This article is based on Chapter XII of Roger Huguen's 1976 book ‘Par les nuits les plus longues'. I have translated and simplified the text to make it easier for the casual reader to follow the storyline - serious students should of course refer back to the original. Huguen includes detail from various contributors (Val Williams, Joseph Darsel, Job Le Bec, Georges Jouanjean etc.) and I have added a few notes on the airmen and their aircraft. The spelling of some of the French names and places varies with the source - I have used Huguen's spelling but with most of the accents removed to make electronic searching easier. The spelling of evaders' names is taken from official records. I have retained a few French words (logeurs and convoyeuse for instance) as I haven't found better English equivalents.
Click here to read my own article about Oaktree
Vladimir Bouryschkine (aka Val Williams) had previously been involved with the Pat Line when he helped Allied internees escape from Fort de la Rivere. He was evacuated with them from Canet Plage in September 1942 and subsequently recruited by MI9. Raymond Labrosse was a Canadian Army radio operator who had been a student in Paris before the war.
The Oaktree Mission was originally intended to organise sea evacuations from Brittany as a supplement to Louis Nouveau's work with the Pat Line. However, before it could be launched, news reached London that Louis Nouveau and many of the key Pat Line agents had had been arrested. Williams and Labrosse knew they would have to build up a new network.
Click here to read about Louis Nouveau and the Pat Line connection
Evasion in Brittany – The Oaktree Mission of Val Williams and Ray Labrosse
This page updated 04 Feb 2014
The delivery to France of Val Williams and Ray Labrosse was delayed for more than two months, firstly by lack of a reception committee for their intended Lysander landing, and then by bad weather, so it wasn't until 20 March 1943 that they were finally parachuted ‘blind' into the Forêt de Rambouillet. The two agents landed safely with their guns and money but one of their bicycles, and more importantly, both their radios, were damaged.
Leaving Labrosse at Rambouillet, Williams took the only usable bicycle to Paris to find Yvonne Le Rossignol, a woman he had known earlier in the war. She took him to see their mutual friend Elisabeth Barbier at 72 rue Vaneau (in Montparnasse) where he was surprised to meet an agent who had been on the same aircraft when he had been parachuted in. This was "Armand", who directed the Alençon sector of the BCRA Mithridate intelligence network. Despite security rules which required separation between the networks, especially when they were of a different nature, Armand suggested that Williams contact Jean Lanlo at Saint-Quay-Portrieux. Jean Lanlo then put Williams in touch with Jean Camard, son of the maire at Etables and who, in addition to convoying, specialised in producing identity cards. Williams asked Jean Lanlo to organize the departures of the airmen from the Saint-Quay-Portrieux - Plouha – Paimpol area. Lanlo also sent Camard to Carhaix to contact a local group, known as "Pen Called" (Breton for hard heads) who were isolated with their military evaders following the arrest of Louis Nouveau in February. Jean Camard went to Geo Jouanjean to announce the visit of Guillaume (Val Williams) and Williams suggested that Jouanjean handled the airmen and arranged hiding them in the neighbourhood. He also asked Jouanjean to organize their departure to Paris and direct them on to Spain if a sea link was not possible. Ray Labrosse (aka Paul) also came to Brittany, but without a radio, Williams could only contact London through Mithridate. Meanwhile, Williams organized a base near the coast. After staying for a while with Jean Lanlo's parents at the Villa Soleil, Williams and Labrosse rented a house in Saint-Quay-Portrieux. Andrée Leveque, who had avoided arrest at her parents flat in Paris, joined them in Saint-Quay [Williams says he set up Labrosse and Mlle Leveque as man and wife]. More airmen continued to arrive and it was necessary to find new shelterers for them. Geo Jouanjean asked his friend Jean Guivarc'h to help and he introduced Jouanjean to Doctor Meynard, maire and general advisor, who gave him the address of an American friend who lived at Plourivo, la Comtesse Betty de Mauduit. Agreement was quickly reached and the airmen were moved from La Pie (Job Le Bec) and Carhaix (Mlle Correc and Mlle Marchais) and Saint-Quay-Portrieux, to the Chateau du Bourblanc where the airmen were pleasantly surprised to find a charming hostess who spoke their language perfectly. When Williams visited them on 10 April 1943 they were thirty-four (sic) evaders hidden in the attic of the chateau. Georges Jouanjean also had the huge problem of supplying them with food and soon acquired a solid reputation as a black-marketeer, particularly for meat. He was helped in this by Job le Bec, the miller at La Pie, and Bob Pennée, a butcher at Rostrenen.
According to Williams, as of the end of April 1943, the organisation was ready to evacuate sixty (sic) airmen they had on their hands, but the absence of direct radio communications continued. Most of the money brought by Williams was used to repay the former Pat Line logeurs at Saint-Quay and Tréveneuc. With evacuation delayed, further funds were needed, and since they had to contact London to get any more, Val Williams went back to Paris.
Williams says he appointed Elisabeth Barbier as 'responsable' for his Parisian sector. One of her friends and logeurs, Jean-Albert Sorel (of Mithridate) agreed to forward a message to London via the network of Mme Lefaucheux (sister to Andre Postel-Vinay, formerly of the Pat Line). Through Mme Wiame, one of the logeuses-convoyeuses, Oaktree received a parachute drop of money and a radio-telephone. A note contained in the container specified that to obtain contact at a particular time with the new set, Labrosse would have to make the initial connection. Unfortunately the radio was not powerful enough to communicate with even a slow flying Lysander at more than fifty kilometers range.
