The Pat O'Leary Line
This is the draft of a chapter from my proposed book about the Pat O'Leary line
101 Sqn Wellington R1699
P/O P Frank Allen (599) from Ramsbury in Wiltshire, had been a liaison officer with an aircraft manufacturing firm before joining the RAF, and on the night of 10-11 September 1941, was first pilot of 101 Sqn Wellington R1699. He describes how they were returning from a sortie to a munitions plant in Turin when they lost the airscrew on the starboard engine. They also experienced trouble with the port engine, losing height from 13,000 feet down to 3,000 feet, at which point they were briefly attacked (but not hit) by an enemy fighter. The condition of their remaining engine meant they could not continue, and having sent out a wireless signal, they force-landed on a small hill near the village of Les Riceys (Aube), north-west of Chatilon-sur-Seine, at about half-past one in the morning. Worby (see below) says they flew into the hill after mistaking a wooded valley for a field.
Despite having their port wing torn off on landing, none of the crew was injured, and they opted not to set fire to the aircraft as they thought doing so would attract the attention of the Germans. They spent their first hour and half on the ground destroying the IFF and secret documents, and discussing plans to avoid capture. They then set off together, heading roughly south-west for about three hours before settling down in some bushes until daylight.
Shortly after setting off once more, they met a girl who told them there were twenty-five Germans looking for them, and advised them to carry on in the same direction, towards Dijon. That evening, they went to a house where a woman directed them to a nearby farm, where they were given food. They left the farm at about nine o'clock to sleep in a wood, and in the morning, went to another farm where they were given a meal, and a young boy visiting from Paris, took them to the village of Channay.
Allen says they stayed the first night in a barn, and the following three nights in a wood before the French boy took Jack Worby and Gordon Campbell to Paris, leaving the rest of the crew, who were still in uniform, living in a barn in the courtyard of a farm.
The young boy was eighteen-year-old Robert Poinsot, and he explained in an article published by “l'Association des Anciens élèves du collège Désiré Nisard”, in their Bulletin No 13, of June 1994, that he was on holiday in Channay, staying with his grand-parents, when he heard the aircraft circling, and that in the morning, everyone in the village was talking about the English bomber being brought down by the Germans.
Robert first met the airmen two days later when a young girl named Paulette Pion stopped him as he was cycling back to his grand-parents' house. Paulette asked Robert to come to her home in the nearby hamlet of Villiers-les-Moines and help her father unload some hay. In fact, the inhabitants of the hamlet, knowing that Robert had attended the Collége de Châtillon, and so would surely speak English, wanted him to talk to the six airmen they had found wandering along the road in broad daylight.
It was decided that Paulette's father Gaston would take the airmen through the woods towards Channay, and hide them in a small hunting lodge about two kilometres from the village. Next morning, Robert and Gaston Pion's brother-in-law, Georges Bonte, brought supplies to the hut. They continued bringing food each day but knew something more positive needed to be done, and Robert realised that perhaps the answer was to take them to Paris, where his father had numerous contacts he thought might be able to help.
Robert decided to take two men, and a coin was produced to decide who would go with him to the capital, and Jack Worby and Gordon Campbell were selected. The nearest station for a train to Paris was Nuits-sous-Ravières, about 23 kms from Channey, and the only way to get there was by bicycle. Worby had never ridden a bicycle before, and Robert was very impressed with how quickly he learned.
On their arrival at Robert's home at 24 rue Pigalle (Paris IX), his father immediately telephoned his friend, Pierre Larenaudie (aka Uncle Joe), an ex-intelligence officer who lived in Tulle (Correze), who came to the house next day. The two airmen were sheltered with François Van Brock (at rue Cortambert, Paris XVI) for fifteen days until Jacques Dupuis (of 5 rue d'Aumale, Paris IX) took them south ..
Sgt John (Jack) Richard Worby (633), a clerk from Plaistow, East London, and Sgt Gordon Campbell (634), a local government officer from Liverpool, were the wireless operator and front gunner respectively of Wellington R1699. Their MI9 reports defer to Allen for details of their experiences as far as Channay, and say they only stayed three days on the farm at Channay before a French boy took them to Paris (14 Sep).
