The Robert Crosby Group – and some Françoise and Marie-Odile connections
This page first posted 07 Nov 2020 - updated 22 Nov 2020
On 7 April 1944, Robert Crosby, Neil Lathrop, David Goldberg, Lowell Creason, Arnold Pederson, William Watkins and Michael Smith set off from Saint-Girons (Ariège) to cross the Pyrenees to Spain.
Whilst it seems that reseau Françoise (Louise Marie Dissard) organised the party's crossing of the Pyrenees, as well as helping Watkins and Smith in Toulouse, the other five men, although not meeting her in person, were helped in Paris by people working with Pauline Barré de Saint-Venant, aka Mme Alice Laroche, aka “Marie-Odile”.
Pauline Barré de Saint-Venant was born Pauline Gabrielle Gaillard at Villes-les-Nancy on 9 April 1895, and in 1928, she married Henri Barré de Saint-Venant. They had one daughter, Marie-Jacqueline, who married Joseph Helluy in August 1941, and lived in Nancy at 24 Faubourg des Trois Maisons.
It should be mentioned that several of the helpers named in this article were also associated with the CDDL (Ceux de la Liberation) group. Please note however, that in relating these evader stories, I am not trying to “credit” specific organisations – the reality was far too complex than that .
F/O Robert Gordon Crosby (1908) from Vancouver in Canada, was the 28-year-old pilot of 56 Sqn Typhoon JP446 attacking a V1 rocket site near Embry (Nord-Pas-de-Calais) on 3 January 1944 when he found glycol (engine coolant) pouring from the exhaust ports, and baled out of his stricken aircraft at about 1,000 feet.
Crosby landed in a clearing in a small wood west of Hucqueliers, and after hiding his parachute and Mae West, ran to another wood nearby where he hid until dusk, when he set off towards the south-east. At about nine o'clock that evening, he reached the outskirts of Avesnes, where he went to a house and was given food, a hat and a pitchfork, and escorted to a cross-roads. He walked (east) to Radinghem, where he spent the rest of the night in a barn, and next morning, approached a farm worker, who took him to a farm where he was given some food. Crosby then walked on to Matringhem, where a man gave him a meal, and then took him to a woman who sheltered him overnight. The woman's son gave Crosby a jacket, trousers, raincoat, hat and food, and the following evening (5 Jan) Raymond Boulet arrived to take Crosby to his house at Verchin. Next morning, he took Crosby by horse and cart to a “woman friend of his”.
The woman was Mme Marguerite Fillerin (born 26 June 1897), wife of Norbert (born 17 June 1897), who had been arrested in Paris on 5 March 1943, along with Jean de La Olla and Alex Wattebled of the Pat O'Leary organisation. They had three children; Genevieve (born 15 February 1926), Monique (born 19 April 1927) and Gabriel (born 8 August 1928). At this point, the Filllerin family had already helped twenty-four Allied evaders, including nine airmen after Norbert's arrest.
Crosby spent two night at the Fillerin home in Renty until the morning of 8 January, when Gestapo officers called at the house, and Monique Fillerin, took Crosby from his bed and escorted him across the fields to a farmhouse at Wandonne, home of her mother's cousin, Aimée Gibaux (who was absent at the time). Meanwhile, the Gestapo searched the house, and arrested her mother Marguerite.
Crosby stayed at the farm until the afternoon when Monique returned with Paul Baude driving Doctor Guy Delpierre's car, and an American evader, 2/Lt Paul A Marriott (#548). The two airmen were taken to Mlle Gabrielle Gruel's home in Verchocq, and Doctor Delpierre was brought from Fauquembergues to attend to Marriott, who had been injured when his aircraft crash-landed near Bourthes the previous day. Crosby and Marriott stayed at the house in Verchocq until midnight when the doctor took them to Verchin, Crosby being returned to Raymond Boulet, while Marriott was taken to be sheltered by Mme Alice Tartare.
