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The Marie-Claire Escape Line
This is an article about the men helped by the Marie-Claire organisation, not about Mary Lindell herself, who as “Marie-Claire”, was sent back to France, landed near Ussel (Corrèze) by Lysander on the night of 26-27 October 1942, to set up that organisation. There is nothing original about this article; everything is available from public sources, and most of it has already been published, most notably in Oliver Clutton-Brock's 2009 book “RAF Evaders” and Peter Hore's 2016 book “Lindell's List”, both of which are highly recommended. The idea here is simply to assemble the evader stories in one easily accessible place.
This page first posted on 07 Oct 2020
The first evaders to be helped by Marie-Claire, were Royal Marines Herbert Hasler and William Sparks.
Major Herbert George ‘Blondie' Hasler (1140) from Catherington in Hampshire, who had been serving with the Royal Marines since joining in September 1932, reports that he and Marine Sparks came ashore at Saint-Genès-de-Blaye, on the river Gironde, at about five o'clock on the morning of 12 December 1942. They were not seen, and were in uniform, and carrying their weapons (Colt pistols and fighting knives) as they walked inland to a wooded area between Saint-Genès and Fours. They had two days of food each, and about half a gallon of water between them as they settled down to spend a peaceful day in the woods.
His companion was Marine William Edward ‘Bill' Sparks (1162), a 20-year-old former shoemaker and repairer from Finsbury Park in London, who travelled with Hasler for the whole of their time in France. What neither of their reports mention is that they had come ashore in a two-man canoe named “Catfish”, one of five such canoes that had set off on the evening of 7 December from HM Submarine Tuna (N94), with the mission of placing limpet mines on shipping in Bordeaux harbour. Although they didn't know it at the time, Hasler and Sparks would be the only survivors of Operation Frankton.
As soon as it was dark, Hasler and Sparks moved off, walking across country and heading north-east until morning, when they stopped about a mile south of Reignac. They tried approaching various farms for civilian clothing, with mixed results, and spent the night of 13-14 December in a wood just south of Donnezac. Early next morning they set off once more, walking north and passing through Rouffignac, Villexavier, then north-east again through Ozillac to Saint-Germain-de-Vibrac, where they spent the night of 14-15 December in a nearby wood. The following day (16 Dec), they walked through Saint-Ciers-Champagne and Touzac (where they failed to get any food in the village but had better luck at a group of houses further along), to Saint-Preuil, where they were given shelter for the night. Hasler continues to give a detailed account of their route (he was carrying a larger scale map than would normally have been available to evaders) until 18 December, when they arrived in Ruffec, from where their journey was arranged.
Although having been advised before leaving England that Ruffec (Poitou-Charente) was a good area to make for, they had no specific instructions on what to do on arrival. Having deliberately avoided the Hotel de France because of their disreputable state after so many days of living rough, they went further along the road to the Toque Blanche restaurant and ordered drinks and soup (which could be bought without ration cards). When Hasler paid their bill, he passed a note to the patronne (either Yvonne Mandinaud or her sister Alix) saying they were English. The women and their brother René, who were not members of the Maire-Claire organisation, sheltered the Marines overnight, and got in touch with two men who were. The following morning, René Mandinaud came to their room with tax inspector Jean Gaston Mariaud, and retired school teacher M. Paillier to translate – he had lived in England, and recognised Sparks cockney accent. That afternoon, Jean Mariaud's brother-in-law, René Flaud, with Fernand Dumas as his guide, took Hasler and Sparks in the back of a baker's van to a wood just south-east of Benest, and at dusk, Dumas took the two Marines across the demarcation line to a farm owned by Marie-Claire members Amand and Amélie Dubreuille at Marvaud-Saint-Coutant. They stayed on the farm for eighteen days while Amand tried to contact Marie-Claire or her son Maurice.
On 6 January 1943, Maurice arrived at the farm, and after explaining that the delay was due to his mother being badly injured in a road accident, took the two Marines by bicycle to Roumazières-Loubert, where they caught an overnight train to Lyon. On arrival there next morning, they were taken to a flat where they met Mary Lindell (still heavily bandaged), and Maurice arranged for them to stay in a large house in the northern suburbs.
They stayed in the house for about two weeks while Lindell tried, without success, to reopen her line across the Pyrenees until she finally contacted John Carter (almost certainly via George Whittinghill), and they were “transferred to his care”. Sparks was taken to stay with an elderly couple and a daughter in her mid-twenties while Hasler was sheltered by Paul-Marie Bonnamour and his wife at 8 avenue Marechal Foch (Mme Bonnamour being the daughter of a Mr Barr, manager of Barclay's Bank on Baker Street in London) for six days, apart from one night in a flat believed to belong to Paul Reynaud. Carter then “obtained the use of a large villa on the northern outskirts of Lyon, belonging to Mr Barr”, where Sparks rejoined Hasler, and they were looked after by “a young Frenchwoman who assists Carter” (Anne Marie Sabourault). Six days later, Fabien de Cortes arrived to take the two men to a Pat Line safe house in Marseille.
The day after the two Royal Marines arrived in Ruffec, two evading airmen were brought from Paris.
Sgt Henry Ord Robertson (1126) from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was the 27-year-old wireless operator, and Sgt Herbert Joseph Bromsgrove Canter (1127) from Landford in Bedfordshire, the 30-year-old navigator of 76 Sqn Halifax BB242 (Hillier). They were on the way to Mannheim on the night of 6-7 December 1942 when they were attacked by a German night-fighter, and the bomber was abandoned near Saint-Mihiel (Meuse).
Robertson landed on a track running north from Courcelles-en-Barrois through the Foret-des-Koeurs, quickly buried his parachute at the side of the track and went straight into the woods. However he soon found progress through the woods too hard and returned to the track, following it north to the road which runs west to Rupt-devant-Saint-Mihiel. He stopped short of the village, sleeping in the woods until about seven o'clock before walking through the village and then across the fields to Levoncourt. After walking through Levoncourt, Robertson turned a corner to sit by a bridge, where he was approached by two men who had followed him from the village. As Robertson was trying to explain to them who he was, a priest arrived, and the three men took Robertson to a house (both airmen say a mill) in Levoncourt, belonging to Robert and Jeanne Verdun, and where he also met their daughter Georgette and her fiancé Fernand Cherrier. Robertson was given food and wine and left to sleep in the loft until Canter was brought to join him at about five o'clock that afternoon.
Canter landed on the top of a tree in the Foret-des-Koeurs, near Koeur-la-Grande, and had to leave his parachute tangled in the tree. After climbing down, he walked due south for a hundred yards to bury his Mae West and some personal belongings before heading west, continuing until daylight when he settled down to hide in some in some bushes. That afternoon, he heard a wood-cutter, approached him cautiously, and after hearing him singing in French, went and to ask if he was indeed in France. While they were talking, the man's wife arrived, and she told him that one of his comrades was in the next village. After giving him some food, the wife took Canter to the road at Baudrémont and pointed out the way to Levoncourt. Canter waited outside Levoncourt until evening before entering the village, and was washing in a horse trough when Fernand Cherrier found him, and took him to the mill where Robertson was being sheltered.
After being given a meal at another house (by Fernand Cherrier's parents), the two airmen were to returned to the mill where they spent that night and following day (8 Dec). That evening, they were given overalls, boots and berets, and again taken to the Cherrier home for a meal. They were also presented with haversacks of food, two bread ration cards and a note saying they were British airmen, and appealing to any French people they encountered to help them. Fernand Cherrier then took them to house in Lavallée, where they had supper with Jean Ançelot, the curé of Saint-Julien-sous-les-Côtes, and he gave them a large-scale map of the Bar-le-Duc, with a cross-country route past Brabant-le-Roi marked on it. They spent the night at Lavallée before setting off early the following morning for Brabant, where they had been told to go to the first house on the left beside a bridge. Unfortunately, when they arrived at Brabant-le-Roi, they found there were two bridges, and they chose the wrong one, the householder they approached not knowing the man they were looking for. When they finally found the right house, the occupants were too nervous to take them in after they had been to the first house, but they did at least give them a meal before the two airmen moved on.
They spent that night in a barn on a farm between Brabant and Revigny-sur-Ornain, where they slept late until woken by the farmer collecting hay. Finding the door to his barn had been opened, he sent his dog in to investigate but when the dog failed to find them, he went away. They spent the rest of the day wandering through the fields, trying to find a way across the river Ornain, avoiding Revigny and walking straight through Rancourt-sur-Ornain. They were followed from the village by a man on a bicycle who asked if they were soldiers, and when they showed him their note, he advised them to head for Vitry-le-François, catching up with them again an hour later with some biscuits and chocolate. He also brought another man and his English-speaking daughter, Odette Mailland (of Rancourt-sur-Ornanin). She had brought them some civilian trousers, and before leaving, gave them the address in Paris of her uncle, a M. Roussel. That evening, the airman stopped a boy and girl asked if there was somewhere they could sleep for the night, and took them to their home in Heiltz-le-Maurupt.
