ROA life member makes documentary film – For And About Members
The transition from retired attorney to documentary film producer was at times uncertain and always challenging, but ROA Life Member Col Hobart Grooms, USMCR (Ret.) has made the transition. Colonel Grooms’ newly-released film, “For One English Officer,” is the true story of how Gerow Hodges, armed only with his wits and a Red Cross badge, made 15 solo trips into German lines at Lorient and St. Nazaire in Brittany in 1944 and negotiated the freedom of 149 Allied POWs.
“It was a one-of-a-kind event in World War II,” said Grooms, former senior partner in the Birmingham firm Spain & Gillon, L.L.C.
Colonel Grooms heard the story when he and Hodges served as Samford University trustees. Hodges, declared 4-F due to a football injury, joined the Red Cross. While attached to the 94th Division, he engineered four prisoner exchanges, including that of British SAS Captain Michael R.D. Foot, later Oxford professor and noted World War II historian. Hodges bargained with four high-ranking German officers for Foot’s release from a military hospital where he lay dying from injuries sustained in an abortive escape. Of 100 SAS captured by the Germans, only six survived; Foot was one of the lucky few.
Colonel Grooms got to know Foot while the historian was teaching at Samford but it wasn’t until Grooms delved into Hodges’ files that he saw the possibility of a documentary.
“Here were the original German POW lists, photos, correspondence, receipts for Red Cross parcels, cease-fire agreements,” Grooms recalled, “even a 1938 Michelin map with an overlay showing coordinates where Gerow would meet the German officers who escorted him blindfolded to enemy headquarters.”
Preparing a notebook of his discoveries with a story outline, Grooms presented them to Dr. Tom Corts, Samford president. Dr. Corts liked it enough to locate an award winning director, T.N. Mohan, who reviewed the material and asked to do the film. Samford’s funding made the project possible.
Locating the POWs was a daunting task but Grooms found 13 in the United States and helped organize a film session and POW reunion with Hodges in Birmingham. “We shot 11 interviews in two days. It was a killer.” Filming also occurred in England, Paris and Brittany.
Grooms and Mohan spent days at The National Archives, discovering more photos, footage of the exchanges and even a 1944 newsreel of the St. Nazaire event.
The treatment and narrative went through many re-writes. Weeks of film editing followed.
“Our editor was a young Frenchman and the generation gap soon became obvious” Grooms recalled. “We were reviewing combat footage when he asked, ‘What ees a mortar?’ I knew we had a problem.” So Colonel Grooms became military advisor as well as producer, screenwriter and researcher, all purely voluntary.
In early screenings, the 47-minute film has drawn praise from Red Cross, civic clubs and veterans’ groups. It will be shown on Public Television and is being marketed for television in the United States and Europe.
“It’s a bit of history,” noted Grooms, “That would have been forgotten. We lose 1,800 WWII veterans a day. The story had to be told.”
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