Frank Foley - a different kind of spy
A story for collective worship about a British war hero who secretly showed amazing resilience.
Display an image of Frank Foley, and some images of easily recognisable film spies, such as James Bond, Jason Bourne or Black Widow. Please ensure you have the necessary permission before using any images obtained from the Internet (the picture of Frank Foley provided here is public domain).
If dramatising your storytelling, you might want to set up a small table with a tablecloth and coffee cups, to create the atmosphere of a continental coffee-shop.
As pupils enter the hall, could you play some ‘spy’ film music?
I’ve got a story for you today - about a real spy. But first, what would a spy look like?
Pupils discuss in pairs and feedback a few answers.
Of course, there have been lots of fantasy films about spies (show a few famous images of screen spies), but those are all made up. A real spy doesn’t look suave or sophisticated, standing out in a crowd, because they need to blend in. Nobody should know they have a secret job to do.
So I’m going to tell you a story about a real spy like that, who looked absolutely normal. No one gave him a second glance, and that was why he was so good at his job. His name was Frank Foley. Frank was a real spy, working for MI6, the secret service of the British government. This spy saved thousands and thousands of peoples’ lives.
Eighty years ago, Frank worked for the British embassy in Berlin, running the passport office. Germany at that time was ruled by the Nazis, who were hunting down anyone who they thought wasn’t really German. That was tough if you were Jewish, or Romany, or anyone else they didn’t like, because that could mean you were put in a prison camp surrounded by barbed wire and fierce guard dogs.
As things got worse in Germany, many families were trying to leave the country. But it was really difficult to get a passport, because like nowadays some other countries didn’t want to take in refugees.
But Frank was also running the British spy network, finding out secret information about the Nazis and sending it back to London from his office. Britain wasn’t yet at war with Germany and the Nazis didn’t know Frank was a spy, but he knew that if they did find out he’d be arrested and taken away, and no one would ever see him alive again. However, as more and more refugees came to the embassy, queuing up outside, asking for help, pleading for permission to come to Britain, Frank decided to do something about it.
Let’s imagine we’re in a cafe – a coffee shop – in the city of Berlin. There’s a nervous young man called Philip sitting in this chair. It’s a busy place, selling coffee, cakes and other nice things. A radio is playing music. But behind the young man are some soldiers, drinking and talking at another table, and he’s terrified of them, checking his watch and looking around. The Gestapo, the Nazi police, are out there somewhere looking for him, but he’s been told by a friend to come to this coffee shop to meet a mystery man called Frank. And then in comes this strange man, who sees him, walks to the counter, buys a coffee, then comes and sits at the table.
The man leans forward and whispers, ‘Are you… Philip?'
‘Yes,’ says the young man nervously.
‘A friend told me you’re in trouble. Do you want me to help you?’
The young man is close to tears. ‘Yes, me and my wife and child! We can’t go home! The Gestapo are outside our house in a car, watching the street, waiting for us!’
‘Listen. Look at me. Take another sip of your coffee. Stop looking around and bringing attention to yourself. Calm down. I’m going to get you to a safe place.’ Frank passes over a piece of paper. ‘Read this address, then learn it off by heart. Can you do that?’
The young man nods, reads the paper, then hands it back.
‘Good’, says Frank. ‘Do you think you can find it? Good. Meet me there tonight at 7.00 pm. Bring your family.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’m going to put you all up for the night somewhere safe, then you’re all going to come to the British embassy, and I’ll sort you out a family passport and exit papers.’
‘But that’s impossible! Nobody knows us in England!’
‘Shhh! Not so loud. It’s all right.’ With a hand, Frank motions him to talk more quietly. ‘I’ll find a way. Trust me.’
‘But… why are you helping me?’
Frank shrugs. ‘Because I’m a Christian. Now, are you sure about where to meet me? Good. I’ll see you tonight.’
‘But it’s dangerous! My wife is Jewish!’
Frank sighs. ‘Then it sounds like now would be a good time for you all to be leaving Germany, don’t you think?' he says. 'Now, off you go. Try to look as if you’re not scared. I find deep breathing helps.’
The young man gets up and leaves the cafe. Later, Frank takes him and his family back to his own flat to keep them safe. And the next day, he keeps his promise.
Frank met many, many refugees like this, sometimes in cafes, often in his office. Bit by bit, he managed to get at least 10,000 people out of Germany before the war started, breaking all the rules to give out passports and papers. And the Nazis never caught him. Can you imagine James Bond hiding refugees in his flat? That’s what Frank did. It wasn’t his job, but he decided it was the right thing to do, because he was a Christian.
- why nobody has yet made a film of Frank’s life?
- if we could go back in time and ask Frank a really interesting question about his time in Germany, what would it be?
- why being a Christian led Frank to help as many refugees as possible?
If there is time, discuss in pairs, then feedback questions.
There are many different ways to be brave. If someone like Frank handles all sorts of difficult or scary things day after day, and still does the right thing, we say they are resilient. How could you, how could we all, show some resilience this week?
Father God, thank you for people like Frank. What do you want me to do for others? Help me to listen, watch and see what’s going on in the lives of people around me, and to do the right thing when it’s needed. Amen.
Frank Foley was an unusual spy. Just before World War II, he was head of the British Secret Service, working from the British embassy in Nazi Germany. But he also used his ‘cover’ in the passport office to save the lives of at least 10,000 Jews and other potential victims of the Nazis. He lived a very dangerous double-life, gathering secret information for MI6, while also stretching every rule he could to allow as many people as possible to escape from Nazi Germany prior to the outbreak of war. Can you imagine James Bond hiding refugees in his flat? Foley did, frequently. When asked why he did all this, Frank’s simple answer was, ‘Because I am a Christian.’
Christians will remember how Jesus’ parents had to flee a particularly vicious regime, taking him from Judea to Egypt when he was still a toddler. They probably made their new home in the coastal city of Alexandria, declared a sanctuary during the earlier rule of Alexander the Great. Until the age of seven, Jesus lived the life of a child refugee on the Nile Delta until it was safe to return home.
This story is a composite of characters and incidents detailed in Michael Smith’s excellent book Foley: The spy who saved 10,000 lives (Hodder and Stoughton, 1999). It could be used as a resource for Holocaust Memorial Day, marked each year on 27 January.