“I was taken to a farmhouse near Bourthes, then to Verchocq (sic). *** On the way to Verchocq we picked up a Canadian Typhoon pilot named Gordon Crosbie (sic). Later a Fort pilot who had been shot down on the same mission came to stay with us. His name was Neil Lathrop. When Dr Guy Delpierre took me to his own house at Fauquembergues, they stayed behind and I did not see them again.” (MIS-X #548 Marriott)
1/Lt Neil H Lathrop (#613) from Los Angeles, California was the 23-year-old pilot B-17 42-30386 (305BG/364BS), returning from Ludwigshaven on 7 January 1944. The aircraft had been damaged by flak over the target, attacked by fighters over France, and finally abandoned to crash near Estrée-Blanche.
Lathrop says he jumped at about 900 feet, and pulled his rip-cord immediately, and in the brief time he was in the air, saw his aircraft crash, and “a mass of flame”. He landed on a small hill, jarring his back, and ran to shake hands with a farmer. He asked about Germans, and when the man pointed one way, Lathrop ran in the other direction. Lathrop quickly realised his mistake, and that the man had meant him to go where he pointed as he soon encountered German soldiers making a search for him for him and his crew. However, he managed to hide successfully for the rest of the afternoon, and that evening he set off the way the farmer had pointed. It started to sleet, and his back began to ache, and as it was too cold for him to sleep outdoors, he approached stable with a light on. He used sign language (mostly by flapping his arms) to tell the young boy he found there that he was a thirsty airman, and he was brought some beer before the pair of them fell asleep in the stable. The following morning, Lathrop traded his leather A2 flying jacket and a 100 francs for a dirty old black coat which came down to his knees (both parties being pleased with the arrangement), before setting off on foot for Paris.
It took three attempts before Lathrop was able to get any food, an elderly couple giving him a meal, trousers to wear over his uniform ODs and a scarf to hide his shirt, and then he made two dangeroud mistakes which could probably have been avoided if he'd paid more attention at the one E&E lecture he attended during training. First he approached a young man in the centre of a village, and not speaking any French, made something of a spectacle of himself in front of witnesses; and then he jumped onto the back of a slow-moving trailer, unseen by the German driver and armed guard, and waved to people as they passed. One man on a bicycle tried to speak to him, obviously without success, before riding away again. Lathrop finally saw a woman and “a pretty young girl”, jumped off the trailer and approached them. He was lucky – the young girl would have nothing to do with him but the older woman realised who he was and took him to a farmhouse, from where his journey was arranged.
“The farm to which the woman took me belonged to the Noeuveglise-Delforge family of Verchin-par-Fruges. Here I met Blanche Briche who speaks English. She acted as interpretor. Briche is her maiden name. She was born in the US and lived there till [she was] 15. Her husband in P/W. She contacted Raymond Boulet, head of the Verchin and Fruge organisation. He was the man on the bicycle who had questioned me on the truck. That night Raymond took me to Blanche's where I spent the night. Her neighbour brought me lots of food. On 9 January, Raymond brought Robert Gordon Crosby RCAF to join me, and we were together from there except for two weeks in Paris. That night M. Boulet took us to his employer [Mme Alice Tartare of Verchin]. She was a woman with a daughter of twelve. She had been widowed in this war. Lt Marriott was in bed here. After visiting, we spent the night with Boulet. On 10 January we returned to this woman for two nights. Here our uniforms were burned and we were given more civilian clothing.” (MIS-X #613 Lathrop)
It was at about this time that Monique Fillerin came and told Crosby that Lathrop was suspected of being a German spy after being seen riding on a German truck, something that only collaborators did. Lathrop says that they were going to kill him if he could not prove otherwise but fortunately he was able to convince Crosby of his identity.
Lathrop reports that on 12 January, the Gestapo called at Raymond Boulet's house. He was away at the time but took the hint and decided to move the airmen that night. He was also warned that the Gestapo had been to the house he had intended to move them to and so took them to a farm, where he stayed with them that night.
Early next morning (13 Jan), Raymond took them to Emile Patout 's house in Verchin, and that night, Doctor Delpierre came to collect Marriott, while Lathrop and Crosby stayed on in the two-room house for a week, with Raymond and Blanche often visiting. On about 22 January, Lathrop and Crosby were taken to stay with Augustin Debuire, also in Verchin, described by Lathrop as being the mayor's gardener, their host taking “excellent care” of them and being “most kind and generous”. Whist there, Crosby reports meeting two more Americans, S/Sgt Bill Hendrickson (#714) and Sgt Paul Pearce, who stayed on in Verchin after he and Lathrop left.