Next morning (11 Dec), their host (Virgille Haumont) took them by train from Vitry-le-François to Paris, the airmen paying for the tickets with their escape kit money. There was no inspection on arrival at the gare de l'Est, and their helper took them to a café on at rue Saint-Claude while he went to the address they had been given by Odette Mailland, at number 15, on the other side of the road. He was at first refused entry, and returned to the café but when the three men left, they were called back and given a meal. That afternoon, various people came to visit them, and that evening, Roger Voisin (in his police uniform) took them to stay the night with a M. Caillard, a dealer in mosaics and marble. At noon the next day, Henri De Bussy and hotelier Marc Rendinage took them to Rendinage's flat near the Arc de Triomphe, where they stayed for three or four days, and after another three or four days with Professor and Mme Bertram, left Paris on 19 December when Yves Chardac (of Montrouge) and Henri De Bussy took them by train to Ruffec.
Robertson and Canter were sheltered in Ruffec from 19 December to 17 January 1943 by Gaston Denville (of Place du Marche), an antiques dealer whose wife Renée was the local dentist, while Gaston contacted a woman “who spoke good English and who, we gathered, may have been organising espionage in the area”. The woman (obviously Mary Lindell, although the airmen didn't actually meet her), took their details and said she would send a message to London but meanwhile, Gaston also contacted a man whose son-in-law in Paris was in the organisation. On 17 January, an artist called Nollet took them back to his flat in Paris, where “Jacques” gave them identity cards. They stayed overnight with Nollet before moving to 44 rue Perronet in Neuilly-sur-Seine, where they were sheltered by Marie Monique Spiquel. On 26 January, Nollet took them by train to Coutras (Aquitaine), then a local line running east to Saubie (query), before walking them to the demarcation line at Saint-Martin-du-Gurson (where they stayed overnight with M et Mme Peyrefiche). A local guide took them across the demarcation line the following day, leading the three men through a series of vineyards before leaving them to continue walking south to Vélines, where they took a train to Bergerac. After a night at the Terminus Hotel, the airmen left Nollet at Bergerac while the elderly lady owner of the hotel took them by train to Toulouse.
After a meal at the Hotel de Paris, they were taken to the organisation headquarters where they met “Pat”. He told them that Toulouse was too dangerous, and a member of the organisation took them back to Bergerac, where they stayed for ten days with an unnamed woman member of the organisation. They were returned to Toulouse on 6 February, and after a night in Pat's flat, left the following evening by train for Ussat-les-Bains, where they joined a group, which included W/Cdr John Embling (1108) and Sgt Cyril Penna (1190), to cross the Pyrenees, arriving in Andorra on 11 February.
On 12 September 1943, Joseph Sansoucy, Phillip Whitnall, James Sparkes, Alan Sheppard and Charles Trott set off from Saint-Jean-de-Verges (Ariège) to cross the Pyrenees to Andorra.
Sgt Joseph Germoin Fabian Sansoucy RCAF (1451) from Quebec, was the 24-year-old flight engineer of 75 Sqn Stirling BK646 (Edwards), on the way to lay mines in the Gironde estuary on the night of 13-14 June 1943. They were hit by light flak over Les Sables-d'Olonne which damaged their tail unit, and after heading out to sea and jettisoning their three mines, they turned north. At about 0200 hrs, they were somewhere near Rennes in Brittany when they were attacked by a German night-fighter, and after the third attack, F/O John Lloyd Edwards (KIA) gave the order to abandon the aircraft.
Sansoucy walked through the night, and early next morning was somewhere near Retiers when he approached an elderly woman for some food. When she said she was going to fetch a gendarme, Sansoucy ran and hid in some fields, cut off his sergeant's stripes and opened up his aids box to out get a compass. The gendarme found him half an hour later, and as Sansoucy spoke fluent French, he had no trouble explaining who he was. The gendarme went and brought food and a map of the area but was unable to find him any civilian clothes. Sansoucy spent the next two days walking generally south-east, spending the night of 17 June on a farm at Saint-Julien-de-Vouvantes where the farmer gave him civilian clothes. Next day, Sansoucy reached the Loire near Ancenis where a man rowed him across the river in a small boat, and on through Beaupréau to spend a night in a field just north of Cholet. Next day, he carried on but on reaching Chatillon-sur-Sevre (now Mauléon), his knees could take no more, and at about five o'clock that evening, he used some of his escape money to take a bus to Echiré, about 6 kms north of Niort, where he spent the night in a barn. The following day was a Sunday, and with no buses running, he had to carry on walking, only getting as far as Celles-sur-Belle by about three o'clock that afternoon, where he finally stopped at a farmhouse, where Emile and Leonie Laurent sheltered him for the next six days while his onward journey was arranged.
Emile Laurent told Sansoucy that he could contact some smugglers who would get him into Spain for 6,000 francs. When Sansoucy rejected that idea, Emile said he might be able to contact an organisation that he had heard of second or third hand. On 26 June, an unnamed man took Sansoucy to Poitiers, and the following day, on to Chatellerault, where he met a friend of the Laurents, Pierre Personne (of 238 Avenue Limoges, Niort), previously a school teacher in Chatellerault until the school was occupied by the Germans. Personne used one of Sansoucy's RAF photographs on a new ID card before taking him to stay in a small house in the woods due west of the town at Scorbé-Clairvaux. Personne made regular visits to bring parcels of food until about 5 July, when he took Sansoucy back to Chatellerault, and on his unnamed helper's advise, Sansoucy cycled to Draché. He was to visit the local priest, abbé Henri Emmanuel Péan, who he was told had contacts with an organisation. The priest duly took Sansoucy the four kilometres to Sepmes, to be sheltered by the comtesse Marie Thérèse de Poix at the Chateau Roche-Ploquin until about the second or third week of August, when the comtesse went to Paris, and Sansoucy was returned to Draché. He spent the night there before being taken to Marcé-sur-Esves to be sheltered by Alphonse Cathelin, working with him on his farm, La Lanere. While Sansoucy was on the farm, the priest at Draché contacted Marie-Claire at Ruffec, and at about the beginning of September, she came to see him.
Towards the end of September, a young girl (Genevieve Favre, born in Egypt on 26 May 1923, and known as Ginette) took Sansoucy to Ruffec, where he met a naturalised French American that he names as De Havilland (and says accompanied him as far as Madrid), and the three of them were taken by lorry, about 30 miles SE of Ruffec, to the home of a friend of the young girl (presume Amand Dubreuille and his wife Amélie at Marvaud-Saint-Coutant). From there, they went by train to Limoges, where the girl left them, and Sansoucy and De Havilland went on to Toulouse, where they changed for Le Vernet. Marie-Claire had told them there was a control just beyond Le Vernet, so they got off there and walked across country to their rendezvous at Varilhes (Ariège), about half way between Pamiers and Foix.
At Varilhis, Sansoucy and De Havilland met the Spanish guide who was to take them across the mountains. They spent the night in a barn, and the following morning, were joined by Phillip Whitnall and James Sparkes.
Sgt Phillip Whitnall RCAF (1445) from Peterboro, Ontario, was the 23-year-old wireless operator of 196 Sqn Whitley BD534 (Wallis), an Army Co-operation Command aircraft on a bombing mission south of Mezidon (Calvados) on the evening of 17 April 1943. They were hit by flak over the target that set light to the incendiary bombs, and the pilot ordered his crew to bale out, leaving the aircraft to crash near Vendeuvre.
Whitnall landed in a field at about one-thirty in the morning (18 April), hurting his leg in the process. He managed to hide his parachute and Mae West in some bushes before making his way southwards until about five-thirty, when he settled down on the edge of a wood near Épaney. He was found there later in the day by an elderly man checking his rabbit snares, and Whitnall managed to convey the message that he was a hungry airman. The man went away but Whitnall didn't trust him, and moved to another hiding place as soon as he left. Whitnall set off again that evening, walking through the night until about 0300 hrs, when he hid in a shed, partly because of an approaching storm and partly because of his injured leg. At daylight, and suspecting that he was developing blood-poisoning, Whitnall approached a farmhouse at Pertheville-Ners, where the Legris family at Chene Sec took him in, and hid him in their barn.
