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Frank Thompson

Born in 1920, William "Frank" Thompson’s father was Edward Thompson Senior, a novelist, historian, and particular friend and supporter of an independent India. His younger brother, also Edward, was the well-known socialist historian, author and peace campaigner (see separate entry). Frank was a poet and archaeologist who went to Winchester and then Oxford University.

As an undergraduate, he was intensely active in political campaigning and joined the Communist Party in 1939. He was commissioned in the Royal Artillery in March, 1940 and went on to serve five months in the north African desert war theatre with the Eighth Army. He was then posted to Persia with Paiforce, took part in the invasion of Sicily, and finally trained as a parachutist so as to be to volunteer for service with the partisans fighting in the Balkans.  Thompson endured sand-fly fever while parachute training.

For Thompson, as with so many young men, the war only made sense with an anti-fascist purpose. “When this war is over,” he wrote in August, 1942, “there will have to be an enormous deal of kindness to atone for all the senseless hate and suffering of these years.” His vision was for a better world to emerge from the conflagration. “There is a spirit abroad in Europe,” he wrote home at Christmas, 1943, “which is finer and braver than anything that tired continent has known for centuries, and which cannot be withstood.”

He parachuted into South Serbia at the end of January 1944, with orders to establish dropping grounds for the Allies in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. He would radio information to his headquarters in Cairo. From then on, he lived and fought as a Bulgarian partisan, living as they did, on cornmeal flour and potatoes, speaking their language, singing their songs and dancing their national dances.  He hungered with them and fought their second enemy—lice—as they did.

Thompson was the only Englishman part of this large roaming partisan force operating in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, his group was ambushed during a forced march, cut off and captured. They were given a mock trial at Litakovo during which Thompson sat against a pillar in the public hall and smoked his pipe.

“By what right do you,’ an English-man, enter our country and wage war against us? “he was asked.

“I came because this war is something very much deeper than a struggle of nation against nation,” he replied “The greatest thing in the world now is the struggle of anti-Fascism against Fascism.”

“Do you know that we shoot men who hold your opinions?” he was asked.

Thompson replied: “I am ready to die for freedom and I am proud to die with Bulgarian patriots as companions.”                      

On June 10th 1944 at the age of 24, Thompson was executed by firing-squad at the Bulgarian village of Prokopnik along with 57 others. His last words as he raised a clenched fist, were: “I give” you the salute of freedom.”

Three months later the Red Army swept into Bulgaria The underground movement, with whom Frank Thompson had fought, was prepared for this and rose en masse, overthrowing the pro-Nazi government.

In his memory, Prokopnik’s railway station was named “Major Thompson Station”.  But Thompson shared a common grave, and later a common memorial for all of his comrades who were so cruelly executed.  Socialist Bulgaria also awarded him two posthumous decorations, but Thompson never received any honour from his own country.  

In the immediate post war era, his mother and his younger brother, Edward Thompson collected Frank Thompson’s war letters and his poems into a book, adding an introduction and notes which a contemporary reviewer though revealed “the fine, glowing, generous mind of an outstanding young Englishman”. The book’s title echoed one of Frank’s letters: “There is a Spirit in Europe - A Memoir of Frank Thompson”. 

Sources: Daily Worker;The Rural Crusader (August 1947); contemporary issue of the News Chronicle (courtesy of Michael Walker)