Before leaving London, Val Williams had been given some contact addresses still believed to be secure. Amongst these were two employees at the Préfecture de la Seine, Mlle (Marguerite) Larue and Paul Campinchi. The previous year they had both helped in the escape of Sgt Reginald Smith RAF (1074) from Carantec (taken to England on board Yvonne 5 Feb 1943 with two SUSFU crewmen). Williams went to Paul Campinchi's address on the Ile de la Cité several times but got no answer. He then tried Mlle Larue and asked if she could contact her colleague. Terrified, because she took Williams for a Gestapo agent, she telephoned Campinchi immediately. He agreed to a meeting in front of the Notre-Dame, during which Williams convinced him he had been sent by Colonel Langley (of MI9). Williams asked Campinchi to help organize the Parisian sector. He gave Campinchi a large sum of money and asked for a place for Labrosse to set up his radio. Labrosse was put into Campinchi's home* at 1 Quai aux Fleurs, where he strung his radio aerial from the four corners of the living room, but again without success. While Campinchi recruited a team of lodgers for the airmen, Williams gave Jean-Albert Sorel another coded message to send to London, before taking the train back to Brittany to see if Labrosse could contact an aircraft with the radio-telephone. Even Williams thought this would be a miracle but he had to try. London received his message sent through Mithridate, but they were worried that the intelligence network was compromising its own safety by acting as intermediary. However MI9 accepted the risk and replied to tell Labrosse they would send him a new radio through Comete. The set would be left at Bordeaux-St-Jean station by Jean-François Nothomb, who took the enormous risk of carrying it across the Pyrenees himself. Labrosse was about to go and collect it when a storm cut Oaktree down.
* Paul Campinchi's home address was 19 rue des Ursins, Ile de la Cité - Labrosse installed his radio at 1 Quai aux Fleurs, the nearby home of Campinchi's friend André Le Balc'h.
In spite of this lack of radio contact, Williams ordered all the evaders be taken to Saint-Quay-Portrieux. He wanted them together ready to move to Paris. Recruited by Williams on his first visit to Rostrenen, Genevieve de Poulpiquet began her work as a convoyeuse for Oaktree by going to find "two small Poles", hidden in Caen, and take them to Paris where they were placed with Mlle Larue. A few days later, they were taken to Saint-Brieuc. The Paris logeurs, Mlle Larue and Mlle Zerling (aka Claudette) would pass their guests on to the guide who met them with Williams. Each man was given his ticket, his identity card and his local certificat de travail. Their seats had been reserved by station employee M Bernard, who Mme De Poulpiquet had met through M Favennec at Châteaulin.
The two Poles were Sgts Leszek Zaborowski (LIB/1006) and Rech Urbanski (LIB/1208) from 138 SD Halifax BB340 (Jensen) which was shot down by flak near Caen on an SOE mission to France the night of 12/13 April 1943.
Usually convoyeurs from Paris like Mme de Poulpiquet, only went as far as Saint-Brieuc. To allow the agent waiting at the station to identify the group, the leader would carry a newspaper folded under his right arm. After that it was down to the local guide to lead them to the departmental train for the coast, his recognition sign being to raise his hand in the air several times in an apparently natural gesture. The Paris guide would tell the evaders, in English, to follow the person they described by their clothing, to the little train which would take them and their new guide to Saint-Quay-Portrieux. However, some airmen didn't need so much help to finish their journey. Such was the case of the French pilot Claude Raoul-Duval, whose 341 Sqn Spitfire was shot down 17 April 1943.
After landing by parachute near Tancarville in Normandy and being sheltered locally for several weeks, Raoul-Duval went to his father in Paris, where he also met his fiancée Josette. He decided the best way of leaving France was from Brittany where he believed there were escape networks that crossed the English Channel. He went with his fiancée to see Mme Charneau (who had been his nurse when he was a child) at Saint-Quay-Portrieux, to find a means of leaving by sea. Val Williams was still at Saint-Quay and Mme Charneau already knew the members of Jean Lanlo' s group who worked with Williams. Raoul-Duval understood that as fighter pilot, he would have priority. In the following days (in May 1943) he was introduced to the principal members of the local group where he took an active part in the organisation. He had the advantage of being an allied airman himself and could easily gain the confidence of the evaders gathered at Saint-Quay, who were in the same situation as he was.
Jean Lanlo sheltered some of the first evaders with his parents but lodging the numerous airmen posed serious problems - he had to find more people to share the risks and responsibilities.
One of the first logeuses was Mme Hervé, who took many of the evaders from Jean Lanlo. More airmen were sheltered by Pauline Bringuet at 25 rue des 3 Freres Salaun, Saint-Quay-Portrieux, who already had one English flyer, and others with Emilie Cellarié. Mme Cellarié, a military nurse in the 1914-18 war, lived with her seriously ill husband at the villa La Chimère, at the southern end of Tréveneuc (between Plouha and St Quay). Her first five boarders were an Englishman, two Canadians (one of them Sgt D M Cox RCAF) an American and a Russian (Abraham) who had twice escaped from prison camps in Germany before finding an escape network and coming to this corner of Brittany. Shortly after their arrival, Jerome Camard and his son Jean brought nine more evaders, including two Poles. Some of them had been in Paris for several months and were suffering from the lack of food.