Three or four days later, a niece of his hosts, Mlle Genevieve Lemoine (of 6 rue Emile Duclaux, Suresne), came from Paris. She spoke a little English, and said that she knew a man working in an espionage organisation. This man was “too busy” but Genevieve's mother knew another man who was connected to a French organisation who travelled regularly to Switzerland. Genevieve took photographs of Whitnall for an ID card, and whilst crossing the Swiss frontier, her mother's friend apparently met Maire-Claire, who said she would take care of him.
Whitnall stayed at Pertheville-Ners with the Legris family for three weeks until a young woman (Genevieve Favre) arrived with an ID card, a ration card and a doctor's certificate stating that Whitnall could not speak because he was recovering from a throat operation. This same woman then took him by train to Ruffec, where they were met by Marie-Claire, and then by bicycle to a farm, about 25 kms south-east of the Ruffec (presume Marvaud-Saint-Coutant with Amand and Amélie Dubreuille) . Whitnall says he was sheltered on the farm with an American civilian named Haviland, who had been a member of the US Ambulance Corps (note this part of the story is different from Sansoucy's account).
About four days later, the young woman returned to take Whitnall and Haviland to the main road where Marie-Claire and another woman were waiting with a truck. Haviland was dropped off at an unnamed railway station where Whitnall says that Haviland met Sgt Sansoucy, while Whitnall went on with Marie-Claire and the young woman back to Ruffec. Whitnall was lodged there at a hotel, and reports Sgt Trott arriving at the hotel at about two o'clock that morning, while Sgt Sparkes and Sgt Sheppard went to another house on the same road.
Sgt James Norman Sparkes (1446) from Liverpool, was the 24-year-old bomb aimer, and only survivor, of 101 Sqn Lancaster ED377 (Buck) which set off from Ludford Magnum in Lincolnshire on the night of 27 June 1943 to lay mines off La Rochelle. Returning from their target, they were attacked by a German fighter, and shot down about a mile east of Candé (Pays de la Loire), the aircraft exploding shortly after Sparkes baled out.
Sparkes landed safely in a field close to Candé, buried his parachute and Mae West but then not being able to find a road, settled down in a ditch until daylight. Once he could see where he was going, he set off south, following mainly secondary roads, and hiding from any traffic. He stopped at a farm, where he was given some food but no other help and so carried on his way until stopped by a policeman. Sparkes was burned around the face, and policeman told him to hide in a field while he fetched some ointment, Sparkes spending that night in another field, just outside the village of Villemoisan. The following day (29 June), Sparkes walked to Champtocé-sur-Loire where a girl told him to hide in a bush. She returned shortly afterwards with a man who told him to stay there until ten o'clock that evening but in the meantime, they met a tax inspector named André Bru, who was driving around in his car looking for survivors. He already had Sparkes description from the people in Champtocé, and he took Sparkes back to his house in Candé.
Sparkes stayed at Candé with André Bru and his wife, being visited by several people from Champtocé who were connected to the resistance, until 8 July, when two people, only identified as “ Noel and Mimi”, took him by car to Nantes, where he stayed for about a week. Sparkes says that he didn't know the name of his hosts, but that while he was in Nantes, he met Sgts Sheppard and Trott.
On about 13 July, Abel Blary (of La Varenne, Chauvigny) arrived to take him to Poitiers, where he was sheltered by at 22 rue Riffault by Mme Gabrielle Tritz. On 25 July, Sparkes was taken to Châtellerault, and spent the night in a garage “where Sheppard and Trott had already been”, and the next day, was taken by bicycle to a nearby village (La Haye-Descartes (now Descartes) and the Goupille family – query) where he was joined by Sheppard and Trott.
Sgt Alan Henry Sheppard (1447) from Ardingly in Sussex, was the 27-year-old wireless operator, and Sgt Charles Frank Trott (1448) from London SE6, the 18-year-old flight engineer of 115 Sqn Lancaster DS668 (Brown). On the evening of 19 June 1943, they took off from East Wretham in Norfolk to lay mines off La Rochelle. They were over the Loire on the return flight when they were attacked by a German fighter, which set the bomber on fire, and the crew were ordered to bale out at about 0130 hrs.
Sheppard landed in a field about 2 kms north of Champtocé-sur-Loire, and after hiding his parachute (but keeping his Mae West to use as a pillow) headed west to get away from the wreckage of his aircraft. He went about 3 kms before finding a hollow tree, in which he hid for the rest of the night. The following morning, Sheppard approached a farm where the owner gave him some food and directions towards Angers. Sheppard then spent the rest of day trying to see how he was going to cross the Loire. He eventually got down to the river, where he spoke to another man who took him back to his farm at Saint-Georges-sur-Loire. There, he met a Frenchman who said he had already met Sgt Trott and was trying to get them together. The man did not return but on 23 June, three young men took Sheppard to a house near Champtocé where Trott was being sheltered (by Ferdinand Guimard at Ingrandes).
Trott landed about 8 kms north of Champtocé, just missing a barn and landing on a pile of straw, where he was knocked out by the impact. When he came around, he heard dogs barking and so left his parachute and Mae West hanging on the barn and headed across the fields. He says that he covered about 8 kms but as he had hurt both ankles, decided to seek help in a village about 3 or 4 kms from Champtocé. The church was closed at that early hour so Trott went to the “cleanest looking house near the church” and asked the inhabitants for help. They took him to a large house north of the village, where he was fed and put to bed.
The following morning, a man who spoke a little English gave him directions for crossing the Loire, and following the main road, Trott walked into Champtocé just as people were going to church. Two girls spotted him as being English and took him to a place in the village where he was given a complete outfit of civilian clothes, and then hidden in a shed in a vineyard. A doctor attended to his injured ankles, and three days later, Trott was moved another house near Champtocé (at Ingrandes), where he met Sgt Sheppard. The two airmen were hidden in a barn in the corner of a vineyard until 26 June when they were taken by car to a garage on the road to Nantes. They stayed there overnight (26-27 June) before being taken into Nantes and handed over to an organisation.
On 3 January 1942, Sgt Arnold John Mott (607), the pilot of 78 Sqn Whitley P4950, shot down by flak over Brittany on the night of 28-29 December, was brought to Nantes where he was sheltered until 26 September, much of the time with Adrien Jules Delavigne and his wife Tantine at 6 rue Amiral Courbet.
At one o'clock on the morning of 5 March 1942, Adrien Delavigne and his wife were arrested by the Gestapo. Adrien was taken to the civilian prison Lafayette in Nantes, and his wife to a German military prison on rue des Rochettes. On 9 March, they were sent to Bordeaux and held at the Fort du Hâ. The Gestapo in Paris also arrested their nephew, Maurice Cybulski, a student at the Sorbonne, and after three weeks at Cherche-Midi prison, he was also sent to the Fort du Hâ. They were tried by a German military tribunal on 27 July, before being released through a lack of evidence.
On 28 June 1943, Ferdinand Guimard, a student of the College Lacquidy in Nantes, and friend of their nephew Maurice Cybulski, came to the Delavigne home to say that he was sheltering two airmen, Frank Trott and Allan Sheppard, in his home at Ingrandes. Ferdinand wanted the Delavigne's help to try and pass the two airmen onto an escape line, and Trott and Sheppard were duly brought to 6 rue Amiral Courbet.
On 13 July, Trott and Sheppard were taken to Poitiers (travelling separately from Sparkes, who probably left Nantes the day before), where they were sheltered by Mme Clothilde Blanc (born August 1889) at 32 rue de la Marne – she was head of the local organisation of which Gabrielle Tritz was also a member. According to Sparkes report, Trott and Sheppard were also taken to Châtellerault before rejoining Sparkes “at a nearby village”, and then travelling together to Ruffec, Trott going to the hotel where Whitnall was staying overnight, and Sheppard and Sparkes to “a house on the same road”.
At about 0500 next morning, a Frenchman drove Whitnall, Trott, Sheppard and Sparkes, along with Marie-Claire and a police officer in plain clothes (probably gendarme Jean Peyraud), to Toulouse and then Varilhes (south of Pamiers), where they joined Sansoucy and Haviland, and Marie-Claire handed them over to a Spaniard. They stayed in a shed until daylight, and the following day hidden beside a river before setting off that night. The Spaniard led them about 2 kms before taking all their money and passing them on a Frenchman. The Frenchman took them another 5 kms to a farm at Saint-Jean-de-Verges, where they stayed for the next two nights, and on the third night (12 September), they were joined by a party of about 20 French civilians, and set off for the mountains.