In a post-war account, Worby says that it was about two days after their arrival in Paris that two men came to see them, one (Pierre Larenaudie) who introduced himself as an ex-Captain in the French Tanks Corps, and the other, tall, with a heavy moustache and a shock of black hair, who just stared grimly. With Robert translating, the captain asked them various questions, which they answered, until Robert asked them what a word (which sounded to them as cupidous) meant. The two airmen were puzzled, and asked “What's he talking about – we bloody don't know”, at which point the tall man (François van Brock) laughed and said “They're English alright”.
It was decided that the sooner they left rue Pigalle the better, and they left that night, both airmen wearing jackets borrowed from Robert's father (about their height but twice as round). Mme Poinsot and her sister took them by Metro to the Passy district, and François van Brock's apartment on rue Cortambert, where François warned them about his “unreliable” concierge.
After a two weeks with François and his wife, a middle-aged man named Jacques Dupuis arrived with chocolate “for emergencies” and said they would be leaving next morning. They set off early next day, François and Jacques leading them to the train station (presumably Montparnasse) where they took a train for Tours, the two airmen travelling separately from their helpers. On arrival at Tours, François waved them goodbye, and when the airmen saw Jaçques being questioned at the barrier, slipped around him to be greeted by a couple who led them to a small van.
They didn't go very far in the van before getting out to cross the demarcation line by crawling across a stubble-field, while the van was authorised to cross between the two zones because it was driven by the local veterinary. Note this version as recalled by Jack in 1995 omits mention of their train journey from Tours to Port-de-Piles as recounted below.
On 26 September, Jacques Dupuis and François van Brock took Worby and Campbell by train to Tours, where they were met by Mme Jeanne Goupille (born 22 May 1896), who went with them another 40 kms south to Port-de-Piles. From Port-de-Piles, they were taken by car to La Haye-Descartes, where they crossed the demarcation that same day to be met by Jeanne's husband, André Goupille (born 20 Jan 1897), the veterinary at La Haye, who took them to Abilly and La Daviere, home of M et Mme Nivert. On 8 October, André Goupille borrowed a car from Mons Maire (the Director of Laiterie – transportation of milk, butter and cheese) and drove the two airmen to Barrou, where they stayed in the derelict Chateau des Courtils until Dr Vourch (Doctor Jean Vorc'h - query) from Finistere took them by car and train to Lyon. They stayed in the city with “British people” for three days until “the organisation” took charge and on 20 October, moved them to Nimes.
Additional information included from post-war correspondence sent to me by Jack's son Andrew, and used with his permission.
The whole Goupille family, André and wife Jeanne, their children Simone (born 21 August 1893), Elisabeth (born 5 March 1924), Pierre (born 9 Feb 1925), Louis (born 10 April 1926) and Jean (born 6 June 1927), were arrested in February 1944 and deported. All survived, and were recommended for awards by IS9 for their work in helping evaders. (TNA Folder WO208-5453)
Not mentioned by Worby or Campbell but in Nimes, they were sheltered by Gaston Negre at rue Port de France, where Richard Parkinson (see below) reports meeting them. Parkinson also says that it was Pat O'Leary who arranged for them to be taken to Andorra.
After two weeks in Nimes, the two airmen made their first attempt at crossing the Pyrenees, an Andorran guide taking them, along with Saint Hippolyte escapers 2/Lt Richard Parkinson (611) and F/O Robert Milton (1039), Pte Walter Phillips (680) (who had escaped soon after capture at Caen in June 1940, and evaded ever since) and a Lieutenant Tramalgar RNVR (who Parkinson says came from HMS Fidelity). They waited at Ax-les-Thermes for another guide but after a week, their Andorran guide decided he would take them across himself. They set off on 28 October but with waist-deep snow they got as far as the summit of Pic de l'Amour (sic) before deciding to turn back, returning to Nimes on 5 November.
