Thousands of Jews and Allied soldiers were ghosted out of Nazi Europe from a quaint little English tea house in Madrid, a new book has claimed.
Author Patricia Martínez Vicente says the cafe was the unlikely centre of an escape plot operating under the noses of the Gestapo.
In her ground-breaking book Embassy, Ms Martínez reveals the role of her father Eduardo Martínez Alonso played in the daring plan.
He was a Spanish doctor who worked in General Francisco Franco's pro-Nazi regime as a British secret agent codenamed 055.
She stumbled across his wartime diary after his death in 1972 and later unearthed classified MI5 documents confirming his role in saving thousands of lives.
According to the writer, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was told about the plan.
The shop served as the headquarters for the operation that spirited refugees across the Pyrenees and out of Spain through Gibraltar and Galicia.
She tells how her father, who grew up in Liverpool and was a physician at the British Embassy in Madrid, worked with his close friend Alan Hillgarth, the British naval attaché who masterminded the operation.
Over tea in the bar, which celebrates its 80th anniversary next week, the two men would plot how to help Jews, British servicemen and Poles flee the Nazis.
Ms Martínez told The Times: 'Hillgarth told my father Winston Churchill wanted to set up an escape for fleeing servicemen but also became aware through Poland of what was happening to the Jews, so made sure they put extra effort into the operation.'
She says that her father's roots in Galicia, a region in northwest Spain that was notorious as a route for smugglers, provided the perfect way to get refugees out of Spain.
Using a trusted taxi driver called Manuel Rios, they would take the refugees to the boats of fishermen who delivered them to British ships waiting off Galicia.
Dr Martínez faked medical records for thousands of Poles, Jews and British servicemen who were held at a concentration camp in Burgos, north of Madrid.
Secret MI5 documents and others from the Polish Institute and Sikorksi Archive detail the names and fake diagnoses of thousands who were saved.
His subterfuge allowed the British Embassy to put pressure on Spanish authorities to release those supposedly so ill they were at risk of dying.
'My father was a doctor. He risked his career doing this,' said Ms Martínez. 'To have been found faking a single diagnosis could have destroyed his position as a doctor.'
Once in Madrid the refugees were hidden by Margarita Taylor, the owner of the Embassy bar who mixed in the capital's most fashionable circles.
She dressed the refugees like the British customers to make them pass for other clients dropping in for tea or a Martini.
Despite being a strict Roman Catholic, she acquired a reputation in Franco's austere Madrid as a 'bad woman' because she was seen so often with a queue of strange men at her door.
When they had been given new false documents the refugees would be driven south to Gibraltar or Galicia and on to freedom.
Dr Martínez was forced to flee to Britain in 1942 as the Gestapo closed in.
He was secretly paid a monthly stipend under his codename Agent 055.
Before returning to Madrid in 1946 he was awarded the King's Medal for bravery and was decorated by the Polish Government.
Ms Martínez contacted the son of Mr Rios, who was unaware of his father's bravery. If he had been caught he could have ended up in jail or in front of a firing squad.
Article posted automatically from www.PathfinderOnline.co.uk, the UK's first historical military online magazine.