42866 F/Lt Robert Milton
F/Lt Robert (Bob) Milton's official report (WO208 3312-1039) is a ludicrously brief account of yet another fascinating story of escape and evasion in occupied territory, and so this account is compiled from many sources, including some unpublished personal accounts and files held in America, as well as the more generally available literature.
Bob Milton was pilot of a 220 Squadron Coastal Command Hudson NR-X which left St Eval late in the evening of 31 March 1941 for a patrol off Brest. They ran into an electrical storm and made a forced landing in the early hours of the following morning. They came down at Maillé, just west of Poitiers and more than two hundred kilometres from their patrol area. Milton and his crew, second pilot Sgt S J Houghton (373), radio operator Sgt J Burridge (562) and rear gunner Sgt R E Griffiths (480), managed to detonate the IFF and burn their papers and charts, but not to destroy the aircraft itself. The whole crew were helped by local villagers who bought them railway tickets to Poitiers and then arranged to have them taken south to cross the demarcation line near Civray. The party were then separated into two pairs with Milton and Griffiths sheltered at St George, and Houghton and Burridge at le Vigeant, near l'Isle Jourdain on the river Vienne. A few days later they were reunited for the drive to Lussac-les-Chateaux where they caught a train for Limoges and on to Marseille. At Marseille they were promptly arrested and sent to Fort St Jean before transfer to St Hippolyte du Fort where they joined the other allied internees, and what the French called "Détachement W".
Sgt/Pilot S J Houghton was the first of Milton's crew to escape. He was in a party sent from St Hippolyte to be checked out by the Mixed Medical Board at St Marthe army barracks in Marseille. Houghton escaped from St Marthe on 10 June with RAF Sergeants N J Ingram (375) and Philip Herbert (629) and the three men made their way to an address they had been given in Marseille. Since Herbert then stayed with Louis Nouveau for the next two weeks, it may be assumed the address they had was Louis' apartment at 28a Quai de Rive Neuve, although it's more likely they went to a café rendezvous on the Canebière first. A couple of days later, Houghton and Ingram were taken by a guide* who led them safely across the Pyrenees to the British Consulate in Barcelona. They both left Gibraltar by sea for Glasgow 4 July 1941.
* Note that at this time many of the Spanish guides were organised out of Perpignan by the two Israeli French Laufer brothers.
Sgt R E Griffiths escaped from St Hippolyte on 26 June with Sign Lewis McDonald (479) and Sgt F H Miller RAF (482). Official accounts are rather confusing about who escaped with whom but it seems these three walked into Nimes and made their way to an Organisation safehouse at the home of Louis Nutter, an American who lived on Victor Hugo Boulevard*. Here they met Pte J McLaren (646), Pte Tim Williamson (647) and Cpl W F Gardner (648) who (probably) escaped separately. Gardner actually says he escaped with Griffiths and Miller, and three others who were subsequently arrested and returned to the Fort, before going on to meet McLaren and Williamson at "the house of an American" (Louis Nutter) in Nimes. The group were joined by Elisabeth Haden-Guest and Ian Garrow who had come to Nimes to see Lt Richard Parkinson, the escape organiser at St Hippolyte, who regularly left the Fort on parole. A few days later the escapers were taken to Michael Pareyre's garage at Perpignan before being handed over to a Spanish guide who took them across the mountains to catch a goods train to Figueras, then a passenger train to Gerona and Barcelona. Strangely, MacDonald says (in a personal account written long after the war) that he was the only one of the party to complete the journey safely, Griffiths and Miller having given up on the crossing and perished in the snow, and the others being arrested on the train. Whilst McLaren, Williamson and Gardner were arrested at Barcelona, and sent to Miranda where my father first met them, both Griffiths and Miller arrived safely at the Consulate and later travelled on with MacDonald to Gibraltar. All three men left Gibraltar by sea for Gourock 8 August 1941.
* Note that there were several people in Nimes who sheltered escaping servicemen in their homes, including Gaston Negre and the Morel ladies at la Bastide.