On about 10 February, Genevieve Fillerin came and told them they were going to leave, and Raymond Boulet took them to Blanche Briche 's house. However, there was a delay, and Lathrop and Crosby stayed with Blanche Briche for two weeks, during which time Lathrop reports the Debuire house was wrecked by bombing, and the Chateau de Verchin, home of Joseph De Wailly, was also hit.
On about 24 February, Lathrop and Crosby were moved to the home of the Noeuveglise-Delforge family in Verchin - Edouard Noeuveglise (born 8 July 1883) and his wife Antonia (née Delforge 18 August 1898) - where Lathrop says they had wonderful care for two weeks.
On about 10 March, Doctor Guy Delpierre picked them up in his car and took them back to his home in Fauquembergues for the night, where they met the doctor's brother-in-law, John Watson Smith – who Lathrop understood had been to South Africa and that the Gestapo was looking for him because he had helped an airman. Next day, Crosby, Lathrop and Smith were taken to Paris.
John Watson Smith was born on 13 April 1922 in Noorder-Paarl (South Africa), son of Alfred Harold Smith, a British citizen, and Marie-Louise Hélène Nadaud, a French citizen; and brother of Arlette Smith, the wife of Doctor Guy Delpierre. During the war, John had lived with his mother at l'Ermitage-Beauregard in Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) where he studied at the town's university but on 25 April 1943, he moved to Fauquembergues to stay with his sister Arlette and her husband, possibly to avoid the STO. Because his brother-in-law was a member of the Fillerin group, John began to get involved with helping but the arrest of Marguerite Fillerin prompted him to leave with Crosby and Lathrop. He was hoping to get to England and join the British army but on arrival in Paris, with his knowledge of the English language, he was asked to stay on and take a more active part in the Resistance.
His journey to Paris with Crosby and Lathrop was probably arranged by André Robin of reseau Hunter-Nord, and in Paris, John joined reseau Hunter. He was soon transferred to the network's Antenna Center where he worked with the radio operators, using the pseudonym Jean Seillier.
John Watson Smith was arrested at dawn on 9 July 1944 at the Hotel Pellerin in Saint-Lubin-des-Joncherets (Eure), by an SS unit of the Hitler-Jugend division. He was taken to the château d'Hellenvilliers, where he was tortured but refused to speak, and next day he was shot by SS soldiers.
It's not clear which route the three men took, Crosby says via Aire (Aire-sur-la-Lys) and Lathrop via Arras but they both agree that Dr Delpierre took them part of the way in his car before they started walking. They also agree that they stayed overnight before a guide took them on a morning train to Paris – and it seems quite likely that their guide was Andre Robin.
“On arrival in Paris we were taken to a café. I was then taken to a woman's apartment, where I stayed until 14 Mar. Lathrop was taken to another house. On 13 Mar, I met F/Lt Goldberg (1910) and from then on my story is the same as his.” (SPG 1908 Crosby)
On their arrival in Paris, Crosby, Lathrop and Smith were joined in the street by three men. One of them was Michel Legendre, a policeman in plain-clothes, who took them to a café. After leaving the café, they were separated on the Metro, Crosby being taken to a woman's apartment (no details), while Michel Legendre took Lathrop to an apartment house at 7 rue Ernest Cresson, Paris XIV, where the concierge, Mme Marguerite Soet, put him in an apartment belonging to a captain who was P/W and whose wife was living elsewhere.
Lathrop stayed in the apartment for two weeks, being joined on the fourth day by John Watson Smith. Lathrop says they went out quite a bit (including to a barber, who was told that Lathrop was Flemish), and often to a café that Lathop describes as being the Paris HQ for Francoise's organisation. It was at this café, the “Au Bon Coin” near the Place d'Italie Metro station, where he rejoined Crosby, and met F/Lt Goldberg, S/Sgt Creason and S/Sgt Pederson, and where they received new shoes and civilian clothes before leaving Paris.
The bistro “Au Bon Coin” at 28 rue des cinq Diamants, Paris XIII, was owned by Mme Augustine Challoy (aka Mme Alice) (born 14 February 1911), and was a regular meeting place for “Mme Laroche” and her associates.
