Honouring Dr Jean-Claude Réveillaud, Resistance Worker
by Chris Bolton
This page posted August 2014
My father, Flying Officer John H Bolton (RAF), was shot down during a bombing operation over Bordeaux in 1944, and somehow got back to the UK. Until a year or so ago, this was all I knew, and I thought I was unlikely to find out more because there are almost no surviving family members who might know anything. This is the somewhat strange story of how I came to find out an incredible amount of detail about the crash and subsequent experiences of the crew, and of some rather moving experiences that I had in France as a result.
A few years ago, my good friends Jean-Marc and Marie-Nöelle Belin moved to Anglet, near Biarritz. When my wife and I visited them I happened to mention that I wondered whether my father had got back to the UK by crossing the Pyrenees in that region. Jean-Marc is a keen cyclist, and wanting to leave his car somewhere during a cycling trip in Belgium, he asked a Brussels friend if he knew of a garage he could use for three weeks. This friend put him in touch with his Belgian neighbour, comtesse Brigitte D'Oultremont, and Jean-Marc used her garage. It turned out that this lady is the President of a society which honours the memory of the Comete network, an evasion line which helped those wishing to reach the UK through wartime France and over the Pyrenees near Biarritz. And it also happens that this society's local base is in Anglet. Through this contact, Jean-Marc was able to find out that there was an evader called Bolton who had escaped that way, but it was not my father. Then the comtesse put him in touch with Keith Janes, of the conscript-heroes website, who told him that there was an RAF officer called Bolton who had crashed on a sortie to Bordeaux on a date that tallied with my father's pilot logbook, which I have. The crash, he said, had been in Charente-Maritime, and this implied that my father's Lancaster had not turned south to get nearer to the Pyrenees, but gone north; this was because, as I should have realised from the date, the Allies were already in France, and the crew would have felt that escape was more likely in that direction.
The next step, which happened on the same day, was that Keith Janes's friend John Howes passed on a copy of the de-brief interview given by my father on returning to the UK. It revealed that he had been hidden by Dr Jean-Claude Réveillaud in his house in a small village called St Martin-de-la-Coudre. He had been joined by surviving members of his crew, and passed, by way of resistance workers in Fontenay-le-Compte and Laroche-sur-Yonne, to the Americans in Nantes. Subsequently John Howes sent me the de-briefs of the other crew members who evaded.
The next stage, which happened the next day, was for me to hear from Jean-Marc that he had discovered where Dr Réveillaud lived, and that the house was now occupied by another doctor, Jacques Perruchon. Dr Perruchon, it transpired, had written an entire book about events during WW2 in Charente-Maritime, and this included a detailed article about the crash of my father's Lancaster. Dr Perruchon supplied pictures of Dr Réveillaud, of my father in RAF uniform (which must have come from before the fateful sortie), of the crashed Lancaster with French people sitting on the fuselage, and (extraordinarily) of Mme Réveillaud with three evaders, including my father, who was carrying on his shoulder one of the Réveillauds' two little boys.
F/O John Bolton.
Crash site of Lancaster LM269, near Surgères, with French civilians on the fuselage.
Left : Mme. Réveillaud with three evaders and her two sons, Jean-Claude (on her lap) and Francis (on my father's shoulder).
Dr Perruchon's 2005 book (Juin 1940 sur les côtes charentaise - Ces étrangers qui ont refusé notre défaite) is out of print but I was able to buy an electronic version on-line, which has an amazing amount of detail of the last flight of Lancaster LM269 from 630 Squadron. It transpired that the plane had been hit by flak during its approach to Bordeaux, and one of the crew had been killed at once. The plane struggled on, with three engines out of service and the remaining one emitting a trail of black smoke. Given that it was steadily losing height, it was decided to bail out, and the seven crew members left the plane one by one. This included the dead crew member, whose body was parachuted to the ground by the survivors. A second crew member, who had been wounded, was sadly killed when his damaged parachute harness failed and he fell directly to his death. The other crew members bailed out successfully. My father, being the pilot, was the last, and he reached the ground just ahead of where the plane crashed, having first emptied the fuel tanks and taken action to avoid landing in the populated area of the town of Surgères.
My father was picked up pretty rapidly and taken in style in the maire's Renault Juvaquatre to the home of Dr Réveillaud. The other survivors were less lucky and had to spend time being secreted in ditches and woods, as well as being accommodated in various ‘safe' houses – though two of them were lucky enough to be billeted for some time in a distillery where they discovered the joys of Cognac and Pineau-de-Charentes. Three of the remaining four eventually ended up with Dr Réveillaud, before being transferred to the Americans at Nantes.
The bodies of the two crew members who died were rapidly found by the French/German authorities, who decided they should be buried in local cemeteries without delay. The funerals, and the subsequent interments, were attended by numerous local people as well as German troops. Amazingly the ceremonies were also attended by at least one surviving member of the crew, who would have been taking a serious risk in insisting on being there to honour dead colleagues.
Fast Forward to 2014
It was clear from Dr Perruchon's book that Dr and Mme Réveillaud died some years ago, but the next development was that my friend Jean-Marc, wondering whether the two ‘little boys' Jean-Claude and Francis Réveillaud were still alive, discovered that Francis is an Art Dealer in Paris (we had actually noticed his premises when we were visiting Paris in 2013!), and gave me his contact details.
My first move, however, was to contact Dr Perruchon and ask if my wife and I could visit him on 23rd June 2014. This led to him contacting Francis himself, and arranging for both sons to be present on 23rd June. A bit later Dr Perruchon contacted me to say that Mme le Maire of the Bernay-St-Martin commune was going to put on a little reception for us, and that he himself was planning a small exhibition about the crash and the role of the Réveillaud family as resistance workers.
