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Charles Fernley Fawcett

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Charles Fernley Fawcett
Born(1915-12-02)December 2, 1915
DiedFebruary 3, 2008(2008-02-03) (aged 92)
London, England
  • Soldier
  • Actor
  • Filmmaker
Military career
Allegiance Poland
 Free France
 United Kingdom
 United States
UnitHadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit

Charles Fernley Fawcett (2 December 1915 – 3 February 2008) was an American adventurer, soldier, film actor, and a co-founder of the International Medical Corps. He was a recipient of the French Croix de Guerre and the American Eisenhower medal, and was declared Righteous Among the Nations for his assistance in rescuing and safeguarding Jewish refugees during World War II.[1] Varian Fry, his longtime associate, described him as "a moral adventurer".[2]

Early life

Charles Fernley Fawcett was born in Waleska, Georgia, where his mother was caught in a snow storm and died when he was six.[3] His family was of old Virginian stock, whose family tree included Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.[2] Having been orphaned at an early age, Fawcett and his younger brother and two sisters grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, in the care of their aunt.[3] Here he attended Greenville High School for three years where he learned to wrestle and play American football.[4]

At age 15, Fawcett became involved in an affair with his best friend's mother. He remarked, "If that's child molestation, I would wish this curse on every young boy." The end of the affair made Fawcett contemplate suicide, and he left the United States in 1932 at age 16 to travel to the Far East, working his passage on a number of steamships with the U.S. Merchant Marine.[3][5]

By 1937, he had returned to America and stayed for a time in New York City before making his way to Washington D.C., where he was taken in by his cousin, who happened to be an assistant United States Postmaster General.[3] Here he ended up wrestling to make a living. Then in 1937 he boarded a ship outside Montreal bound for France, where he worked as an artist’s model, a jazz musician, and later a professional wrestler.

World War II

After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Fawcett joined the Polish Army but had been in barracks for only a week before escaping from the advancing Nazis and hitchhiking back to Paris.[3][5] He tried to join both U.S. Intelligence and the French Armed Forces but his services were declined, so he briefly joined the Section Volontaire des Américains of the French ambulance corps in 1940.[3][5] He was on his way to North Africa to join the French Resistance[3][5] when he heard about Varian Fry, who would go on to rescue over 2,000 Jews from Vichy France with the help of a handful of people, Fawcett among them. Among the most famous people they rescued were Franz Werfel, Marc Chagall, Heinrich Mann and Hannah Arendt.

"I went to see him and he wasn’t very interested until I told him I’d been a professional wrestler. He said, ‘Maybe we could use you to sort of keep order. Anybody who’s not supposed to be there, you can get rid of them’," Fawcett recalled in an interview with Dr. Stephen D. Smith in 1998. "Fry was perhaps one of the most idealistic men I had ever known and certainly the most unassuming. We got rid in a hurry of his little bow-tie and striped suit. Out of place completely in Marseilles. Maybe one of the reasons he got away with a lot was because he looked so innocent."

In Paris, Fawcett took part in the rescue of a group of British prisoners of war who had been placed under French guard in a hospital ward by the Germans.[3][5] By impersonating a German ambulance crew, Fawcett and a comrade marched in at 4am and ordered the French nurses to usher the POWs out into the yard. "Gentlemen," he announced as he drove them away, "consider yourself liberated". "You're a Yank," said a British voice. "Never," came Fawcett's lilting southern burr, "confuse a Virginian with a Yankee".[3]

In 1942, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force and trained as a fighter pilot, flying the Hawker Hurricane but was invalided out that Christmas with tuberculosis, from which he had suffered as a youth.[3][5] After convalescing in a Canadian sanatorium, Fawcett made his way back to the United States in 1943.[3] From New York, he traveled to a TB clinic in Arizona where he remained for about a year.[3][5] In 1944, he returned to Italy and rejoined the American Ambulance Corps.[3]

Towards the end of the war, Fawcett posed as the husband of six Jewish women in three months.[3][5] This enabled the women, who had formerly been imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, to leave France with an American visa. Eventually, he had to flee France at several hours' notice after a tip-off that the Gestapo was coming to arrest him.

Having left France, he joined up with the French Foreign Legion in 1945, fighting for six months in the forests of Alsace, and took part in the liberation of Colmar.[3][5] A further bout of tuberculosis landed him in the Legionnaires' Hospital in Paris.[3]

He was a recipient of the French Croix de Guerre and the American Eisenhower medal.[5][6] His unlikely, some would say unbelievable, life was informed by an impulse to stand up for the underdog mixed with a thirst for glamour and adventure.[3] Fawcett charmed everyone he met with tales of swashbuckling intrigue and good deeds.[3]


By 1948, Fawcett was back in action serving in the Greek Army against the Communists during the Greek Civil War, fighting in a lounge suit in the guise of a journalist, since no foreigners were permitted to be involved.[3][5]

In 1949, Fawcett pursued a cinematic career, in which he performed in over 100 films, working with such stars as Errol Flynn, Alan Ladd and Robert Taylor.[2] He combined this with smuggling refugees to safety from civil conflict, organizing earthquake relief teams, fighting in several wars and co-founding the International Medical Corps.

In 1956, Fawcett helped to rescue refugees from the Hungarian Uprising.[7] Then he spent three years in the Belgian Congo, during the civil war in the early 60s, where he flew out those who were unable to escape the fighting. But it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in June 1979, that signaled his longest mission, and he was off to help the Afghan resistance fighters for the next 12 years.[7]

In 2006, Fawcett was nominated for recognition as Righteous Among the Nations at the annual British Holocaust commemoration.[8]

Acting career

Fawcett appeared in some 100 film, television and radio productions between 1949 and 1976. He initially worked in France, but after 1952 worked primarily in Italy, having moved to Rome with his wife that year. During this time, he purportedly engaged in an affair with actress Hedy Lamarr.[9]

Personal life

Fawcett's first wife, with whom he had a daughter, died in 1956. In 1991, he married again, when after a 30-year engagement he married April Ducksbury, a British model agency executive, and settled in London.[2][3]


Fawcett died on 3 February 2008 in London at the age of 92.[3]

Selected filmography


  1. ^ "Nimes Committee - Individuals". Rescue in the Holocaust. Retrieved 2022-12-16.
  2. ^ a b c d "Charles Fernley Fawcett: 1915-2008". Varian Fry Institute. Retrieved 2008-02-13.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "Charles Fawcett". London. 29 February 2008. Archived from the original on 13 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008.
  4. ^[permanent dead link] Retrieved 14 April 2008
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k No one could accuse Charles Fawcett of not living life to the full Daily Mirror. Retrieved August 8, 2022.
  6. ^ Charles Fernley Fawcett 1915-2008 Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Charles Fernley Fawcett 1915-2008, Daily Mirror Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  8. ^ "History News Network". Archived from the original on 9 July 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
  9. ^ "Charles Fawcett". 9 February 2008. Retrieved 2022-12-16.

External links

This page was last edited on 3 November 2023, at 21:23
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