Sgt D M Cox RCAF (1328) with Sgt G R Howard (1329) from 7 Sqn Stirling R9149 shot down over the Ardennes 9/10 Mar 43. Both later taken from Paris to Pau and across the Pyrenees in June 43
The group from Paris included F/O D E James (1317) Sgt W G Grove (1318) F/Sgt J A Smith (1319) Sgt J Hall (1320) and Sgt R W Adams (1321) from 214 Sqn Stirling BK653 shot down over Bonneuil-les-Eaux (Oise) by German fighters 16/17 April 1943.
On 12 June 1943 the Germans came to the Chateau du Bourblanc looking for evaders. Although they failed to find any, because they were hidden in the attic, they arrested the Comptesse Betty de Maudit and took her to St Brieuc. She was later moved to Rennes, Angouleme and Romainville before being deported to Ravensbrûck – which she survived. When the airmen saw their hostess had been arrested, the five (sic) airmen came down from their hiding-place and hid in a hedge as night fell. They couldn't find their shoes because Yvonne Guillou, who worked for the Countess, had hidden them in a wall cupboard, just as the Germans arrived. They made their way towards Saint-Quay (about 20 kms) by following the railway line, going barefoot or in their socks. The two former boarders of Mme Cellarié managed to find the house at Tréveneuc where they had been sheltered earlier but the others, exhausted by the long walk and with their feet bleeding, found it impossible to keep up. Mme Cellarié, Albert Le Marchand, Claude Raoul-Duval and Josette found them on the railway line and brought them back to La Chimère. Two of the new arrivals were sent to M Ligeron, and Mme Chameau lodged Roy Martin, William Martin and Louis Halton.
There is some confusion about the names and numbers of men who escaped from the Chateau du Bourblanc the night Betty de Maudit was arrested, but they included S/Sgt Niles G Loudenslager (#80) S/Sgt William C Martin (#73) S/Sgt Roy A Martin (#77) 1/Lt Louis M Haltom (#76) T/Sgt Herman L Marshall (#74) and T/Sgt Glen Wells (#79) from B-17 42-29767 Boot Hill shot down near Plonevez du Faou 17 May 43.
In May 1943, despite of the lack of radio contact, Williams still thought he could organize an MGB pick-up for the airmen. The message sent by Sorel and Mithridate suggested a date and the beach at Palus, a few kilometers in the south-east of Anse Cochât, for the operation. The message "Denise est morte", sent by the BBC on the evening of 29 May told them the operation had been postponed indefinitely. The same evening, Jacques Bonneron, one of the young Oaktree couriers, returned from Paris with a confirmation received by the Mithridate radio operator. The Admiralty considered that the nights were now too short to send motorboats to the Breton coast. They also thought the lack of direct radio communications made an operation of this kind too random.
Consequently, the situation for Val Williams became more serious with the ninety odd (sic) airmen, whose presence in Plourivo, Saint-Quay-Portrieux and Tréveneuc would become known sooner or later. The logeurs felt very threatened – they had to evacuate the airmen urgently, to the south this time, towards the Pyrenees. At the moment when Williams had to make a decision, more airmen arrived suddenly at Saint-Quay.
On the evening of 29 May 1943, a formation of bombers passed over the coast at high-altitude, returning to their bases in England. Out in his fields at Kéresco near Tréveneuc, Louis Minguy, of Plourhan, saw a single "forteresse volante" flying low and obviously in trouble. M Minguy counted ten parachutes from the B-17. One of the airmen was found by a patrol from Plourhan. Another was found as he wandered in a field near Tréguidel. The pilot had fallen into a tree near Granville and was collected by M Thérin who passed him on to Jean Lanlo and Raymond Labrosse in Saint-Quay-Portrieux. Another American went to Mme Yolande Rebours. William T Ayres was picked up by M Minguy on the Saint-Barnabe to Plourhan road and taken home to be given food and clothing. Louis' wife Marie-Anne spent the whole night searching for another airman, following his boot prints, but without finding him. More crew were found next day.
Louis Minguy and his daughter Louisiane took the airmen to Saint-Barnabé and handed them over to Ray Labrosse. He took them through the fields to St Quay where he passed them on to Jean Camard. They joined more men from the same aircraft to be taken to various houses - Mme André and the young Pierre Moreau, three with the Quilien family, and Theodore Peterson and John Scott with Mme Chameau.
The majority of the crew were saved from the Germans, thanks to the people of Plourhan. As the parachutists had fallen very close to Saint-Quay-Portrieux, the principal link in the escape line, they had a good chance of being evacuated quickly as more convoys were being sent towards the Pyrenees.
1/Lt Theodore M Peterson (#69) T/Sgt John M Scott (#70) and Sgt William T Ayres were from the B-17 42-29878 Lady Godiva which crashed off St Quay Portrieux 29 May 43. Peterson and Scott were taken across the Pyrenees in July by the Bourgogne organisation but Sgt Ayres was arrested in Paris with Elisabeth Barbier.