So Cathy and I arrived on 23rd June, somewhat nervous about what was in store. We were shown into the Salle de Fêtes where began a whole day of events. We were introduced to Dr Perruchon, to the two sons of Dr Réveillaud and some other relatives, to Mme le Maire and her deputy, and to various other local people, mainly from the little village of St Martin-de-la-Coudre. My friend Jean-Marc and his wife were there as well, and there was an extensive display of photographs and documents to inspect. Mme le Maire (a very dynamic lady!) made a welcoming speech on the theme that ‘without memory there is no future', and after further speeches, a choir of about 20 children from the school next door came in and sang the ‘Chanson des Partisans' to us. I was able to read them the MI9 de-briefs of the four airmen who had stayed with Dr Réveillaud, which I had translated because they showed just what courageous people the Réveillauds were. After a lunch in the Salle de Fêtes some of us were taken by car to the two cemeteries where the dead airmen were buried - not without being welcomed by another maire and given tea.
The grave of Sgt Ronald Bishop, provided at the time by the French. We were moved to see the inscription ‘Mort pour la France', which you see on all the memorials to French dead. This is the only Allied grave in this cemetery, but it still has the sign of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the gatepost, and is maintained by them. Sgt Bishop was the bomb-aimer and front-gunner of LM269.
After this, we travelled to St Martin-de-la-Coudre, where Dr Perruchon showed us his house and garden (which of course had been that of Dr Réveillaud). We saw the attic where the airmen had been accommodated, and we had photos taken in the exact location where the 1944 pictures of the family with the airmen had been taken.
From the left : Sgt ‘Duke' Durber (radio operator), Claude Cardinale (Resistance worker), F/O John Bolton (pilot), two Resistance workers, Sgt Walter Hunt (tail gunner) and a US airman. Seated, Sgt Charlie Goodman (flight engineer) with Francis Réveillaud.
Same place - the cabin is in the background of the 1944 photograph. Left to right: Jean-Claude Réveillaud, the Deputy Maire, Dr Perruchon, Mme le Maire of Bernay-Saint-Martin, Emmanuel Réveillaud (grandson), Chris Bolton and Francis Réveillaud.
To end a very moving day, Mme le Maire took us to the village war memorial and asked me to re-name the square in honour of Dr Jean-Claude Réveillaud, which I was honoured to do. Above is a picture of me cutting the ribbon – first time I've ever done that! This day was, for me the culmination of a sequence of discoveries, in many ways arising from unlikely chance events, which I would never have predicted a year ago. I would like to thank particularly my friend Jean-Marc Belin, Keith Janes and John Howes, the energetic Dr Perruchon, the brothers Réveillaud, and Mme le Maire of the commune of Bernay-Saint-Martin, all of whom collaborated to make it happen.
Dr Jean-Claude Réveillaud
This is what my father said about Dr Réveillaud. "This man was extremely good in every way. Whilst sheltering me, he also did his normal work as the doctor in the district, as well as attending to all the needs of the Maquis when wounded in skirmishes with the Germans. His wife and mother-in-law were also doing splendid work in cooking and supplying clothes etc for the large numbers of FFI personnel who came at all times of the day and night. All this was done with never a grumble and minimum sleep."
This is what Charlie Goodman had to say. "Dr Réveillaud took care of P/O Bolton and myself for nearly two weeks. This man, his wife and his mother-in-law, were very pro-British, and showed in no uncertain manner that they would get us to safety, despite the risk to their two children. This doctor also, with the rest of the village, was a steadying influence on the local FFI lads, and of course tended all their wounded. The mother-in-law beforehand had taken an American pilot to the Spanish border at a time when the risk with the Gestapo in the village was even greater than that which I experienced ... I will always admire the men of the Maquis and FFI, and I would like to add that the prisoners (German) taken in the Surgères area were treated in a proper manner ..."
Goodman had first-hand experience of the treatment of prisoners because at the same time as he was being sheltered in Dr Réveillaud's attic, there were a dozen or so German prisoners being held in the cellar! These prisoners were subsequently paraded through the streets of nearby St Jean d'Angély when it was liberated.
Dr Réveillaud had practised in the UK before the war, and had come to France in 1940 to be the doctor in St Martin-de-la-Coudre, with the specific aim of participating in the Resistance. He was the only original resistance worker known to Dr Perruchon. He had a radio operator who maintained contact with London, and he specialised in helping evaders get to the UK. This meant not only Allied evaders but also STO and other French. After the war Dr Réveillaud moved to Paris and became the doctor to the British Embassy. He became an honorary OBE in 1977.
Postscript about F/O (later F/Lt) John Bolton
On arriving back in the UK, my father was granted a period of leave, which he spent in the family home in South London. On the day he was due to report back, a telegram arrived to say his leave had been extended, but he had already left. This was fortunate, because the same evening the house was hit by a V1 bomb and all the adult members of the family were killed. Two small children survived. Ironically, many of the operations my father had carried out in June, July and August 1944 were against V1 installations in Northern France.
My father was transferred into Transport Command and did various runs through Cairo, Malta, Iraq and India. After the war he went into ‘civvy street', but hated it, and in 1950 he joined up again, and was stationed at Thorney Island. He was piloting a Wellington on a routine flight over Cornwall when it suffered engine failure and crashed. He and two others were killed. This was in 1951. It helps to explain how I knew so little about the events of 1944.