On 17 November, the same party tried again, this time taking a train to Narbonne and Perpignan. Bob Milton was arrested at Nimes station but the rest of the party were taken by car about 10 kms from Perpignan to Laroque-des-Albères, and a Spanish guide took them on a much easier route across the mountains to Figueras in Spain, a journey they say took about 22 hours. The party became separated at a railway goods yard but Worby and Campbell report no difficulty travelling on goods trains, all except the RNVR lieutenant (but including their guide) reaching Barcelona on the evening of 19 November. Two days later, Worby and Campbell were sent to Madrid, and on 8 December, to Gibraltar. They left Gibraltar by sea for Gourock on 30 December 1941.
Two weeks after Worby and Campbell left for Paris, Allan says that the French boy returned with two Frenchmen but Robert himself says that on 28 September, four Frenchmen, including brothers (actually cousins) André and Jacques Postel-Vinay, arrived at Channay. Allan, Saxton, Hickton and Christensen were given civilian clothes and taken by train from Nuits-sous-Ravières to Paris, arriving there on 28 September, where they were then split into two parties.
On 3 October, Allen and Saxton were taken by train to Vierzon (Centre), where they were helped by Dr Charles Cliquet of rue de l'Abricot (who names their guide as André Postel-Vinay) and spent the afternoon in a small hotel. That evening, they were taken in an ambulance to a farm just outside the town, and later that night, a Frenchman took them across the river Cher, which was only knee-deep at that point, to spend the rest of the night in a wood. Next morning, they were taken by car south to Charost, where they stayed at the home of the curé de Charost, and four days later, driven to Chateauroux, where they took a train via Lyon to Marseille.
After five days in Marseille (where they are recorded by Louis Nouveau as arriving on 7 October), Allan and Saxton were moved to Perpignan, where they were joined by Hickton and Christensen, and P/O Jozef Zulikowski RAF (641) (who had escaped from Saint Hippolyte on 27 September, and says he met them at Canet Plage on 11 October). They stayed in Perpignan for 14 days before taking a train for Sainte-Léocardie (close to the Spanish border at Bourg-Madame) but two stations before their destination, Saxton and Hickton were questioned by gendarmes and arrested.
At Sainte-Léocardie, Allen's report says that he, Christensen and Zulikowski “picked up” a guide and left for Spain at about mid-day on 30 October, crossing the border at about eight o'clock that evening (the date is clearly wrong, with Christensen saying they walked for 14 hours through the night of 21-22 October). Their guide left them at a farm where they stayed for two nights before the farmer took them by train to Barcelona, where they reported to the British Consulate - Zulikowski says on 21 October, and Christensen says on 23 October.
Allen, Christensen and Zulikowski spent two days at the Consulate before being taken to the British Embassy in Madrid, and three weeks later, moved to Gibraltar. Allen left Gibraltar by overnight flight (presumably by flying boat) for Pembroke Dock, arriving on 23 November 1941.
Sgt John Ross Walker Christenson RAAF (635) from Manley in New South Wales, Australia, where he'd been a clerk, was the second pilot of Wellington R1699.
Christenson says that in Paris, he and Hickton were sheltered in various houses for a week, provided with identity cards, and on 4 October, a French guide (André Postel-Vinay) took them by train to Vierzon (where they were also helped by Dr Charles Cliquet). They crossed the demarcation line that same day, Christensen using a pass with his photograph on it, which was then returned back across the line and the photograph changed so that Hickton could do the same. They were then taken (still with André Postel-Vinay) by car to Issoudun and then by train via Saint-Sulpice (Saint-Sulpice-Laurière) to Marseille, where they were “put in touch with an organisation”.
Few details are included in Christenson's report but next day, he says that he and Hickton were taken to Nimes, where they stayed until 11 October, when they were moved to Canet Plage (just outside Perpignan) where they joined Allen, Saxton and P/O Zulikowski.
Christensen says it was 21 October when the whole party left for Perpignan, from where they took a train for Sainte -Léocardie. He says they were unaccompanied (on this stage of their journey), and confirms Hickton and Saxton being arrested on the train. He says they were met by a guide at Sainte-Léocardie who took them across the Pyrenees that night, the journey taking 14 hours. They stayed overnight on a farm with a friend of their guide, and next day (23 Oct), the farmer took them by train to Barcelona. On 30 December 1941, Christensen left Gibraltar by sea, arriving at Gourock on 5 January 1942.