F/Lt David Goldberg RCAF (1910) from Hamilton, Ontario, was the 27-year-old pilot of 403 Sqn Spitfire MJ356 on the way to low-level sweep around Paris on the afternoon of 8 March 1944, and south of Evreux, when he was hit by flak. He tried to crash-land his aircraft but actually crashed, with the aeroplane upside-down, about 3 kms south-west of Champigny-la-Futelaye (Eure).
Goldberg managed to extricate himself from the smouldering machine, leaving his parachute and harness, then ran towards a nearby clearing, heading generally west until he reached a forest. He stayed in the forest until ten o'clock that night, when he set off once more, still heading west, and walked until five-thirty in the morning, where he spent the day in another forest. That evening, he set off again, and about an hour later, came to a farmhouse near Marcilly-la-Campagne, where he was given food and shelter for the night. During the evening, his host went out, returning a couple of hours later, and the following afternoon (10 Mar), four men arrived at the farm to arrange Goldberg's journey.
Goldberg was asked if he wanted to get back to England, and when he said yes, was given civilian clothes and an identity card with one of his own photographs attached. Later that evening, the men went away, only to return after a couple of hours with two cars. Two of the men drove Goldberg to Nonancourt, and the home of Robert Le Ledan, director of the local gas company, where Goldberg stayed for the next two days.
On the afternoon of 12 March, one of the original four men, and another man, took Goldberg to a small village north-east of Nonancourt where he stayed overnight with Mme Andrée Barbas. Next day, Mme Barbas took him by train to Paris where they were met by her husband and daughter, and M. Barbas took Goldberg by Metro to an apartment that Goldberg says was near the Messerschmitt works, where Goldberg met F/O Robert Crosby.
The following morning, M. Barbas took Goldberg and Crosby to Mme Marie Louise Georges (born March 1902) at 157 avenue Edouard Valiant, Boulogne-Billancourt. Marie Georges was a dentist, as was her husband Albert (born July 1898) at Ivry-la-Bataille, Eure – he was one of the original four men who had collected Goldberg from the farm near Marcilly. Goldberg and Crosby stayed with Mme Georges for the next two weeks until 28 March, when they were taken back into Paris, and the café “Au Bon Coin” on rue des cinq Diamants, where they joined Neil Lathrop, Lowell Creason and Arnold Pederson.
S/Sgt Lowell I Creason (#616) from Excelsior Springs, Missouri, was the 24-year-old radio operator of B-26 41-31948 (322BG/449BS) on a “Noball” mission against a rocket site in the Pas-de-Calais on 14 January 1944. They had only just dropped their bombs when they were hit by flak, and the pilot rang the alarm bell. Creason followed navigator 2/Lt Paul Wolff, and pilot 1/Lt Samuel A Walker, and reports that co-pilot 2/Lt James D Pearson was standing right behind him when he jumped from the bomb-bay at about 14,000 feet.
Creason landed in a field, about 2 kms from Lederzeele (north of Saint-Omer), and was still undoing his parachute harness when three men ran up to him, one putting his parachute into a bag while the other two took the rest of his equipment. They led Creason to some bushes, where he hid for the rest of the afternoon, his new friends bringing him food from time to time, and a girl coming to treat his ear, which was cut from when his parachute opened. That evening, one of his helpers took Creason back to his house, and that night, the man took Creason by bicycle to a shack in Lederzeele, where he joined his navigator 2/Lt Paul Wolff (#1166); and Sgts Wayne Greer (#1168) and Walter Satterfield (#1169), two men from another crew in his squadron.
They were visited by Emile Degraeve (born Sept 1901), described by Creason as being the local representative of the organisation, who brought food, and sent for a man to treat Creason's torn ear. The following night, the four Americans went to Emile Degraeve's house in Lederzeele for dinner before being taken to another house in the village to visit Sgt Daniel Mertes (#1167), the radio operator from Greer and Satterfield's aircraft whose legs were temporarily paralysed after injuring his pelvic muscles on landing.
Early on the second morning, all five Americans were taken to a large farm about two kilometres from Lederzeele, home of Louis Vasseur and his family. During their stay on the farm, they heard that the day they left the village, Emile Degraeve and his family had been arrested – Mme Degraeve and their two daughters were released after a week but Emile was deported to Germany. Two days later later, the five airmen were taken to a house in the country to stay with a middle-aged Belgian man, his wife and wife's brother, and where Louis Vasseur and farm owner apparently contributed to the cost of keeping evaders.