They had to take the airmen to Saint-Brieuc in order to catch the Paris train. From Saint-Quay, nineteen men were taken, three at a time, in the van driven by M Etienne, engineer with the Compagnie Le Bon and future local maire. Pauline Bringuet was one of those who led the airmen to St Brieuc station and passed them over to the guide who would take them to Paris. She had already been to the SNCF railway station get their tickets in advance, forty-two kilometers on foot to save the price of a return ticket on the train.
At Montparnasse station, they were told to follow their guide at a distance. Genevieve de Poulpiquet said later that the airmen weren't hard to identify - the way they walked, their odd clothes, and the way they carried their packets of food or other gifts from their previous shelterer made it easy for any attentive observer to spot them in a crowd.
From Paris, they travelled overnight from the Gare d'Austerlitz to arrive at Pau early next morning. At the crossing of the old demarcation line, a uniformed German inspected their documents. Their convoyeur would present his papers first and the evaders would follow his example. At Pau, the airmen were handed to another organisation whose members, including M and Mme Foal, were later arrested. Val Williams had decided to use the contacts he had been given by the Comete network. This was how Geo Jouanjean, envoyé at the end of May, knew the Villa des Clochettes in Pau. There, the men were passed on to another escape line which included several guides from Francoise Dissard's network, which specialised in crossing the Pyrenees.
At first everything went well and despite the enormous risks of such long trips the organisation managed to evacuate about thirty airmen in the first week. It was during the second week that Williams decided go Pau himself. He said he wanted to make sure the passeurs didn't sell the airmen out to the Germans, as had been known to happen. He took the train for Pau on 4 June with two American airmen, two Poles (Zaborowski and Urbanski) M Bourgoin* and the local (A.S.) organiser, M Laporte of the Highways Department in Pau. In Dax, the two Frenchmen got out of the train to check that Bourgoin's motorcycle had been placed in the goods van. When they got back to their compartment, they found the German police inspecting the airmen's identity cards. Williams tried to move into another carriage but it was reserved for the Wehrmacht and he was driven back. The Germans examined his papers and noted that his identity card, like those of the airmen, was issued in Etables. Williams luggage was searched and found to contain the four hundred thousand francs intended for the payment of the guides. Williams and the four evaders were arrested and taken back to Paris and Fresnes prison.
* Williams says he met Bourgoin through Mme Bréauté, a friend of Elisabeth Barbier's. Huguen describes Bourgoin as 'un trafiquant notoire'.
On 7 June, the Gestapo made a series of arrests in Paris following the successful infiltration by their agent Jean Masson (Jacques Desoubrie) and several Comete agents, including Robert and Germaine Aylé, Madeleine Bouteloup and Frederic de Jongh, were taken. They (later) also a set up a souricière (mouse trap) at Elisabeth Barbier's apartment which caught Michel Fourré-Cormeray and Georges Jouanjean.
In May 1943, Roger Leneveu reappeared at Pontivy. He presented himself to the remains of Pat O'Leary line as another representative, like Nouveau, who nobody had heard from since February. He met the police chief Henri Loch at his office and, as he had been part of the network, it was easy for Leneveu to slip hints into the conversation as references to gain the Loch's confidence. Roger told Loch he was going back to Paris and he asked Loch to get the five American airmen who were hidden locally ready to move out. Loch went straight to Job Le Bec at La Pie in the hope of finding Geo Jouanjean, as convoying was his speciality.
There seem to be two ways of Roger's surname : Le Neveu or (more usually, in French at least) Leneveu - Huguen has opted for the former but I prefer the latter
After the arrests of Louis Nouveau and the five (SUSFU) airmen from Quémeneven on 13 February, the Germans directed their attention towards the Carhaix area. Although they did not have any names, Le Bec knew Carhaix was mentioned during the trial at Quimper and that the black Citroen traction-avant (3030 FJ) would have been seen in Quimper, Concarneau and Châteaulin. The German police carried out some random arrests including those of Doctor Lancien, sénateur-maire of Carhaix, M Le Bescond, a mechanic, and Geo Jouanjean's grandfather M Rouillard. For the members of the escape line this was a serious warning. The Germans had to keep Roger informed of the latest developments of their investigation and from interrogations of the Pat Line agents they had caught. After having directed their investigations towards Gourin, where they thought they might find Geo, they moved to Carhaix. They sent Roger Leneveu to see Job Le Bec because they knew about his link to Jouanjean.
Roger Leneveu told Job Le Bec that he had been sent by London to replace Guillaume (Williams). This was the first time that Le Bec had met Roger and he was surprised by this news. Le Bec had just come from Rostrenen where they had been ready to take supplies to the Comtesse de Mauduit at Plourivo. Being suspicious, Le Bec asked Leneveu for more details, which Roger was able to give him. However Le Bec still had doubts and so waited for Jouanjean, who was going to go with him to Plourivo. Geo arrived shortly after and confirmed that he had met Leneveu several times on his trips to Paris.
In his own account, Georges Jouanjean says a new meeting took place four days later during which Le Bec seemed satisfied with the honesty of Roger who had given him money towards the cost of lodging the airmen. Geo gave Roger the four airmen lodged with the Le Manach brothers while informing police chief Loch to supervise them on their journey to Pontivy. Louis Le Manach took Leneveu to Geo's home.