On 16 August 1941, there was something of a riot at St Hippolyte following an escape attempt and the subsequent shooting and wounding of Pte J B Lynch by one of the guards. It was only the intervention of the Senior British Officer, Squadron Leader Gibbs, that saved the situation from deteriorating further. In the chaos of this event, Sgt J Burridge and three other men, made their escape through the dining hall window, the bars of which had already been sawn through. Sgt/Pilot A C Roberts (561), Dvr McLelland (512), Gnr W Liddle (524) and Burridge made their way to an Organisation safehouse at Nimes. A few days later Richard Parkinson helped Gibbs himself to escape to Nimes, leaving Whitney Straight as SBO at the Fort. All five men were then taken first to Marseille, then Perpignan* and across the Pyrenees to Spain where their Spanish guide delivered them safely to the Consulate in Barcelona. By the end of the month they were in the British Embassy in Madrid and two weeks later on the train to Gibraltar. Sgt Burridge left Gibraltar by sea for Gourock 1 October 1941.
* Most parties who stopped off in Perpignan were sheltered at the Hotel de la Loge run by Paulette Gastou (arrested 1943) and her parents. The hotel was also home to Australian Cpl Kenneth Bruce Dowding RASC (aka Andre Mason) until late November when he went to the Pas de Calais to take over the northern Organisation following Cole's exposure at the Rodocananchi flat. Dowding was arrested by the GFP at Burbure station 8 December 1941.
On 10 October 1941, Bob Milton and Richard Parkinson escaped from St Hippolyte together. They made their way to Nimes and Gaston Negre's home at rue Poste de France where they joined forces with Sgts Jack Worby (633) and Gordon Campbell (634). Worby and Campbell had been crewmen of a 101 Sqn Wellington brought down near les Riceys 10/11 September on the way back from a raid on Turin. They had been sheltered by the Organisation in the north and never captured (see Article). At the end of October these four and two others tried to cross the Pyrenees from Ax-les-Thermes but found the conditions in the mountains too hard and so returned to Nimes. In mid-November they set off to try again but Milton was arrested at Nimes station and returned to St Hippolyte. The rest of party were guided safely to the Consulate in Barcelona.
On 17 March 1942 Bob Milton was transferred with the other internees to Fort de la Rivere at La Turbie, in the hills above Nice. Following the escape of five airmen on 23 August, the eight remaining officers (and four orderlies) were transferred to Fort de la Duchere near Lyon for five weeks before going on to Camp de Chambaran, west of Grenoble, on 2 October. The remaining two hundred odd ORs from de la Rivere had been transferred there a few days earlier.
On 5 November, three SOE agents, Richard Heslop, Ernest Wilkinson and Denis Rake, together with three airmen, P/O S V Gorton, Sgt E Wellings and Sgt G Richardson, and Pat Line radio operator Alex Nitelet, arrived at Chambaran from Lyon. Three days later the Allies invaded North Africa and on 11 November, the Germans entered southern France.
On 27 November, nine men were "released" from Chambaran, including four SOE agents and Alex Nitelet. Next day Bob Milton and Lt Winwick Hewit left Chambaran with the help of two French guards and made their way to Marseille. In the city they met up with the fourth SOE agent from Chambaran, Dick Cooper, and made contact with the Organisation. On 13 December, they were taken to Toulouse where they stayed at the Mme Mongelard's Hotel de Paris, and two days later, were taken by train to Banyuls, close to the Spanish border. They crossed the Pyrenees to Spain on the night of 16-17 December, and their Spanish guide* took them to Figueras where they were collected and driven to the Consulate in Barcelona. Bob Milton left Gibraltar by sea for Gourock 20 January 1943.
* By 1942 it was the Spanish Ponzan-Vidal organisation that supplied O'Leary with guides to take men across the frontier and on to Barcelona.
Postscript: On 11 June 1944 F/Lt Bob Milton was flying a 65 Sqn Mustang when he was shot down outside Caen. He later escaped with others from a train near St Etienne de Mont Luc and made his way to the forest at Teillay where they waited for the American advance - they finally met up with an advance recon patrol on 6 August.
See "Detachment W" by Derek Richardson (2004) for more details of the internees and events at the various internment camps. See "Rake's Progress" by Denis Rake (1968) and "Adventures of a Secret Agent" by Dick Cooper (1973) for more details of the releases from Chambaran. See "Free to Fight Again" by Alan Cooper (1988) for an earlier account of Bob Miltons' adventures. After this article was written, Bruce Dowding's nephew Peter kindly directed me to the 1994 book "Robert Milton MC, The Man Who Stayed Behind" by Cyril Ayris.