The French guide took them to a point just short of the frontier, where he passed the airmen over to two guides from Andorra before leaving with the French civilians. The airmen crossed into Andorra, along with a Polish family and two Polish soldiers, on the morning of 17 September, and walked to a village NW of the town of Andorra. They went to a farm, where they met a Spanish organisation member called Carlos, who took them by car to Sant Julia de Loria where they stayed in a hotel overnight. The following night, they crossed into Spain, to be collected from Seo de Urgel (la Seu d'Urgell) by car and driven to the British Consulate in Barcelona. After three days in Barcelona, and two days in Madrid, they reached Gibraltar on 1 October. Whitnall, Sparkes, Sheppard, Trott and Sansoucy left Gibraltar on 4 October 1943 by overnight flight to Whitchurch.
On 25 October 1943, Stanley Philo, Piotr Bakalarski, Witold Raginis and Frederick Williamson set off from Luzenac (Ariège) to cross the Pyrenees to Andorra.
Sgt Stanley James Verse Philo (1580) from Barking in Essex, was the 22-year-old bomb-aimer 49 Sqn Lancaster LM337 (Gospel). They were returning from Milan in the early morning of 16 August 1943 when they were hit by flak, probably over Chartres, which set the aircraft on fire, and the order was given to bale out.
Philo landed in a field a few miles NW of Verneuil-sur-Avre, about 25 miles west of Dreux. He was uninjured but had lost one of his flying boots. He tore up his parachute, using some pieces to protect his foot, before burying it and his Mae west under some shrubs in a small wood. He then headed generally south-west, and at about five o'clock that morning, hid in a hedge on the edge of a field in order to avoid some French people going to work. He later approached a woman who had come tend to the cattle in the field but she seemed unable to understand him. However, later in the day, the woman's husband arrived. He spoke to Philo briefly in his limited English before fetching him some food and drink. That evening, he brought more food, and a pair of wooden shoes, for which Philo exchanged his white woollen sweater. Philo left the man at about eleven o'clock that evening and set off walking south. He went across country until reaching a small village east of Senoches, where he approached a farmhouse and was sheltered in a hayloft. At midday, Mme Helleux took Philo back to her house in Senoches, where he was sheltered by the Helleux family for the next five days. Neither they nor their friends knew of any organisation but they provided Philo with an identity card, to which he attached one of his own photographs.
On 23 August, Philo was taken by bicycle to a wood south of Champrond-en-Gâtine, where he was left with enough food for five days. Once his helpers had left, Philo continued walking, using the two maps he had been given, together with the one from his escape kit, to pass through Chassant, Dampierre-sous-Brou, Unverre and Châtillon-en-Dunois to spend the night in a hayloft on a farm east of Lanneray. On 24 August, he continued on through Cloyes-sur-le-Loire, Lisle and Selommes to Le Breuil, where he spent the night in a deserted shack by the railway.
On 25 August, he reached Blois, entering the village “by mistake” where two gendarmes examined his identity card, and noted his details without comment. He then headed towards Orleans before branching off to La-Chassée-Saint-Victor, where he was given another map, and advised to cross the Loire by an unguarded railway bridge, and then follow the railway towards Romorantin. He followed the line, passing through Mont-près-Chambord before spending the night in “some new-mown hay”. Next day he passed through Cour-Cheverny, Contres and Saint-Aignan to an isolated farmhouse at the southern edge of the Foret de Brouard, where he was given food and allowed to spend the night. Next morning (27 Aug), he walked through Nouans-les-Fontaines, Villedômain and Chattillon-sur-Indre to a point about 5 kms north of Azay-le-Ferron, where he asked at a farmhouse for shelter. He was directed to the Chateau de la Boussée, just outside Azay, the home of Maurice Genichon.
Maurice Genichon sent for his friend, René Delacroix, the postmaster at Azay (who Philo says was in the resistance), who arrived with Mrs Shield, wife of an American. She explained that the resistance would help him but he must stay at the chateau, which Philo (who had covered some 250 kms since leaving Champrond and had badly blistered feet from walking in the wooden shoes) did for the next seven weeks
On 18 October, a woman (no name) took Philo by van to a farm near Chaumussay, from where the farmer took him by cart into a town (probably Chaumussay), and a man who was probably a schoolteacher. The man himself was ill in bed but a friend then took Philo by lorry to Dangé-Saint-Romain, and the home of the local abbé. That same day, a friend of the abbé took Philo to the railway station at Dangé, and went with him by train as far as Châtellerault. The abbé himself had joined them at Ingrandes (north of Châtellerault, not to be confused with Ingrandes, Maine-et-Loire), and he went with Philo to Poitiers. From Potiers, they took the Bordeaux express train (on which there was no control) to Ruffec.
Philo says that he arrived at Ruffec on 20 October, and was taken to the Hotel de France where Marie-Claire was staying. She got him some new clothes and shoes as well as a new identity card and work certificate.
On 23 October, Philo left Ruffec with Sgt Bakalarski, travelling via Limoges and Toulouse (where Marie-Claire confirmed their identity cards were still valid) to Pamiers, where they rejoined another Pole, Sgt Raginis, who had left Ruffec the day before them, and travelled via Bordeaux. On 24 October, they left Pamiers for Luzenac, having no problem with their ID cards when checked between Foix and Luzenac, and from Luzenac, walked to cave where they joined a party for crossing the Pyrenees.
Sgt Piotr Bakalarski (1570) was the 29-year-old pilot of 300 (Polish) Sqn Wellington Z1270 returning from Hamburg in the early hours of 28 July 1942 when they were attacked by a German night-fighter. With all the crew except Bakalarski injured, the instruments shot away and petrol leaking, it was obvious they couldn't reach England. Bakalarski turned for Sweden but had to make a forced landing on a beach north of the Elbe Estuary, where the four surviving crew were captured and sent to Germany.
On 7 August 1942, Bakalarski arrived at Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf) in Upper Silesia, and a month later, made his first of several attempts to escape. One the evening of 7 September, eight men left the camp in two separate groups, Bakalarski teaming up with a Canadian navigator, Sgt Kenneth Hyde, only to be recaptured three days later. After enduring the “reprisals” being imposed on the main camp in November (following alleged ill-treatment of German prisoners after the Dieppe raid), in March 1943, Bakalarski was transferred to another compound. There, he exchanged identities with a Palestinian private in the AMPC named Moritz Leder, and volunteered to go out on work parties (something that aircrew were not permitted to do). Finding escape from there almost impossible, he then asked to be transferred to the Leopoldsgrube coal mine at Jaworzno. At Jaworzno, he met another Polish airman, Witold Raginis, and made contact with members of a Polish civilian organisation who agreed to help them to escape.
Bakalarski made his first escape from the mine in the early hours of 10 June 1943, only to be recaptured two days later, and his second on 10 July. He was helped by the Polish organisation, and on about 25 or 26 July, taken to Cracow, where he rejoined his friend Reginis.
Sgt Witold Raginis (1589), who gives his private address as Montluçon in France (where he had lived from the age of four until leaving in 1941 to come to England), was the 18-year-old year-old rear gunner of 305 (Polish) Sqn Wellington Z1471 (Borowski) which took off from Hemswell in Lincolnshire on 20 August 1942 to lay mines off Brest. They were at very low altitude near the target when they were hit by flak, and ditched into the sea about five miles off-shore.
Second pilot, Sgt Barszcz, was the only man injured, and they all got safely into their dinghy, where they spent the rest of the night until being picked up by a French fishing boat at about six o'clock that morning. They asked the fishermen to take them to Spain but they said they were being watched from the shore and took the crew to a small fishing port near Brest, where they were taken prisoner by German soldiers.
Reginis was sent to Lamsdorf, spending six months in the main camp, much of the time in chains, before changing identities with an AMPC private named Edward Lehem. Reginis (as Lehem) spent three months on a work party at Tarnowitz, working on the railway but on finding escape from there almost impossible, asked to be transferred to the coal mine instead – his logic being that they would less supervised working underground, and he would be able contact Polish civilians who might help him escape. It was at Tarnowitz that Reginis says he first met Piotr Bakalarski, along with two Canadians (one RAF and one captured at Dieppe) and two British RAF, all of whom had also exchanged identities with men who remained at the main Stalag VIIIB.
In May, they were transferred to the Dachsgrube mine at Jaworzno, Reginis working for the first month with Polish civilians who eventually contacted a man in a Polish organisation. In the second week of June, they learned they were due to be transferred to Beuthen (query), and at 0100 hrs on 11 June (Bakalarski says 10 June), first Bakalarski and then Reginis went out through a hole in the wire they had cut earlier.
Two Polish partisans were waiting for them but so were some Germans. Bakalarski and his guide came under fire (see earlier) but Reginis escaped the Germans' attention and his (unnamed) guide took him to a nearby farm. A few days later, Reginis was dressed in the uniform of an assistant railway engine driver, and taken across the Polish border to Cracow, where he was joined a month later by Bakalarski.