The following night, Geo's house was surrounded. Roger arrived with a group of German soldiers but Jouanjean managed to escape out the back of the building. He immediately went to warn the Le Manach brothers but one of their employees had already told them about the raid. When he went to his mother's house he found she had been arrested. He asked Doctor Gauthier at Poullaouen, who had an Ausweis, to alert his friends Doctor Lignon, Robert de Boussier, Job Le Bec and his brother-in-law Cougard of the danger. When Mme de Mauduit was warned, she refused to leave because of the possible reprisals, and the Germans arrested her at Chateau Bourblanc on 12 June. It was impossible to warn Bob Pennec at Rostrenen or Henri Loch at Pontivy in time. Geo Jouanjean and Le Bec took refuge with the de Boissier family at Kergoat.
Thanks to their agent Roger Leneveu, the Germans continued to devastate the resistants at Pontivy and destroy the evasion network that Louis Nouveau had created.
Also in May 1943, Guy Lenfant, regional chief of the BOA, planned to go to England. He gave confidential instructions to his brother-in-law Julien Le Port who ran the Morbihan sector in his absence, and Hubert Crévic (alias Antar) BOA chief for the Pontivy sector. Since Crévic knew police chief Henri Loch, Lenfant wanted to talk to Loch about organising an escape route for the airmen.
A meeting was arranged at Loch's house for the planned departure but Roger Leneveu, who was to arrange the convoy, did not show up. When London were notified, they sent a message telling Lenfant, Crévic and his radio operator Andre Rapin to leave France by Lysander or Hudson at the next moon period. Lenfant refused. (Crevic and Rapin had been parachuted into the Etang au Duc (Operation Cockle) the night of 21/22 December 1942)
Rapin and Crévic then suggested to Loch that they leave together. Crévic went to Paris to consult a member of his organization who told him that departures through Spain were not possible. On returning to Pontivy, Crévic was told by Loch he could go with the group of airmen who were about to leave.
Crévic went to a meeting and met Roger Leneveu for the first time. He asked Leneveu if Rapin could also go with him. Le Neveu asked how important Rapin was and Crévic told him that Rapin was a radio operator. That was obviously very interesting for the German agent and he told Crévic which train to take. Rapin then asked Crévic if he could leave one day earlier in order to meet a cousin in Paris and through her, send news to his parents living in the south of France. Rapin said he would find his own way to Montparnasse. They hid their weapons in five caches - two in Gueltas, one in Kerfourn, one at Crédin and one with a lock-keeper at Timadeuc.
On 11 June 1943, Crévic went to the Hotel des Voyageurs where he found Roger Leneveu. Leneveu took him to where the airmen were waiting and then led them all to the station where Henri Loch was to see them off. Crévic would travel in first class. At the last minute, Julien Le Port brought a new airman. Of course, Leneveu did not object and the train left. At Rimaison, the first stop, two passengers stood either side of Crévic. As soon as the train started again, the two men acted: "Haut les mains! Police allemande!" They got off at Saint-Nicolas-des-Eaux where they found the eight (sic) airmen on the platform with their hands in the air. Crévic was pushed into a car with a German officer and Roger Leneveu. Leneveu was extremely excited and shouting "Where is the radio operator? Where is the radio operator?" In Pontivy, Crévic was taken to the German Feldgendarmerie Court.
I believe the captured airmen included 1/Lt Arthur B Hale, 2/Lt Stuart M Sharp, Sgt Joseph E Lasiter, T/Sgt Charles M Ford (all from B-17 42-3313) (thank you MMLB) and Colonel James Russell Jnr (the man brought by Julien Le Port) from B-17 42-29838 The Concho Clipper (merci Beatrice Belz).
Hubert Crévic was held at Jacques Cartier prison in Rennes until August 1944 when he was deported to Germany, however his train was attacked by Allied aircraft at Langeais and he was able to escape in the confusion.
Guy Lenfant and André Rapin were collected by Lysander (Op Howitzer) the night of 15/16 July and flown to England. They brought a detailed map (compiled by the gendarmerie under Cmdt Guillandot whose job it was to guard the area) of defences built by the Germans along the coast of Morbihan (Verity page 97)
At seven o'clock that evening, Henri Loch, Andre Weinzaepflen, owner of the Hôtel des Voyageurs, M Clément, his son Jean and his son-in-law M Pettre were all arrested in Pontivy. At eight o'clock the Germans went to 2 rue Amiral-Condé to look for M Ropert. His wife, who thought they were looking for hidden weapons, was able to cross the street to warn l'Abbé Martin. He refused to leave and the Gestapo agents had no problem in arresting him next. They were all taken the Pontivy Court where they found Crévic and the eight airmen. The next day they were transferred to Rennes. Pierre Ropert returned home that evening but like l'Abbé Martin, he refused to believe he was wanted. The following day, he went to Penthièvre where he had a house and was arrested at Auray station.
Henri Loch, Andre Weinzaepflen and M Clément were deported. M Clément did not return from Germany.
On 13 June, Joseph Jégard, the driver of l' Autocarbone, was arrested. He joined the prisoners from Gounn and Rostrenen who were linked with the Pontivy sector.
On 14 June, the Germans, who were certainly well informed, found the five weapons caches and arrested Tuffin and Le Moing at Guettas, Le Deist at Kerfourn, Guillo and two of M Crédin's sons, and Père Guénael from the abbaye de Timadeuc in Brehan-Loudeac.