On 8 or 9 February, a woma known as “Sylvia”, and two other young women, artist Marie-Therese Auffray (born 1912) and her cousin Marie-Yvonne (aka Monique) Tarin, came from Paris to take Creason, Wollf and Satterfield back to the capital. In Paris, they spent one night in the apartment of a priest, and the following day, while Wollf and Satterfield were taken to stay with dress-shop owner Mlle Raymonde Chassagne at 326 rue Lecourbe, Paris XVI, Sylvia took Creason to stay with Mlle Renee d'Astier de Villatte at 48 avenue Théophile Gautier, Paris XVI. A week later, Sylvia moved Creason to her own apartment on the eastern side of the city for five days before taking him an apartment near the Bois de Boulogne, where two school mistresses, the Mlles Malprade, lived on rue de Civry, Paris XVI.
Creason stayed with the two school mistresses for almost a month, and towards the end of his stay, a girl (quite short, brunette with brown eyes) came to tell them that “the head of the organisation and most of the members” had been caught, and that Sylvia, who this girl did not know, had also disappeared (I believe this is a reference to Gilbert Médéric-Védy of CDDL who was arrested in Paris on 21 March). One of the Mlles Malprade immediately contacted some friends, and Creason was taken to stay with Francis Bosquet (query spelling) (who ran a large printing establishment), his wife Louise and their two young children Andre and Jacqueline, at their house near the Jardin du Luxembourg. Creason says that fifteen minutes after he left the Mlles Malaprade, their apartment was raided by the Germans but the two women were released “after questioning revealed nothing”.
On 23 March, Andre Chiroux (using the alias Charles Aubey), who Creason understood to be the head of another organisation, called on M. Bosquet, and took Creason to Mme Jules Henri at her apartment at 16 Villa Saïd, Paris XVI so that he could question Sgt Pederson. Creason stayed with Mme Henri for two days until a girl took him to another part of the city and turned him over to a young man who took him to the café “Au Bon Coin”, where he joined Arnold Pederson, Neil Lathrop, David Goldberg and Gordon Crosby.
S/Sgt Arnold O Pederson (#615) from Knife River, Minnesota, was the 21-year-old engineer of B-17 42-37946 (452BG/729BS) which was on the way to Frankfurt on 8 February 1944. They had developed engine problems just short of the target and turned back but then managed to get themselves lost and it was only after the bombardier (1/Lt Vincent Lanigan) saw that they had just passed over Le Bourget aerodrome (their target from the previous day) that they were able to fix a course for England. They were just approaching the English Channel when 2/Lt William S Crosman (normally the co-pilot but that place had been taken by Lt-Col Herbert Wangeman so he was flying as tail-gunner) reported they were being attacked by German fighters. They had already lost one engine, and when a second began to fail, the pilot (1/Lt Earl Truex) called to Pederson in his top turret position to bail out, which he did. Unfortunately the rest of the crew didn't hear the order, and were still on board when the aircraft was crash-landed at Fort-Movelle (Eure), and they were all captured.
Pederson landed in an apple tree, about 30 miles east of Caen, with his GI shoes clutched safely in his hand. He called to a man standing nearby that he was an American, and the man quickly helped pull his parachute down, threw his coat around Pederson's shoulders and walked him towards a barn. As three German soldiers appeared on the other side of the field, Pederson's helper disappeared, and Pederson dived into the barn and burrowed into a pile of hay.
The soldiers made a brief search before leaving again, and Pederson stayed in the barn until about seven o'clock that evening, when his friend returned with some food and civilian clothes. After regretfully swapping his leather flying jacket for a too-small civilian one, Pederson set off about an hour later, walking through the night until dawn, when he found another barn to hide in. He slept through that day, and in the evening, approached a farmhouse, where he was given some cider. He wasn't encouraged to stay so walked on for another half an hour to another barn where he slept until eight o'clock next morning. He continued walking through the day, heading generally south-west, and was crossing an orchard that evening when he was spotted by a man who took Pederson into yet another barn, where the man's wife brought him some food. Pederson carried on in this fashion for the next three days (exchanging his jacket for a larger one he found on a scarecrow) until the evening of the fifth day when he was taken into a house. A young boy in the house left immediately, and Pederson was given a meal, and as he finished, the boy returned with three men, who tested his identity.
