Staffordshire father’s tragic tale is heading to big screen

Nandor Pekar was forced to flee his native Hungary in 1956 after taking part in the uprising against Russian occupying forces.

He arrived in Staffordshire where he found sanctuary, a job and love. But 30 years on, after leaving suicide notes to his family, he took his own life aged 48.

His remarkable and ultimately tragic story was committed to print by his son Richard, a product development leader at Rugeley’s Armitage Shanks.

Now the tale has been picked up by Stafford-based movie company Grand Independent who want to turn it into a £4million film.

Mr Pekar, 45, said: “It’s a fantastic feeling, no words can describe it. My dad would be completely over the moon because he started writing the story when I was 10. Now I have finished it for him.”

When the Revolution started on October 23, Nandor Pekar was primed for action. His father Janos had taught him SAS-style survival skills. He could catch a wild boar with his bare hands, kill it and cook it, and exist for days in the forest near his home in the village of Mogyoroska with little more than a penknife in his armoury.

Janos, who fought in the First World War, had also instilled a burning patriotism in his son.

Nandor was based just outside Budapest with a group of student rebels whose job was to ambush Russian tanks heading for the capital. They petrol-bombed the vehicles and, where possible, stole their weapons.

In less than a week the Russians had been beaten back and a new moderate Prime Minister had taken office, restoring democracy and freedom of speech. But within days he announced that Hungary was going to leave the Warsaw Pact, a move that saw 1,000 Russian tanks roll into Budapest on November 4. They proceeded to destroy the Hungarian army.

An estimated 30,000 people were killed and around 200,000 fled to the west leaving all they possessed in Hungary. Nandor, devastated by their failure to secure victory, was among the last to leave.

By then the borders were rammed with Soviet guards. He was advised not to chance an escape but he was determined.

The fields around the border were full of landmines but Nandor had been tipped off that they were buried a metre apart diagonally. After finding the first by digging with his penknife, he worked out where the others lay, crawling on his belly to avoid detection.

After that, he faced barriers of barbed wire and trip wires. At any moment he might have been picked out by searchlights or spotted by soldiers manning the watch towers.

After several hours, he became disorientated and set off a trip wire that sent flares into the night sky. The whole area lit up and he believed, after all his efforts, that he was sunk as soldiers rushed towards him,

But they spoke in German, and he realised he had made it over the border into Austria.

After that he was taken to a hostel and given the option of going to Britain or Canada, both of whom were offering asylum to the rebels. He chose England because he could leave sooner. Once here, he decided Staffordshire offered him the best job opportunities and went on to work for 30 years at the Michelin factory in Stoke.

The title of his son’s book, Last Train To Budapest, was inspired by a conversation they had on a trip back to Hungary years later, when Richard was around 10.

“Our car broke down outside the college he went to in Szanto and I remember him saying ‘This is where I caught the last train to Budapest.’

“He told me how he went to join the other student rebels in the fight against the takeover by Communist Russia but they had to flee. He lived in fear of being arrested or killed.

“After he died I reminded my mother and sister of some of his stories and realised they didn’t know half of them.

“I started to write them down and then set off to conduct interviews both in Hungary and here in the Midlands, especially Stafford and Wolverhampton, where so many Hungarians settled.

“I asked about their own experiences of the uprising and many of them remembered meeting my father when they were all sent to Blackpool for six months to learn English.” The grandfather-of-one conducted his research on trips to Hungary over several years, interviewing his father’s family and also ex-students at his father’s college, including a former girlfriend.

“My father had only a brother, who died when he was a baby, but both his parents came from big families, so there were many uncles and cousins around. I travelled to Hungary eight or nine times.

“Back home, the Polish Club in Stafford Road, Wolverhampton, was a great source of information as the Hungarian Community Association of Staffordshire is also based there.

“I met some really interesting people, including a second-generation Hungarian like myself, from Stafford, whose father and grandmother fled Hungary at that time.

“They are both still alive. His dad is 75 and his grandmother 94. I’m encouraging him to write about their story and we’re hoping to get it incorporated in the film, or in a documentary to run alongside the film.”

He said his mother Gwen and sister Gayna were very supportive of his venture.

It is not known why Nandor Pekar took his life. In the notes he left for his family he spoke of depression.

His son believes a number of factors contributed, including being made redundant after 30 years with Michelin and the death of his father – ‘his rock’ – as well as the traumatic effects of the experiences during the Revolution.

The book, published in 2006, has already been immortalised in celluloid. In 2010, film students at Staffordshire University’s Stafford campus made a short movie based on the book in which Richard played his father.

The 35-minute film, premiered at the university in 2010, was funded by £6,000 lottery grant, topped up with a £4,000 donation from the local Hungarian Community Association.

The new film will be feature-length and premiered in London and New York.