On 19 August, Reginis and Bakalarski left Cracow by train via Berlin and Saarbrucken to Sarrebourg (Lorraine), where they reported to the Arbeitsant (work camp), and their employment was officially confirmed. They were billeted in a woman's camp with about 150 Polish and Russian women who worked on the railway – other Polish men were employed on local farms. They wanted to cross directly into France but were told that the frontier was closely guarded. However, a Polish girl in the camp knew one of the railway workers, who knew another railway worker. Once it was established that the two airmen had been helped to escape from Germany by a Polish organisation, a French organisation in Lorraine agreed to help them.
Early on the morning of 14 September, Bakalarski and Reginis left Sarrebourg with a railway worker who lived near the frontier. He took them by train to a station (probably Hertzing), and then to a farm, from where they cycled to Foulcrey, close to the frontier. The railway man left them with directions on how to cross the frontier, which they did while the German guard was changing, and walked to Igney. They failed to find their expected contact, and so went to a farm, where they were sheltered in a stable overnight. They waited to see if their contact would arrive but then, on the advice of the farmer, made their way to the gendarmerie in Lunéville and asked the Captain there for help.
Arriving in Lunéville on 15 September, and declaring themselves as escaped PWs, they were held in the cells for two days while their identities were checked, the gendarmes sending a telegram to Montluçon, where Reginis parents lived. A favourable reply was received two days later, and the two airmen were taken to stay with one of the gendarmes. On 21 September, a gendarme took them, along with two French workers who had also escaped from Germany, to Nancy, travelling “under arrest” with an escort to avoid them being stopped by the Germans.
In Nancy, they went to the Secours pour les Refugees, an organisation that Reginis says were working for the Alsatians. They were given false identity papers, and sent next day (22 Sept), along with the two French escapers, to Mme Laroche in Lyon – this was the comtesse Pauline Barré de Saint-Venant, who was using the alias “Mme Alice Laroche”. She put them up for the night at the “Hotel Claridge”, where she was staying, and next day, contacted Maurice, son of Mary-Claire (she was then in Switzerland). Maurice noted their details before taking them to 1 rue du Plat, home of the chief engineer of the Cie des Grandes Travaux de Marseilles, a man named Michel. A few days later, they were moved to a chateau near Lyon to stay with a man named Devilland (query), but soon returned to rue du Plat for another few days. While they were staying in Lyon, Raginis also took the opportunity to visit Montluçon, where he spent two days with his family.
On 4 October, Genevieve Favre, described by Raginis as “a young woman in the British organisation”, took them to Ruffec. They met Marie-Claire at the Hotel de France before being sheltered for about a week by Pierre Cottu (of rue de Canray) who worked for the Cie de Gas et Electricite de Ruffec.
On 22 October, Raginis and “a New Zealand soldier, Geoffrey Marston”, were sent via Bordeaux to Toulouse, the two men taking that more controlled route (they passed through two checks on the way) because they both spoke French. In Toulouse, they met a Spanish guide, José Rodriguez, who lived in Urs (Ariège), who took them to Pamiers, where they waited overnight for Bakalarski and Philo to join them. Next day, Rodriguez took the four men (and Marie-Claire – query) by train to Luzenac, from where they walked to Urs, to stay overnight, Philo says in a cave.
Next morning, Rodriguez brought a French guide to take them over the frontier, and Marie-Claire (who had already paid out 1,000 francs for each of them) gave them another 2,000 francs each to give to the guide when they reached the frontier.
“On 25 Oct I began the crossing of the Pyrenees in a party consisting of Sgt Bakalarski (1570) Sgt Raginis (who had been Bakalarski's companion in his escape from Poland), Dvr Geoffrey Marston (?), New Zealand Forces, myself and two guides. I gathered from Marston that he had been a driver in Crete with the NZEF and that two days before the fall of Crete, he had been transferred to Intelligence work for the interrogation of P/W on account of his knowledge of Italian and German. He also told me that he had lived in New Zealand for only about ten years, and that he would have been 39 on or about 27 October. I understand that he had escaped from Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf) on 19 Sep with an Australian Flight-Lieutenant, whom I had also met in France.
After we had been walking an hour and a half one of the two guides left us, his task apparently to see us through the German frontier patrols. At the beginning we could keep pace with the remaining guide, but as the slopes got steeper and the snow deeper, Marston started to drag behind, saying that his legs would not move any quicker on the steep slopes. We took turns of helping him along. Before midday we rested for about three-quarters of an hour for food and drink, and light a fire.
When we started again, Marston was able to keep up for a bit because we were on fairly level ground. As we began to descend, and later to climb, he began to drag again. The going got very bad, and the guide (nationality unknown) got furious with Marston, who said he could go no faster. Raginis and I supported Marston on either side and dragged him along. Later Bakalarski, whose legs were also giving trouble, took over from Raginis. Marston however wanted frequent rests.
About 1600 hrs, the guide suggested that Raginis and himself should go ahead, promising to take Reginis as far as the Andorran frontier. From there Raginis was to go and try to bring back help. We were to follow in their footsteps.
Marston now had almost to be carried by Bakalarski, who had bad rheumatism, and myself; and I also was not very fit. About 1800 hrs there was no appearance of life in Marston and we left him in the shelter of some rocks.
Bakalarski and I carried on. We followed the footprints for a bit and then lost them at dark and tried to carry on by my compass. We got on to a stretch of loose rocks in a valley, which it took a long time to cross. Both my shoes came off when my foot caught in the rocks. Finally we got to a stretch where the going was easier. I sat down and dozed off but Bakalarski revived me by pummelling me and put on my shoes. My legs and hands were frostbitten.
We carried on, and on the morning of 26 Oct we came to a lake which the guide had mentioned to us, on top of a mountain on the frontier. We walked all that day. At night, when I was nearly exhausted, we reached a farmhouse where we got food and shelter in a loft.
Next day (27 Oct) we were taken to the town of Andorra where I was put in hospital. I was in hospital till 2 Nov. The remaining part of my journey was arranged for me.” (SPG 1580 Philo)
Piotr Bakalarski left Gibraltar on 10 November 1943 by overnight flight to Whitchurch, and Stanley Philo by overnight flight to Lyneham on 15 November.
Bakalarski's account of the crossing more or less agrees with Philo's, and Raginis confirms them both up to the point when he left with the unnamed French guide to try and get help. He says that as he was the strongest of the four escapers, the only solution seemed to be for him and the guide to go on in the hope of getting help. The rest of the group agreed, and the guide said he would take him a certain way, and then show him the route into Andorra.
The guide took him as far as one of the Etangs de Fontargente, about five miles NW of L'Hospitalet, and before leaving, Reginis says the guide directed him along the north side of the lake.
Reginis kept on walking until he got into a valley, saying that the going was very hard in the deep snow. When it got dark, he found it impossible to continue over the rocks and snow, and slept the night in the snow. In the morning (26 Oct) he continued on his way, and after five hours, saw a small hut with smoke rising from the chimney. He thought he was in Andorra but for some reason which he couldn't later explain, decided to watch the door of the hut before approaching. After about 15 minutes, he saw two German soldiers come from the hut to wash their dishes, and realised that he was still in France - the guide had directed him along the wrong side of the lake, he should have followed the eastern shore and gone south.
Reginis was too tired to return to the the col at Fontargente and pick up the route to Andorra again, and so worked his way around the hut and downhill. He then followed the valley of the river Aston, walking for two hours until reaching a road making party of Spaniards and Frenchmen at work beside the river. Reginis went to their hut and told them he was a Frenchman who had just crossed the Zone Interdite Sud. He stayed in the hut for three nights and three days as his feet and hands were swollen with frostbite.
When he was recovered sufficiently, the workmen gave him some bread and sardines and cigarettes, and he walked down to the outskirts of Aston. He stayed in the woods for about a week observing the roads on which German patrols passed at regular intervals before following the road into Aston. When he joined the Tarascon-Ax-les-Thermes route nationale, he stole an unattended bicycle and cycled to Urs, where he knew the Spanish guide, José Rodriguez, lived. Reginis told the guide what had happened, and also wrote a letter to Marie-Claire, as she had organised the original crossing. Rodriguez took Reginis by train to Mérens-les-Vals, south of Ax-les-Thermes, and told him to follow the road (keeping to the fields and hills all the way) towards the frontier.
Reginis began his second journey to the frontier on 3 or 4 November, walking all day until he reached L'Hospitalet. He started climbing that night, and eventually arrived in Andorra about 8 km south-east of Soldeu, the crossing having taken him about 5 hours.