The householder was Paul Lassiter, and it was his eight-year-old son who fetched Gaston Mignot (56 years old and speaking fluent English from having grown up in Canada and living in Florida), Paul Geila (a former gendarme) and M. Bonnet, the postman at Echauffour, all armed with Sten guns. The three men took Pederson to a large house about three kilometres away, home of the local resistance chief, Roger Boudon (35 years old, medium stature, light complexion, married with a four-year-old daughter), and Pederson reports that this organisation had an armoury of weapons dropped by the RAF. Pederson was housed in the barn about 100 yards from the main house until 16 February when Gaston Mignot took him by bicycle to his house in Echauffour. Pederson spent just over three weeks with the Mignot family, during which time Gaston tried to teach Pederson how to look and act like a Frenchman.
On 10 March, a neighbour, M. Bonnet, ran into the house to warn them that Germans were coming, and a farmer named Edmond Gentry took Pederson by horse and buggy to Armand Buisson in Sainte-Gauburge. Armand Buisson, who owned a hotel opposite the railway station, had visited Pederson several times while he was staying with Gaston Mignot, and he took Pederson to a large farmhouse in Sainte-Colombe (the twin village with Sainte-Gauburge), home of Paul and Philomène Fouqué and their mother.
On the night of 21 March, two women came to the farm to see Pederson, and next day, Philomène Fouqué took Pederson back to Sainte-Gauburge where Armand Buisson gave him a meal at his hotel, a railway ticket for Paris, and introduced him to the two women. They were artist Marie-Therese Auffray and her cousin Marie-Yvonne Tarin (known as Monique), and they took Pederson to Paris, and their apartment overlooking the Cité Universitaire at 21 rue Gazan, Paris XIV. Two days later, the two women took Pederson to the Tuileries Garden where they left him on a bench. He was collected two hours later by a woman in a red dress who took him to an apartment on the exclusive Villa Said to stay with a tall brunette woman, Mme Jules Henri, whose husband was a French diplomat in the US.
On 24 March, “M. Aubey” (Andre Chiroux) (described by Pederson as being about 35 years old, and wearing horn-rimmed glasses) called to interrogate Pederson, and the following day, returned with Lowell Creason to check him again. Creason stayed on with Mme Henri when, about two days later, the woman in the red dress, Simone Rossenu, took Pederson to her apartment at 7 Impasse Moline, where Pederson met T/Sgt Archie Barlow (#687), who was recently returned after turning back from a group crossing the Pyrenees.
On 28 March, Simone Rossenu took Pederson to the “La Fortune du Pot” restaurant where she worked at 20 rue de Bruxelles, and that night, Simone and Gabrielle Capuano, took him to the “Au Bon Coin” café at 28 rue des cinq Diamants where he joined Crosby, Goldberg, Lathrop and Creason.
The bistro, “La Fortune du Pot” at 20 rue de Bruxelles, on the corner with the rue de Douai, was owned by Mme Leonie Marie Louise Margulius (née Darras 28 Sept 1900) (aka Mme Zozo), and like the “Au Bon Coin” was used as a regular meeting place for the “Mme Laroche” and her associates. Gabrielle Alice Capuano (née Vignau 31 January 1920), was an active member of the organisation, and worked there, as did Mme Simone Rossenu (born 12 April 1911) (5 ft 4 inches, dark hair and eyes, divorced) who lived with her parents, M. et Mme Maurice Gaillet, and younger sister Pauline, at 7 Impasse Molin, Paris XVIII.
On 28 March, Robert Crosby, David Goldberg, Neil Lathrop, Lowell Creason and Arnold Pederson left Paris from the gare d'Austerlitz by overnight train to Toulouse.
Lathrop describs their guide as being a young student from the university at Toulouse, “he wore dark glasses with a hat pulled low over his eyes, gangster fashion” (this was probably reseau Françoise guide, Paul Henri Jourdan, born 8 March 1924). They didn't spend any time in Toulouse, simply changing to an electric train for Montréjeau but getting off at Boussens, and taking a bus to Saint-Girons (Ariège) where they were joined by William Watkins.
