William was put in charge of one of the barges that were crossing and re-crossing the Channel from the port of Richborough, bringing back the surplus stores and supplies.
His destination was the port of Calais where, on one of his trips, he met and fell in love with a young French woman by the name of Germaine Delaplace. They were married and moved back to Dover, where their first daughter, Doris, was born in 1921.
Shortly after this, William and his family returned to Calais, where he got a job as a foreman in a factory making artificial silk. It was here that their second daughter, Eliane, was born. Later, William became an interpreter at the Harbour Station. Germaine owned a café in Place de Suede, near the harbour.
In 1936, William became a naturalised French citizen.
In 1939, war came again to Western Europe. The Germans made their way to the French coast and attacked Calais in 1940. During the bombardment, Germaine’s café was destroyed and she was killed. William stayed in Calais with his two daughters and became an informant for the Intelligence Service.
One of the first tasks of the occupying forces, after driving the British troops out of Dunkerque, was to fortify the cliffs and sand-dunes along the coast and to build emplacements for the long-range guns that would pour shells into William’s home town of Dover. Later, launching ramps for the V1 flying bombs were erected along the coast to attack London.
William joined the Resistance. At night, he and his comrades would creep out to sabotage the German installations and to send messages to the British Intelligence. Their efforts helped the RAF to target the enemy installations on the Pas de Calais, thus saving Southern England from even greater destruction.
He joined the Pat O’Leary Network as a “passeur d’hommes”, helping allied airmen to escape back to England.
After the O’Leary network was infiltrated, someone informed on the Calais members and, in November 1942, the Gestapo kicked in the door of William Sharp’s Calais home and he was arrested. He and his fellow Resistance workers were dragged off to prison in Loos, on the outskirts of Lille, where they were tortured by the Gestapo in an attempt to get them to reveal the names of the other members of the Calais cell.
He was beaten and kicked about the face until he was barely recognisable, but he refused to talk. It is said that, even under torture, he cried out in French, so the Gestapo would not be aware of his English birth. Eventually, on 27th August, 1943, at the Citadel de Bondues, in Lille, William and his 4 companions, Pierre, Marcel, Henri and Alphonse, were taken out and shot. As they went out, they are reported to have defiantly sung “la Marseillaise”.
After the Liberation, the body of William Sharp was exhumed and taken to Calais, where it was laid to rest with full military honours near La Porte de Dunkerque in the town where he had become a hero.
In 1963, the Mayor and Council of Calais honoured William by naming a street after him in the Beau Marais area of the town.
Some 30 years later, he was further honoured with the posthumous award of a medal from the French government.
This article from a Calais newspaper provides much of the background to his life story:
RUE WILLIAM SHARP
"An Englishman from Dover; naturalised French, William Sharp was a foreman at the artificial silk factory, then interpreter at the marine station. His wife owned a café in the Place de Suede. Under the occupation, after the death of his spouse, killed in a bombardment, and the demolition of his café, William Sharp stayed with his two daughters, Doris and Eliane, and was an informant for the Intelligence Service and a “passeur d’hommes” in the Pat O’Leary network, which recuperated and evacuated shot-down allied airmen. When the network collapsed in 1942, Sharp was arrested and interned at Loos. He was executed at the same time as Puis, Follet, Henri Béraet and Huyghes, at the Citadel of Bondues, on 27th August 1943."
His tombstone says
MORT POUR LA
Shot. He died for France at Bondues (North) the 27th August 1943 at the age of 50 years.
Information on this page was obtained from the Dover Express and from a Calais newspaper by courtesy of the Mayor of Calais.
This page has previously been posted on other sites - this is the original!