Having confirmed from a man on the road that he was actually in Andorra, Reginis waited in a wood beside the road for three hours before following the road into Escaldes. He asked if there was a British representative of the British Consul in Andorra, and was taken to a man called Dominique, a representative of the Consulate General in Barcelona. Dominique took him to a lady in a hotel who told him about the death of the man he knew as Marston, and Reginis stayed at the hotel while the lady went to Seo de Urgel (la Seu d'Urgell) in Spain. She arranged for him to be sent to Seo and join a party of evaders, which included F/O Swida (1584), and after a week spent in a pension, Raginis was taken by car to the British Consulate in Barcelona. Witold Reginis left Gibraltar by overnight flight to Whitchurch on 29 November 1943.
On 17 November 1943, Michael Cooper, Leonard Martin, Harry Smith, Ralph Palm and Allan McSweyn set off from Oloron-Sainte-Marie (Pyrenees-Atlantiques) to cross the Pyrenees to Spain.
F/O Michael Hadley Frederick Cooper (1635), who gives his private address as Elburgon in Kenya, was the 21-year-old pilot of 616 Sqn Spitfire BR987, and on 16 August 1943, he took off from Ibsley in Hampshire to escort some bombers to a point south of Namur. On the way out however, he developed engine trouble and was forced to bale out, landing in a tree near Saint-Pierre-des-Ifs (south-west of Lisieux) at about noon.
Having to leave his parachute caught in the tree, Cooper was making his way towards a wood when he was stopped by a teenage boy who introduced him to two men. They took him to a shack in the fields and gave him some overalls. Cooper spent that night in the shack before “going to work in the fields” next morning but that evening, saw several German soldiers approaching the shack, and decided it was time to move on. He walked south for the next three days, passing through Saint-Germain-de-Livet (where a woman gave him food and a drink) to Bellou (Calvados), where a man offered him shelter.
Cooper doesn't say who sheltered him at Bellou but on about 24 August, he was visited by Alphonse Bordeaux (who Cooper says lived at Coursan although IS9 (and Smith) say Bonneville), member of a de Gaullist organisation who promised to help him. On 20 September, Bordeaux returned to take Cooper in a trap to Fervaques, where they picked up Len Martin.
Sgt Leonard Frank Martin RCAF (1704) from Winnipeg, was the 22-year-old flight engineer of 419 Sqn Halifax LW240 (Quaile) which took off from Middleton St George in Durham on the evening of 16 September 1943, bound for the railway yards at Modane (Savoie). After successfully hitting their target, they were on their way back when they were attacked by two Ju-88s, and at about 0200 hrs on 17 September, the order was given to bale out.
Martin came down in a forest just north-east of Fervaques (now Livarot-Pays-d'Auge) (Calvados), hanging about 30 feet off the ground with his parachute caught in a poplar tree. After about half an hour, Martin freed himself to fall to the ground, knocking himself out when he did so. However, he was otherwise uninjured, and on recovering, pulled his parachute down and hid it and his Mae West in a hole, and covered them with branches. He was at the edge of the wood but when he tried climbing over a wire fence into a field he was chased by a bull and hurriedly returned to the wood. He then walked along the edge of the wood, crossed over a road and swam across a narrow river in order to climb a hill and have a good look around. As he found the fields to the west looked wet and muddy, which would make walking at night difficult, particularly as he had lost one of his boots when baling out, he therefore came back down the hill, crossed the river again and used his escape kit compass to head south. He walked until about 0700 hrs when he reached the village Fervaques, circling the village and continuing south for another mile before turning off to rest in a field. Unfortunately it then started to rain, and being already wet from his two river crossings, he approached a house, where he was taken in and put in contact with an organisation.
That same day (17 Sep), Martin was taken to a large chateau about a mile west of Fervaques where he met Helene, a daughter of the Countess of Montgomery, her husband Charles, and a neighbour called Robert. After convincing Charles and Helene of his identity by talking about Canada and England, he was given blankets and a week's supply of food and wine, and taken to a dug-out in the woods where he suspected Charles and Robert would hide from German labour conscription. The following morning, Robert came and told him he would be leaving that night, and he was taken to live in a barn behind the chateau, with food and cigarettes being brought from the chateau. After about four days in the barn, Martin was moved into the chateau itself, where he stayed for about a week.
A man came to the chateau and took Martin's details, which he said would be sent to London, and three days later, brought a horse-drawn carriage with F/O Michael Cooper already on board.
Martin and Cooper were driven to Lisieux where they were photographed in a café before continuing for another four kilometres to a house in a wood (Cooper describes it as a farm) opposite a large chateau which was being used as a German headquarters. Their identities were checked again before being given new identity cards (signed by the local chief of police saying they were deaf and dumb). On the third day, a man called D'Arcy took them to Bonneville-sur-Touques, where they joined Harry Smith.
F/O Harry Frederick Ernest Smith RCAF (1636) from Toronto, was the 24-year-old mid-upper gunner of 419 Sqn Halifax LW240 (Quaile), the same aircraft as Len Martin. Smith landed somewhere south of Lisieux, and after hiding his parachute and insulated Irvin Suit, spent the rest of the night in a gully. Next morning, Smith declared himself to a teenage boy, who took him back to his house and gave him a meal. Smith was given shoes and a raincoat, and allowed to hide in the loft for the rest of the day. That night, the boy took him to the main road leading to Lisieux, and pointed to a house with a light where he told Smith that he would receive help.
Smith was given a meal and shelter for the night at the house but the following morning was told that he must move on. He walked to the outskirts of Lisieux but on finding it “full of Germans” was about to turn back when he met a another boy who promised to help him. Smith was hidden in a barn for the night, and the following day, the boy and a Polish friend took him to another barn, where he stayed for another two nights. On 21 September, Smith was given civilian clothes, taken to the station and given a rail ticket to Honfleur. He was told that he would be met at Honfleur by a guide but he failed to appear, and Smith decided to move on. He tried to get back to his friends but took a wrong turn out of town, and being by then very hungry and thirsty, he went to a cabinet-maker's shop and asked for help. Smith was taken in and given a meal, along with a bed for the night.
The following day, a woman arrived who spoke some English, and she told Smith that she would contact a man who could help him. The man arrived shortly afterwards and asked for Smith's identity card. Later that same day (22 Sep), the man returned with a bicycle that he said was stolen from the Germans, and cycled with Smith through Lisieux to his house, north of the town. Next day, carrying shovels, the man took Smith through the woods to a farm where Smith was sheltered for the next two nights, and provided with a French identity card.
On 25 September, a man called D'Arcy took Smith in his van back to his home in Deauville at 15 rue de l'Avenir. While he was being sheltered in Deauville, Smith reports three gendarmes coming to visit and being extremely kind to him. After three days at Deauville, Smith was moved to Bonneville-sur-Touques, where he was sheltered by Alphonse Bordeaux, being joined there the following day by his flight engineer Len Martin and Spitfire pilot Michael Cooper.
Alphonse Bordeaux and his wife were members of a de Gaullist organisation, and one day Alphonse told Martin that a friend of his had been tortured by the Gestapo who had got wind of the fact that an English airman had been staying at his (Bordeaux 's) house. Bordeaux continued to keep the three airmen for some time but finally (on 11 October) they were moved to Pont-l'Eveque, where Cooper was sheltered overnight with another de Gaullist, cycle merchant Fernand Coudrey and family at 17 rue Georges Clemonceau, and Smith and Martin with their son André.
Next day, they were moved to a forest outside Pont-l'Eveque, where they lived for four days in a deserted house belonging to a friend of Fernand Coudray. Fernand stayed with them for the first two nights but on the third day, he was arrested as a de Gaullist, and for their last day, friends of his brought the airmen tea and milk, and they cooked vegetables from the garden of the house.
There was a continual feud between the de Gaullists and D'Arcy's organisation as to who should look after the airmen, and next morning (14 Oct), D'Arcy arrived early to take them to Villers-sur-Mer (Martin says this move was made without Alphonse Bordeaux's knowledge). They stayed at the Café Place in Villers for two days until a man calling himself “Father Xmas” came from Paris and took them to the railway station (where the station master was very co-operative) and on by train to the capital.
They spent that night (17 Oct) at a hotel, and next day, Smith and Martin were moved to the Café Descartes (no location) where they met a man called Philip who claimed to be in the British Intelligence Service, and many members of the organisation. Meanwhile, Cooper stayed with Charles and Charlotte Barthelemi at 26 avenue Parmentier, La Varenne Saint-Hilaire (now Saint-Maur-des-Fossés) for the next twelve days.
On about 30 October, a woman took them to the railway station and handed them over to Genevieve Favre (described by Martin as aged about 20 but looked about 12), who gave them new identity cards and took them to Ruffec. In Ruffec, they met Marie-Claire , who again checked their identities, and took anything that might identify them as English, as well as the contents of their escape purses. Smith, Cooper and Martin stayed with her at the Hotel de France in Ruffec for about two weeks, joining Allan McSweyn, and meeting Ralph Palm, who arrived a few days later.