It should be noted that despite the abbey giving asylum to the airmen, to men of the maquis and escaping resistants, the monks were never directly involved in resistance activities. The majority of them were ignorant of the resistance work carried out at the abbey throughout the occupation.
After this important haul, the German police force continued their investigations and during his interrogation at Rennes, Ropert understood that a tradesman of Carhaix was suspected. The prisoners had their laundry done by a woman who was recommended by a friend, and so Ropert hid a message in the laundry addressed to M Solu, electrician at Carhaix, telling him to leave immediately for his holidays with Etienne Coréc. This message, in the form of telegram from "Jacq Louis, rue Boncour, Laval, Mayenne", was delivered and Solu and Corec were able to escape.
Towards the end July, a Gestapo inspector went to M Velly's house in Pontivy looking for "M Renaud". M Renaud was the pseudonym of Rapin, Guy Lenfant's radio operator, who had lodged with Velly, but had since escaped to England. Crévic, in his prison cell was informed of this visit and warned Velly that the German police were interested in him. Although they couldn't catch Rapin, they could (later) arrest Velly. They also deported his son.
Jean Clement and M Pettre were arrested in Rennes, and M Guillo's sons at Crédin. Four others responsible for the weapons caches might have been released had they not admitted being involved. Tuffin of Gueltas, for instance, confessed that his cart and oxen was used to transport the parachuted weapons.
A second wave of arrests occurred on 30 August : MM Velly (father and son), Pierre Valy, owner of the Grand Café, Louis Le Frapper, the gun maker, all of Pontivy, and Docteur Oliviero, M Le Mouel (watchmaker) and M Le Strat (cultivateur) of Noyal-Pontivy (and M Jouan - chauffeur at Rostenen) were sent to Rennes where they joined those arrested in June.
That same afternoon, the Germans went to Yves Kerrand's house at Locminé. They searched the house from top to bottom, and told him to pack some clothes. He went to his room and escaped through the French windows into the garden. In reprisal, the Germans took his wife and daughter to Vannes prison where they were held for ten days before being released. For more than a year, until Locminé was liberated on 4 August 1944, Kerrand led a clandestine life, only moving at night. He stayed mainly at the presbytery of Plumelin and returned home only twice: the first for Christmas Eve 1943, the second, in February 1944, to write his tax declaration !
Further south in Malestroit, Gaston Lapierre, who had lodged airmen, was also arrested.
Once their business was finished in Rennes, the Germans sent their prisoners to Angouleme, from where one of the Manach brothers from Plouguer escaped just before Christmas. The families were only allowed to see them for a quarter of an hour each month. They were deported at the beginning of 1944, except for Gaston Lapierre who was released. Only Crévic was still at Rennes in July 1944. He was in a convoy of deportees when they were bombed near Langeais and he managed to escape.
Meanwhile, the Germans had caught Georges Jouanjean. Geo, having taken the train to Quimper, wanted to return to Saint-Quay where he knew that a group of airmen were hidden. He especially wished to warn the members of the St Quay organisation about the arrests. He found Raymond Labrosse, who was unaware that Val Williams had been arrested on 4 June. On 18 June they decided to go to Paris and get news from Elisabeth Barbier at 72 rue Vaneau. They went first to Paul Campinchi where they met Genevieve de Poulpiquet. Geo Jouanjean was to stay the evening with Mlle Larue and he told them about the night when he had escaped the mouse trap and the part played by Roger Leneveu. They asked him what the traitor looked like so they could identify him and Geo described a tie-pin in particular and especially a gold tooth. According to Mme de Poulpiquet, Geo was deeply traumatised by the arrest of his mother and feared she had been tortured.
When Labrosse and Jouanjean arrived at rue Vaneau, they saw a car with a German license plate parked along the pavement. Suspicious, they telephoned the apartment and a voice answered telling them that Elisabeth was ill. They spoke to local hairdresser who told there is kommandantur nearby so they should not be surprised to find police cars. Labrosse refused to go up to Elisabeth's apartment and the two men retired to a cake shop and telephoned again. The same voice invited them to go up to the apartment saying that Elisabeth was waiting for them. Trusting to his luck, which had enabled him to escape last time, Geo decided to go up but asked Labrosse to wait on the pavement. Geo fell into the trap and was arrested. He carried an identity card in the name of Pierre Ledréan from Lorient and claimed he was a cigarette trafficer, but a few days later the Germans were able to identify him from a telegram found at Elisabeth's apartment, sent by Geo's sister announcing her arrival at Montparnasse station and signed Geo Ledréan. Jean Camard and his comrade Jacques Bonneron were taken two days later, on 20 June 1943, when they came to recover some of the organisation's cash from under a staircase. From Fresnes, the Germans sent them to Rennes where they underwent several interrogations before being sent to the prison at Angouleme. They returned to Paris, at the beginning of March 1944, on their way to Germany. Georges Jouanjean saw Jean Camard escape at Gare du Nord while the prisoners were being loaded for the camps.
Georges Jouanjean was deported to Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Birkenau and back to Buchenwald.