P/O William Edwin Watkins (1909) from Newport in Monmouthshire, was the 22-year-old pilot of 263 Sqn Typhoon JR309 on a long-range sweep sortie on 13 February 1944, when he was hit by flak, probably from Chartres areodrome, and baled out at about two-thirty that afternoon.
Watkins says he came down about 30 miles north-east of where he was hit, landing in a field next to a farmhouse, close to a village. He ran up to some people working in the field, telling them in French that he was English, and asked for help. They indicated that there were Germans in the village, and that Watkins should head south, which he did, walking for about an hour before stopping to hide in a wood. Once it got dark, he set off again, still heading south, until about four-thirty in the morning, when he hid in a haystack, staying there for the rest of the day, that night and following day, living off his aids box.
After dark on 15 February, Watkins was heading towards a nearby village when he met a labourer, and on asking for help, was directed to the first house in the village, where he was given a meal and shelter for the night. The following morning, he was given a jacket and overall trousers, which he put on over his uniform before leaving the house at 0430 hrs. He continued walking south until about five o'clock that afternoon when after passing through a village, he found another haystack to hide in. When he woke up again at eight o'clock that evening, it was snowing, so he went to the first house in the village, where he was given some bread and meat, but not taken in. Watkins returned to his haystack where stayed for the rest of the night and following day (17 Feb) before walking back to a large farmhouse at Châtenay (Eure-et-Loir) that he had passed earlier. He was given food and shelter, and the farmer tried (without success) to contact a resistance group that might be able to help him.
On the morning of 18 February, the farmer gave Watkins a shirt, scarf, socks and a pullover, and took Watkins about five miles in his car to put him on a road heading south. After walking for the rest of day, Watkins was somewhere on the way to Chevilly (Loiret) when he approached another large farmhouse, where he was given food and sheltered in a barn for the night. Before he set off next morning, he was also given 100 francs.
It began to snow again that day, and Watkins turned off the main road and headed west to a farm about five miles away, where he was sheltered for two nights, his host also trying in vain to contact a resistance group. He also pointed out that if Watkins wanted to get to Spain, then he should travel at least part of the way by train.
On the morning of 21 February, the farmer took Watkins to Chevilly station in his car. He bought Watkins a ticket, warning him about a control at Vierzon on the old demarcation line, and advising him to change at Orleans. After getting off at Orleans, Watkins then boarded the wrong train, his ticket for Vierzon being spotted by the ticket collector, who advised him to return to Orleans. It was still only about ten-thirty in the morning when he got off at Mer, and when Watkins found the next train back to Orleans wasn't until five o'clock that afternoon, he decided to walk, heading along the main road for Blois. He was looking for a bridge to cross the Loire, eventually returning to Mer and crossing there to Muides-sur-Loire. He then walked through the Parc de Chambard, reaching Fontaines-en-Sologne after dark, and finding shelter at a farmhouse just south of the village, home of Robert Lecomte, from where he was eventually put in touch with an organisation.
Watkins was sheltered by Robert Lecomte from 21 to 26 February, during which time, Robert contacted Octave Billy at Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire. Octave visited Watkins on 23 February, and next day sent his daughter and a student with an identity card for him. Three days later, Octave, his daughter and three sons took Watkins back to their home at Saint-Dyé where they explained they had worked out a route via Lyon and Lons-le-Saunier, and undertook to his supply railway tickets. They had intended to send Watkins on 1 April but Octave had a friend in Mer named Andre Martin (of 22 rue Haute d'Aunay), who said he had friends in Lyon, and in a maqui group at Lons-le-Saunier, who would help Watkins get to Switzerland, and so on 29 February, Watkins was taken to the Martin house in Mer. He was visited there by another friend of Octave, Georges Fromet, also from Saint-Dyé, who took Watkins details and said he would send a message to London through a friend in Paris called “Dedier”.