P/O Allan F McSweyn RAAF (1629) from Rockdale, New South Wales in Australia, was the 22-year-old pilot of 115 Sqn Wellington R1509 when he and his crew were shot down near Bremen on the night of 29-30 June 1941. Rear-gunner, Sgt James Vivian Gill RAFVR, died of his injuries, and the rest of the six-man crew were sent to POW camps.
On 19 September 1943, McSweyn escaped from Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf) along with 38-year-old New Zealander, Dvr Frederick Geoffrey Williamson. The escape committee at Lamsdorf chose the rather reluctant Williamson to accompany McSweyn because he spoke fluent German and had experience of German railways from before the war.
On 24 September, McSweyn and Williamson (who was travelling under the name of Geoffrey Marsden) arrived in Lunéville, about 25 kms SE of Nancy – they were accompanied by Georges Monclard, originally from Marseille, who had brought them from a French work camp at Forbach in Germany, and arranged a guide to take them across the frontier. He also contacted Pierre Baunet, the manager of a spinning mill in Lunéville, who sheltered them for four days, and put them in contact with the town's de Gaullist Chief of Police. The police chief came to see them on 29 September, and next day, they were taken in handcuffs to the police station, and escorted by gendarmes to Nancy. At Nancy, they were released from their handcuffs and taken to a restaurant where they were given identity cards saying they were Frenchmen from Nantes who had been bombed out of the homes, and that McSweyn was deaf and dumb. They stayed at the de Gaullist-run restaurant until 4 October, when Georges Monclard and “Pierre Le Blanc” took McSweyn and Williamson to Lyon. McSweyn says were supposed to meet Mme Marie Odele Laroche but she was not there, and while they were waiting for her, were taken to Constant Toussaint at 39 avenue Creuzet, where they stayed for three days until “taken over” by Marie-Claire's son Maurice.
“Mme Marie Odele (sic) Laroche” was Pauline Barré de Saint-Venant, who was using the name “Mme Alice Laroche”. Born Pauline Gabrielle Gaillard on 9 April 1895, she married Henri Barré de Saint Venant in 1928. IS9 has Mme la comtesse Marie-Odile de Saint-Venant. She is perhaps better known simply as "Marie-Odile".
On 8 October, McSweyn and Williamson left Lyon for Ruffec, where they were met by Marie-Claire, and the two escapers stayed with her for five days. The plan was for them to cross into Spain from Andorra but at about that time, McSweyn reports that Andorra was made into a “defence zone” which needed special passes to enter, and Marie-Claire didn't yet have the rubber stamp for that. However, on 20 October, their papers were ready, and Williamson (still using the name Marsden), along with RAF Sgts Philo, Bakalarski and Raginis, were sent on. At the end of another week, Michael Cooper, Harry Smith, Len Martin and Ralph Palm arrived, and four or five days later their papers were ready.
Capt Ralph Buckley Palm SAAF (1628), a mechanical engineer from South Africa, was the 26-year-old pilot of 94 Sqn Hurricane, on a ground strafing operation “behind Tobruk” on 29 November 1941 when he was shot down by enemy fighters. Palm baled out and landed about 80 miles west of El Adem. He had been shot through the hip but managed to evade the first group of Italians who found his parachute but on the third day, after only walking at night, he approached some Allied trucks only to find Italian troops in captured vehicles, and he was “rounded up”.
Palm was sent to a series of Italian prison camps, from where he made multiple escape attempts, until the Italian armistice, when he and many others, were sent to Stalag VIIA (Moosburg) in southern Bavaria, arriving there on 19 September 1943. Four days later, (on 23 Sept), Palm and Captain George Tsoucas, a French-speaking Greek SBS officer, escaped from Moosburg.
They made their to Munich, where they had been told to go to a certain café and ask for a certain Frenchman. This man arranged accommodation for them in a barracks for French workers, where they were placed on the work roll, until 23 October, when another Frenchman hid them in some beer barrels that he was loading onto a train bound for Strasburg. They arrived at Strasburg in the early hours of 27 October, and from there they walked until reaching the village of Emberménil, where they knew from their map (and confirmed by seeing a Michelin advertisement), that they were in France.
“The first contact we [Palm and Tsoucas] had in France was at a farm at Marainviller (east of Lunéville), where we were given food and shelter. The people here told us how to get in touch with the “Maison des Prisonniers” in Lunéville. The woman concierge there handed us over to the captain of the gendarmerie, who put us up, had photographs taken, and gave us identity cards.
On 3 Nov 43, the gendarme himself took us to Nancy and handed us over to a Mme Laroche. We stayed in Nancy two days, and on 5 Nov she took us by train to Paris.
We left on 7 Nov with Mme Laroche for Ruffec, where we were handed over to Mme Marie Claire. She took us down to Foix with the intention of getting us to Andorra. We were told there that this route was too dangerous, and were taken back to Ruffec on about 13 Nov. We stayed here till 16 Nov, when we [but not Tsoucas] were taken to Pau. From Pau we continued by bus to a small place, and crossed the Pyrenees on foot. We were arrested by the Spanish frontier guards at Isaba and taken to Pamplona ..” (SPG 1628 Palm)
Capt George Tsoucas (1886), a 44-year-old Greek national, was living in Egypt in December 1940 when he enlisted in the British Army. On 16 September 1942, he was serving with the Intelligence Corps, attached to the Special Boat Section MEF when he was captured during an operation to Rhodes. He made numerous escape attempts from prison camps in Greece and Italy until the Armistice when, like Palm, he was transferred to Moosburg. He gives a more detailed account (with slightly different dates) of his and Palm's story from Nancy until their return to Ruffec from Foix.
“On 28 Oct the captain of the Gendarmerie travelled with us [Tsoucas and Palm] to Nancy, where he took us to a café in rue Sainte-Catherine owned by Mme Salzace. Here we were interrogated by man from an organisation who also inspected our identity cards. He said that Mme Laroche would come for us later. She did not however come, and at 2200 hrs, the daughter of Mme Salzace (Mme Renée Havouis) [of 26 bis rue Sainte-Catherine] took us to her flat next door to the café.
Mme Laroche came on 30 Oct and wanted to take us immediately to Paris but could not do so as we did not have good enough civilian clothes. We left on the night of 1 Nov. Mme Laroche travelled with us. In Paris we went to the Hotel Paris Centre, the owner of which knew about the activities of Mme Laroche. We accompanied Mme Laroche during the day while she got in touch with several people, and spent the night at another small hotel.
On 3 Nov Mme Laroche took us to Ruffec to meet Marie Claire. I got a very bad impression of Marie Claire 's organisation. The whole village know all about her and her private car and the trucks which she hired, and she was very indiscreet in talking English to escapers and evaders in the hotel. We were in Ruffec till 6 Nov, living in the Hotel de Paris, where Marie Claire was staying. Marie Claire and Mme Laroche had a terrific row during this time, as Mme Laroche resented the insulting way in which Marie Claire spoke to the French people. They quarrelled so violently that I had to separate them in the hotel.
On 7 Nov, Palm, F/Lt McSweyn (1629), two Canadians [Smith and Martin], an Australian [he means Cooper], a French officer and myself set off with Marie Claire, Mme Laroche and a French girl driver in a truck which was to take us from Ruffec to a small station on the Paris-Toulouse line. A wheel of the truck came off on the way, and Marie Claire hired another truck which took us to a small town. We then went from this town to Toulouse on 8 Nov. In the afternoon we went by train to Foix, arriving at about 2100 hrs. At the station we were met by a priest (Blanchebarbe). He said we would have to return to Toulouse next day as his organisation had been discovered by the Germans and he could not get us through. We spent the night in Foix and next day (9 Nov) returned to Ruffec via Toulouse. Marie Claire returned alone from Toulouse by the fastest train.