The disappearance of Jean Camard did not worry the Saint-Quay group so much as the Germans searching for Jean Lanlo. They had already been to his house but it was deserted. Before leaving, Lanlo wanted to check on his parents. On his way to the Villa Soleil one night, the revolver in his jacket pocket went off as he was climbing over a wire fence, wounding him in the right thigh. He called his friend Andre Ancelin and told him he wanted to go to Rennes to shelter with M and Mme Bourdilleau. He asked Ancelin to go with him because of his wound. To avoid the many road controls between Saint-Quay and Saint-Brieuc, they decided to go from Guingamp, which had less controls than St Brieuc, and they took the taxi of M Thierry from Saint-Quay-Portrieux. At Rennes Lanlo gave his two bags to Ancelin who able to leave the station safely and they met again in front of the station. Wanting to change identity cards, Lanlo asked Ancelin to photograph him then go back to Saint-Quay to get new papers from M Gauthier at the town hall. He also asked Ancelin to wait for two agents from Paris who were to bring back orders.
The following day (29 June) after a night spent in an hotel, Andre Ancelin was joined by two local agents to wait for the train from Paris. The appointment was fixed at the Glacier café. Like Ancelin they did not know the new arrivals, so Ancelin would stay behind to see they were not followed. One of the Rennes men left them, saying he had to go home. Two agents, each carrying a bag, got off the Paris-Brest train and "Jacques" met them at the station exit to lead them to the Glacier. The three walked to l'Avenue Janvier followed, at good distance, by Andre Ancelin, who noticed a group "semble pris en filature" because two civilians were speaking in German. At a given moment, the travellers and their guide stopped by a bench to catch their breath, and the two agents pretended to check the number of a building. Ancelin crossed the road to draw level with Jacques and warn him. Jacques realized immediately that they were being followed, and told his colleagues. Ancelin ran off through the maze of streets; he needed to telephone the Glacier and tell them about his warning to Jacques, and that he was going there. His calls proved useless. Later, he learnt there was no-one in the café because the Gestapo had arrested the three men before they could go to the rendezvous. He collected his bag from the hotel and went straight to their meeting place. So that the Germans could not find the negative needed for Jean Lanlo's new identity card on him, Ancelin asked Mme Bourdilleau to pass it to him at the railway station and she agreed to slip the precious film into his hand at the last moment. When he finally arrived back at Saint-Brieuc station everything was quiet and he was able to return to Saint-Quay-Portrieux by bicycle.
The following day (30 June) just as Andre Ancelin was telling his wife it would be wise to go into hiding because of a probable search, a woman came to warn them that the Gestapo were looking for him. He just had time to escape before the block of houses were surrounded. The Germans undertook the systematic search of the buildings including Mme Ancelin's hairdressing salon. Questioned about her husband, she told them she knew nothing about his activities. The police returned that night hoping to catch Ancelin in his bed. Mme Ancelin was arrested but pretended an attack of appendicitis. She was taken to a private clinic where their friend, Doctor Prigent, operated on her.
Later they found that the Germans had gone to the Bourdilleau home the previous evening (29 June) and arrested Jean Lanlo and the couple who had given him asylum. The comrade of Jacques, the one who went home rather than to the station, had betrayed them (Williams says he was a Mithridate radio operator named Georges). Lanlo spent a year at the Jacques Cartier prison in Rennes, until July 1944. He was with a convoy of Langeais deportees who (with other resistant Bretons) escaped at the beginning of August 1944.
These multiple arrests had immediate effects on the escape organisation and relations between Saint-Quay and Paris became increasingly 'episodical'. However, the Saint-Quay group managed to evacuate one last group of aviators, before the events became too dramatic.
When Val Williams failed to return, the group had the problem of what to do with the airmen. Contact was made with Joseph Darsel, Front National member at Lanvollen, and he suggested that Claude Raoul-Duval went to the Comte de Kergariou at Bringolo, hoping he might know of an organisation. The Comte could only offer aid which, in this difficult time, helped the shelterers enormously as Mme Chameau still had to feed her boarders. Without this help, material and financial assistance, from people like the grocer Mlle Cousin, the baker M Hervé, of Mme Courapied, wife of a mechanic then prisoner in Germany, and of Mlle Le Trocquer, they would never have managed to feed the hungry Americans, but the situation could not continue, and the French pilot decided to go to Paris to find an escape network there. Through his father, who had various contacts with the resistance, Raoul-Duval went to meet Elisabeth Barbier who, in turn, put him in contact with Georges Broussine of the Bourgogne network. Raoul-Duval returned to Brittany to take the airmen to Paris before leading them to Spain. This last convoy of ten people, included the three boarded with Mme Chameau, Roy Martin, William Martin and Louis Halton, two airmen who stayed at the Ligeron home, and Niels Loudonslager, sheltered by Mme Cellarié at La Chimère.
The airmen, mostly American, were placed with logeurs organised by Elisabeth Barbier. They were the last party of evaders that Elisabeth and her mother Camille helped before their arrest on 17 June 1943.
Since only Val Williams had the codes to send radio messages, Raymond Labrosse decided to accompany a group of evaders to Foix and Andorra so he could report on Oaktree to MI9 in London. In Paris, he went to see Mme Bréauté at 26 rue de Paradis. Mme Bréauté contacted M Dorré, who worked on the Paris-Pajol train, and who agreed to shelter Labrosse. M Dorré also knew how to contact Georges Broussine, the head of the Bourgogne network that specialized in escapes across the Pyrenees to Spain. Labrosse joined a convoy of twenty (sic) people and was back in England in September 1943.