Sgt Robert W A Saxton (893) from Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire, had worked in brewery advertising until joining the RAF, and was the observer of Wellington R1699. Sgt Henry Thomas Hickton RNZAF (894) from Manawatu in New Zealand, had been a railway fireman until joining the RAF, and was the rear gunner. Their combined report (dated 8 October 1942) says that the boy who went to Paris for them got in touch with André Postel-Vinay and gives the date they went to Paris as 25 September 1941.

Saxton says he was sheltered for a week with comte d'Harcourt (presumably this was comte Robert d'Harcourt - father of André Poste-Viney's friend Pierre d'Harcourt, who had been arrested on 9 July - at 52 avenue de Saxe, Paris XV), and that on about 1 October, André Postel-Vinay took him and P/O Allen by train via Orleans to Vierzon. They were then taken by car to a small farm on the river Cher about three miles from the town, and at dusk, waded the river into Unoccupied France, and spent the rest of the night in a wood. After a couple of nights in a curé's house at Charost (with just the caretaker in residence), they were driven to Issoudun to take a train to Marseille. After staying a week with Louis and Renée Nouveau, they were taken by train to Perpignan, and then Canet Plage, where they stayed for about ten days. Saxton says he was then sent by train from Perpignan for Sainte-Léocardie but was caught on 17 October by a control at Saint Louis (assume Mont-Louis).

Hickton says that he stayed at various houses in Paris for ten days until about 4 October when André Postel-Vinay took him and Sgt Christensen to Vierzon. He was given a “laisser-passez” and crossed the bridge at Vierzon at about six o'clock in the afternoon, in broad daylight. On Sunday 5 October, Hickton and Christensen were taken by car to Issodun to catch an overnight train to Marseille.

After arriving in Marseille early next morning, Hickton and Christensen stayed that night with a Greek (this was Dr Georges Rodocanachi and his wife Fanny of 21 rue de Brignoles). Next morning, Pat Line agent Bruce Dowding took the two airmen to Nimes where they were sheltered by a “rich Frenchman” named Gaston Negre. On about 10 October, Dowding took them by train to Perpignan and Canet Plage, where they met Robert Saxton, Frank Allen and P/O Jozef Zulikowski.

On 17 October, Hickton, Christensen, Saxton, Allen and Zulikowski set off by train for Sainte-Léocardie with their identity cards saying they were all deaf mutes. Hickton says this worked while they were travelling independently but was not plausible with them as a group. When they were questioned by gendarmes, Allen, Christensen and Zulikowski managed to slip away but Hickton and Saxton were taken to a gendarmerie for further questioning.

Hickton explained in 2005 to Christine Hickton, daughter of one of his cousins, that he and Saxton were sitting in a compartment near the centre of the train, and when the gendarmes reached them they thought the two airmen resembled a pair of recently escaped rapists. They were taken off the train and straight to the gendarmerie whilst the rest of the party, at the back of the train, weren't questioned at all. In the event of arrest, they had been instructed not to say anything for at least three and a half hours so as to give the rest of the party a chance to escape. After several hours of interrogation, during which they stuck to their story of being deaf and dumb, the airmen were finally separated and given written questions, which both answered wrongly.

They were held at the gendarmerie for two days, where they describe their treatment as “most friendly”. The gendarmes burnt their identity cards so they wouldn't go to the civilian jail in Perpignan, and suggested that should they ever escape again, they should come (quietly) to the Commandant of the Gendarmerie. They also pointed out that there was a genuine home for the deaf and dumb further along the line at Osséja, and that they could make use of that information should anyone ever try again to pass as deaf and dumb on the railway.
On about 20 October 1941, Hickton and Saxton were sent to the French internment camp at Saint Hippolyte, and in March 1942, transferred to Fort de la Rivère, from where Hickton escaped on 23 August, and Saxton in the big break-out of 5 September.
On the night of 21-22 September, Saxton and Hickton (along with André Postel-Vinay) were among the many men collected from the beach at Canet Plage for delivery to Gibraltar by the Polish crewed felucca Seawolf on Operation Titania. They both also left Gibraltar by sea, on board the battleship HMS Malaya (which was returning to the UK for a refit at Rosyth) on 30 September, arriving at Greenock on 5 October 1942.