When we reassembled in Ruffec there was another row between Marie Claire and Mme Laroche. The hotel owner was sick of us by this time, and we heard from the Gendarmerie that they had been ordered by the Gestapo to keep an eye on the hotel. Marie Claire said she would take us to Pau, but only four at a time. She said she had orders that airmen, even NCOs, had to have priority over Army personnel. Accordingly, Palm, McSweyn, and two Canadian pilots [and Cooper] left in the first party. I was to have gone with the second party. On Mme Laroche's suggestion however, I went to Paris. She thought that she could get me back by aircraft. I arrived in Paris on 11 Nov. It was on 12 Nov that Marie Claire went off with the first party, which got through. The second party went two days later, and she and the four members of this batch, whom I had not met, were arrested at Pau.” (SPG 1886 Tsoucas)
McSweyn reports that over the five days following their return from Foix (on 9 Nov), Marie-Claire's husband (sic) and son Maurice opened a new route through Pau. The five airmen were taken to Pau (their guide from Ruffec to Pau being Yvette Regeon), and then on to Oloron-Sainte-Marie and Tardets-Sorholus, arriving there at about 1800 hrs. From there, they walked (McSweyn says via Agnos but that's obviously wrong) and at about 2200 hrs, reached Montory. After a meal, Marie-Claire (who had travelled from Ruffec to Pau separately) left them with their two guides, who told them the journey was about 20 kilometres and would easy. McSweyn says that because of this, they didn't take any food or water with them.
They set off at midnight (17 Nov) in pouring rain, walking all through the night until about four o'clock, when it started to freeze. Smith was struggling, saying that he could not go on and the group waited with him until about eight o'clock, when they started off once more. McSweyn says that he had to help Smith, and at about three o'clock that afternoon, it began to snow. The snow was soon over their knees, and with McSweyn too tired to help much more, the two guides “more or less” carried Smith. Cooper was also exhausted by this time, and McSweyn helped him along instead.
As they crossed into Spain, the guides admitted that they were lost and wanted to turn back but they found a valley with a stream, which they followed to a small hut. Unfortunately there was nothing to make a fire with but then two Spaniards arrived. They said there was a house about 4 kms further down the valley, and then went off, promising to send someone to help them.
Smith and Martin decided to carry on, and take Cooper with them. McSweyn, Palm and one of the guides tried to get the second guide to move but McSweyn says that before they had gone 500 yards, the second guide died. They managed to catch up with Smith, Martin and Cooper, and at about eight o'clock that night, found another hut. This one was locked but they broke in and lit a fire, stripping off to dry their sodden clothing. They set off again next morning, the remaining guide staying with them for a while before turning back. The first town the airmen reached was Uztarroz, where they handed themselves over to the police, who took them to Isaba.
On 15 November 1943, John Brace, Norman Toft, Robert Vandergriff and Delbert Klump left from a village near Ruffec to be taken by train to Pau.
F/O John William Brace (LIB/1264), from Romford in Essex, was the 20-year-old bomb aimer of 76 Sqn Halifax DK240 (McCann), which was on the way to Milan on the evening of 12 August 1943 when, about ten minutes after crossing the French coast, they were attacked by a fighter. Brace reports that the bomber blew up, and he found himself in mid-air.
Brace landed in a field near Mélicourt (Eure) (F/Sgt Jones, the flight engineer, who also parachuted safely, was the only other survivor), and after hiding his parachute and Mae West in a ditch, headed for a nearby farmhouse, where he knocked on the door. The family (a man, wife and daughter) hid Brace in their barn for the rest of the night but in the morning, the farmer (no name) warned Brace there were Germans near (presumably searching for the crew) and so he walked to a wood about two miles away, where he stayed for the rest of the day.
That evening (13 Aug), he set off walking until stopped by Georges Cailliez, who asked if he were English, and offered to help him. Georges took Brace back to his employer's house where he was staying in Mélicourt, and his employer, Jean Baptiste Celliez, gave Brace food and civilian clothing, and took him to a farmhouse just outside the town, where he was sheltered for the night. The following morning, Georges walked with Brace to Argenteuil (sic) where Brace says that he was sheltered for two or three days with “Mme Rechsteiner at 38 rue Rechsteiner” (there is a 38 rue Maurice Rechsteiner in Argenteuil but that is 150 kilometres from Mélicourt, and Saint-Laurent), being visited there by a member of the resistance who said he would make arrangements to get him back to the UK. Next day, this same man (gendarme Vincent Le Pors of Montreuil l'Argillé) took Brace to the village of Saint-Laurent-du-Tencement, and a small farmhouse where he was sheltered by André Lavigne. After about three weeks with the Lavigne family, Vincent Le Pors took Brace by bicycle to a village (name unknown) about ten miles away where Brace stayed overnight with a farmer. Next morning, another man called for him, and they spent the day travelling to Beaumontel (Eure) where Brace stayed overnight with Mme Trumelet (a member of the resistance movement who gave him an identity card), and he met three American airmen who were also staying at the house.
The three Americans were 2/Lt Norman Eugene Toft, S/Sgt Robert A Vandergriff and T/Sgt Delbert William Klump, the co-pilot, tail gunner and left waist-gunner of B-17 42-3300 (Kraft) which was shot down near Epinay (Eure) on 3 September 1943. I have no details of their evasion prior to them being sheltered with Mme Trumelet, and only Brace's version of events after that.
Next day, a man called Antoine took Brace and the three Americans by train to Le Mans where they were supposed to meet the man responsible for their return to the UK, however, after waiting in vain for several hours, Antoine took them back to Mme Trumelet in Beaumontel. Brace says that Antoine was the area chief of the resistance movement, and worked in close collaboration with their hostess.
On about 17 September, Brace and the Americans were taken to a farmhouse in nearby Beaumont-le-Roger, where Brace and Klump were sheltered by Charles and Gilberte Gougeon of Beaumontel, and Toft and Vandergriff elsewhere. A week later, Mme Trumelet arrived to take them all by car to a chateau in Saint Pierre (query), where they stayed for another week. On 30 September, Mme Trumelet moved them to a farmhouse just outside Saint Pierre, where they stayed with Irene Delaire at Les Essarts par Damville, Eure until 4 November, when Mme Trumelet took them back to her house in Beaumontel.
Mme Trumelet told them that contact had been made with an organisation in Ruffec that could arrange their journey to Spain, and the following morning, Mme Trumelet and a “representative from Ruffec” (this was Roger Mesle) took Brace and the three Americans by train to Paris. They spent the day with a relative of Mme Trumelet (Mesle says they lodged two men with a M. Bouchard at Sucy-en-Brie and two with a M. Richarde at 2 rue Desnouettes, Paris XV), and that evening, the representative took them by overnight train to Ruffec.
Roger Mesle (born 6 Jan 1917) of Beaumontel, says that he first became involved with helping Allied evaders when he heard that American airmen Norman Toft, Robert Vandergriff and Delbert Klump, and Englishman John Brace, were being sheltered in the town with Mme Trumelet. A man called Antoine (described as a friend in the resistance who lived near Pont de l'Arche) had taken them to Le Mans at the beginning of September but failed to find his contact, and so brought them back to Beaumontel, where they were returned to Mme Trumelet. While looking for a network for the repatriation of the aviators, Mesle says he came into contact with M. Valon (aka Amede), and through an intermediary of the Liberation group, Mme Therese - “actuellement Capitaine Vallier”. Mesle also knew a man named Bouchard at Sucy-en-Brie, whose niece was in contact with the comtesse de Milleville (Mary Lindell) and Mesle says that he and Bouchard took the four airmen to Mme de Milleville at Ruffec.
They were taken to what Brace describes as “the main hotel” and introduced to an Englishwoman who called herself “Mme Marie”. She was dressed in French Red Cross uniform, and gave them new identity cards before they were taken to spent the night in a room over a restaurant. The following evening, they were taken by car to a village about 5 miles away where they stayed with a family (name unknown).
On the morning of 15 November, the four airmen were collected by a man with a lorry, and driven to a small railway station just outside Ruffec. A young girl (Genevieve Favre) took them on the train to Toulouse, and on to Limoges. At Limoges they changed for Pau but about half an hour out of Limoges, Brace says the Gestapo made a routine check. He says the airmen were travelling in a first-class compartment where they looked suspicious and rather untidy in old clothes, and the Gestapo were not satisfied with their identity cards. When the men were searched, an identity disc found on one of the Americans, and they were arrested, along with the French girl who had their tickets.
According to statements in her NARA file, Mary Lindell says that having left Ruffec in November 1943 after trouble with a certain Mme La Roche, she took five men [Cooper, Martin, Smith, Palm and McSweyn] down and over [the Pyrenees] via Oloron-Sainte-Marie etc. Four others were to follow four days later but the French in Ruffec got cold feet and asked for fresh orders and help. Lindell sent Ginette Favre to assist but in Ruffec she got no help and took it upon herself to bring the four men down, and did not take the necessary precautions. They were picked up between Toulouse and Pau as Ginette had forgotten a necessary Red Cross paper. Taken to Biarritz and searched, Lindell's photograph was found in Ginette's notecase. Ginette denied knowing who she was, and the photograph was then circulated, and Mary, who was waiting for the group at Pau railway station, dressed in her distinctive dark blue Red Cross nurse uniform, was arrested “probably on 19 November 1943”.