The Pat O'Leary Line
This is the draft of a chapter from my proposed book about the Pat O'Leary line
Tony Brooks
One of the early contributors to the organisation in Marseille was a young man named Anthony Morris Brooks. Tony was born in England on 4 April 1922 but spent much of his youth in France, and so spoke both languages fluently. In August 1939, Tony and his older brother Peter went to stay with their uncle, Norman Brooks, at the Chateau de Proby near Poligny, in the Jura. Norman Brooks was the managing director of Platrieres Modernes de Grozon, a plaster works a few kilometres north of Poligny, where the Brooks family were the majority shareholders. At the chateau, the brothers joined their aunt, Ruth Brooks, and cousin Joan. When war with Germany was declared in September, Peter returned to England while Tony stayed on in France, working in the family business at Grozon, learning how to drive both cars and the company's lorries, and becoming “immersed in the French lifestyle”.
Following the German offensive of May 1940, and German air-raids that shook the chateau, the Brooks family headed south to Montauban (where Norman's son Francis was married to the daughter of deputy maire, Marcel Guerret), arriving there on 17 June. When the country was divided after the Franco-German Armistice of 22 June 1940, with Poligny in the southern unoccupied zone, Norman Brooks and most of the family returned to the Chateau de Proby in July but Tony stayed on with the Guerret family in Montauban. One of the tasks he set himself was to convert the Citroen car he had driven down from Grozon to run on charcoal but more probably his decision was influenced by a growing affection for Colette Hirshfeld, the teenage daughter of Guerret's sister, Lelette.
It was in August, while Tony was still in Montauban, that he met and helped Pte Alfred Manser (LIB/372), who was sheltered overnight with the Guerret family before continuing his journey south (see Chapter **)
On 30 October, Tony drove the Citroen back to Grozon and resumed his work in the family business. Norman Brooks was apparently content to simply run his company and keep out of trouble but his wife Ruth had by then started helping civilians and British soldiers evade internment - including an Englishwoman named Christine Chilver (passed to her by Capitaine Faure, head of the local gendarmerie) who Ruth arranged to have accompany the badly injured F/Lt William Simpson (592) when he left Lyon for Barcelona on 11 October (see Chapter **).
Tony's biographer, Mark Seaman, says that Tony promptly joined his aunt's endeavours, fetching groups of evaders from the occupied zone and delivering them by lorry to Proby , and then either taking them to the American Consulate in Lyon (where the Fellot sisters, Marguerite and Jeanne, worked for George Whittinghill), or all the way to Marseille, where they would be handed over to Donald Caskie, who Ruth had met in Paris before the war.
The only group of men I have been able to identify with confidence as being helped by Tony is that of Pte Gordon Laming (225), Pte Ken Wight (299), L/Cpl John Cope (250) and Sgt Stan Newell (307), who escaped from Frontstalag 142 at Besançon on 26 October. They had gone to the Croix Rouge in Poligny who directed them to the offices of the cement factory, where the secretary served them tea in china cups before sending them to the Chateau de Proby. They were sheltered at the chateau for about three days, taking hot baths and being served by the butler while Ruth Brooks sent telegrams to England for them. On 4 November, they were taken in one of the company's cement lorries bound for Lyon but were stopped and arrested at Lons-le-Saunier. Next day, the soldiers were sent to Fort Saint-Jean in Marseille, and all four crossed the Pyrenees to Spain the following month.
Tony may also have helped Pte Arthur Westhead (391), who escaped from Frontstalag 142 on 13 November with S/127359 Pte Walter McMullen RASC. Westhead reports them travelling through Poligny and Lons-le-Saunier to Marseille, where they arrived on 20 November (and were interned at Fort Saint-Jean) but gives no further details.
Under the terms of the Armistice, British citizens were generally allowed to continue living in the unoccupied zone, and Tony carried his British papers with him at all times, however, as he had now reached military age, he was liable to be arrested and interned - it was time to leave the country. Some degree of temporary protection came from Capitaine Faure, who provided Tony with papers in the name of “François Bertrand” that reduced his age by two years but he was warned they probably wouldn't pass close scrutiny by Vichy officials.
Tony went to see Donald Caskie in Marseille, and he suggested that Tony come and stay at the Seamen's Mission on rue de Forbin until passage across the Pyrenees could be arranged, and so on 27 May 1941, Tony left Grozon for Marseille and moved into the Mission, where he became a member of staff.
Caskie's relationship with Ian Garrow had become increasingly strained by this time (see Chapter **) , and on 2 June, Caskie left the mission in Tony's care while he took a week's holiday (allegedly to Gémenos). By the time Caskie returned (on 9 June), it seemed that Tony's arrest was imminent, and Garrow had already agreed that Tony should leave on the next party sent to the Pyrenees. He duly left the city on the morning of 14 June with five other men (all civilians) for Perpignan.
Not quite the “next party” - Dvr Walsh (450) and Spr Burgess (451) (brought to Marseille by Harold Cole) stayed for four days at the Mission until leaving on 10 June by train to Perpignan in a group of six arranged by Garrow, followed on 13 June by RAF Sgts Houghton (373) and Ingram (375).
Note that Donald Caskie's often fanciful (and sometimes ludicrously fictional) 1957 book “The Tartan Pimpernel” makes no mention of this episode.
At Perpignan, the six men stayed at the Hotel De La Loge for a couple of days, waiting (in vain) for a guide before being taken by truck to Argeles, and setting off on foot to cross the mountains. Three of the men dropped out and returned to France, and after three days in the hills, Tony, a merchant seaman named Kenneth Doggett and an Australian, Leslie Price, having found their way across the border, were captured by the Guardia Civil. They were taken to Espolla before going through the usual series of Spanish prisons before finally being sent to Miranda concentration camp. As a civilian, Tony was put into a different hut to the military prisoners but the Senior Medical Officer was Captain Geoffrey Darke (465), who had escaped from Val-de-Grâce hospital in Paris the previous May, along with three other RAMC officers. Darke questioned Tony “to establish his credentials” and soon discovered that he had known Tony's grandmother, Chairwoman of the Governors at Orsett Mental Hospital where Darke had been Chief Registrar. It may be presumed that Darke (who left Miranda on 31 July) passed on this information to the British authorities, and Tony, Doggett and Price were released from Miranda on 9 August.
Tony left Gibraltar on 1 October on board the converted Irish ferry MV Leinster (not to be confused with RMS Leinster, which was torpedoed and sunk 1918), and arrived at Liverpool on 11 October. Over the following weeks, Tony was called to London to be interviewed by several people, representing various organisations, including James Langley of MI9, who was not impressed, and judged Tony to be totally “unsuitable for return to France”. However, SOE was not so dismissive, and in December 1941, nineteen-year-old Tony Brooks was recruited into Maurice Buckmaster's F Section, its youngest ever agent.
I already knew that Tony Brooks had been involved with the organisation in Marseille but details were hard to find until the publication of the 2018 book “Saboteur”, a biography of Tony Brooks written by Mark Seaman, which I have used to write much of this section.