Labrosse was soon called to meet Langley and Airey Neave at MI9 and he submitted his report on everything that had happened in France, complete with his frustrations over Oaktree. However, one could not regard the mission of Val Williams as a total failure. Indeed, it was necessary to take account of the fact that a hundred (sic) airmen, the great majority of those collected in Brittany during the summer of 1943, had managed to get to Spain. According to the reports of the evaders, their lodging in centers like Carhaix, Rostrenen and Paris, and their convoying near the coast where safe houses had been established, in other words the basic elements of an escape line according to the directives from the MI9, had functioned perfectly. Like Louis Nouveau for the Pat O'leary Line, the Oaktree agents had received considerable help from the local population, especially in Brittany. In their reports, the evaders emphasised the extraordinary courage deployed by humblest people who did not hesitate to help the airmen, in spite of the risks of terrible reprisals, while others agreed to shelter them under their own roofs. They did it in a completely uninvolved (sic) manner although this gesture irremediably compromised them to the German occupiers. It was also an occasion of solidarity, because the problems of food and clothing could not be solved without many people contributing. This goodwill from the population towards the evading airmen, even those who came to bomb their cities and shoot up their trains, disconcerted the Germans and, it should be said, also surprised the Allies. It was clear that the conditions for rescuing the crews from occupied countries was very different to those in enemy territory, and the people at Room 900 had good reason to be satisfied for the future.
The immediate hope of carrying out maritime operations like those from Canet-Plage, from the Armorican coast was cruelly disappointed. The reason was obvious - the absence of radio contact had compromised them. Not only was that why the Royal Navy refused to risk its ships in missions considered to be too dangerous without shore-to-sea coordination, it was also the major cause of the destruction of the organisation. By using other networks like Mithridate and Comete, Val Williams had ignored the most elementary security precautions as preached by War Office and MI9. On the ground of course it was difficult for him to do otherwise if he wanted to break the impasse, but it also offered two additional opportunities for the Germans to infiltrate his organisation. As the days of the BCRA intelligence network were numbered, and the Belgian escape line was compromised, the chances of survival for Oaktree were small. Even more so as Roger Le Legionnaire continued his destructive work inside the last branches of the Pat O'Leary Line and moved on to Oaktree. Although uncovered in March, few people had been informed of his treachery. The Pontivy group in particular felt they had been used.
This assessment of Oaktree shows that although the groups at Pontivy, Carhaix, Plourivo and Saint-Quay-Portrieux were practically destroyed, the essential Paris section, headed by Paul Campinchi, appeared to survive. Certainly Raymond Labrosse did not think it had been penetrated by the 'redoutable' Roger Leneveu. Believing that his previous experience would give him a crucial advantage, the Canadian radio operator volunteered for a new mission to Brittany, which would include going to Paris where he would have an invaluable contact in Campinchi. However it was still necessary to wait for the green light from Langley who feared the arrest of Val Williams had allowed the Gestapo to identify his friend.
On 1 September, Andre Ancelin's brother Pierre was arrested by Ferdinand Fischer of the SD in Saint-Brieuc along with several members of the Rostrenen group. Eight days later, M Gauthier from the mairie at Saint-Quay, was arrested. Pierre Ancelin and M Gauthier were deported and died in Germany.
On 6 September the Germans arrested M Ligeron, one of the hébergeurs at Saint-Quay, Jean Camard's father Jerome and Jean Lanlo's father. M Ligeron and M Lanlo did not return from deportation. The Cellarié family also had to leave their home at Treveneuc to take refuge in Anjou. Neither Mme Courapied nor Mme Charneau were arrested.
On 6 October 1943, Armand Héry was arrested and deported to Dachau and Mauthausen. He died at Nordhausen-Dora on 27 March 1945. Roger Daniel, arrested at about the same time, was also deported and died at Neuengamme. Louis Bâtard, taxi driver at Plourhan, was also arrested October 1943, was held at Cherche-Midi, then in Fresnes, before being sent to the extermination camp of Struthoff where he survived for more then a year (from March 1944 to 29 April 1945) until the camp was liberated. Eugène Le Doré, Yolande Rebours, brothers Marcel and Eugene Fleury, and Gaston Pédron were imprisoned for various periods but released for lack of evidence.
It is difficult to know, even with the benefit of hindsight, just how much Oaktree contributed to the Brittany group's efforts at helping evading airmen. Certainly the Bretons were capable of organising their own area with couriers and safe houses, but actually getting evaders out of Brittany was always going to be a problem. Breton security seems to have been somewhat casual but that could be said of almost all such groups at the time. If the major reseaux were vulnerable to professional penetration agents like Roger Leneveu, then the Bretons stood little chance. Val Williams has since been criticised (rightly in my opinion) for his casual approach to security but a balance had to be found between over-caution and recklessness in order to achieve anything in the field. The arrest of Williams on the train at Dax did not affect the Bretons directly, but Oaktree had lost it's leader, and with the subsequent return to England of Ray Labrosse, they also lost their connection with London. However, whilst Oaktree might have been a failure as a maritime escape line, it did at least pave the way for Shelburn.
Click here to read about Louis Nouveau and the Pat Line connection
Click here to read about the Shelburn Line