The idea of sending Watkins to Switzerland was scrapped, and at the beginning of April, Dedier arrived with two members of his organisation, and the following morning, took Watkins back to Paris. He was taken to a flat where he met various people, including Madeleine (assume Madeleine Levy of CDDL), who appeared to be in charge. Watkins was given a suit, and that evening, a young man took him to the gare d'Austerlitz, put him on a train for Toulouse and handed him over to a young woman (name unknown). At a small station before Toulouse, they were joined by a priest and a civilian, the priest leaving the train again at another station. At Toulouse, the man and young woman took Watkins for lunch at the station buffet, after which Watkins was introduced to an elderly woman seated at a table in the buffet. She told him that he would be sent to Montauban for three days, and that when he reached Barcelona, he should inform the Consulate-General that “Françoise” (obviously 62-year-old Marie-Louis “Francoise” Dissard) had sent him. That evening, a law student took him to Montauban where he stayed in a flat at a school belonging to Mme Desseaux (query writing), whose son Pierre, a university student, was a member of an organisation.
Three days later, Pierre took Watkins back to Toulouse, where they were met outside the station by a man and a girl, both university students. They took Watkins to a “young people's club”, where he was given a pair of boots. At about 1330 hrs, two other students took him by train to Boussens, carrying four rucksacks between them containing two pairs of boots, and food for the other evaders who were to join them.
At Boussens they met one of the guides (a youngish Spaniard) and a boy of 15 or 16, who was the son of an older Spanish guide. The boy took Watkins by bus to Saint-Girons, and then they walked for two hours into the foothills to the boy's house, and then to a farm, where Watkins met Crosby, Goldberg, Lathrop, Creason and Pederson. They stayed at the farm for eight or nine days until another party arrived, consisting of a Belgian, two Frenchmen and Michael Smith USAAF.
2/Lt Michael Lafayette Smith (#614) from Jacksonville, Florida was the 20-year-old pilot of P-47 42-76337 (366FG/390FS) escorting B-26s to Creil on 17 March 1944. His flight was at 23,000 feet when they were attacked by FW-190s, and Smith was shot down, crash-landing his aircraft in a field near Livarot (Calvados).
Smith jumped from his wrecked aircraft, pressing the detonator buttons as he did so, and running away from a group of people he saw coming towards him. However, they soon caught up, one asking if he were English or American and pointing to where he thought the Germans were. Smith set off in the opposite direction, only to be intercepted by a young man who led him to a hollow tree where he could hide. Smith stayed in his tree for the next ten days, the young man bringing him food each night until tenth night, when he was taken by motorcycle to a farmhouse at Bellou, home of Robert Sirou, from where his journey arranged.
On 29 March, Smith was taken by motorbike to a town (presume Bernay), and then by bus to Lisieux, where he was turned over to two men (19 and 35 years old, both about 5 foot 7 inches, one was blond, blue-eyes and carried a gun, and other dark) who took him by train to Paris. They then went by Metro to the Place de la Bastille, and walked to 15 rue de Roquette, Paris XI where Smith was sheltered by Germain Cayssial and his wife in a flat over their jewellery shop, Smith describing them as “an elderly couple who gave me good care for 5 days”. He was visited by a French former pilot of Martin Marylands in 1940, who brought him a set of clothes. He also brought a former Curtiss Mohawk pilot to massage his feet, and a famous French doctor to examine them. Smith says that “Captain Jean Marie of British Intelligence” [SOE agent Henri Frager] also came, and that he knew all these people”.
On 3 April, the blond man, minus his gun, came and took Smith to Toulouse, and a café where he turned Smith over to two other men. They took Smith to a house on the outskirts of town at 93 Chemin de Nicol, Croix-Daurade, home of Mme Henriette Garric and her daughter Marcelle. Smith was told that ten fliers had already been there, and that General Eisenhauer's nephew, and the son of a British General Wilson, had just gone through, and Smith stayed there for two nights.
A few hours after he arrived, he reports that a woman began pounding on the door calling “Angleterre”, and Smith let her in the window. It was Françoise Dissard, who told him that Geneva would radio Barcelona when to expect him.
On the morning of 6 April, Marcelle Garric took him to a bridge near the railway where they met a young bearded man who told Smith that he was the first evader he had escorted. They were joined by three Frenchmen, and took the train to Montsaunès and then a bus to Saint-Girons, picking up a multilingual Belgian on the bus. From Saint-Girons, they walked about three miles to meet a Spanish guide who led them to a farm on the hillside - where they joined Crosby, Lathrop, Goldberg, Creason, Pederson and Watkins.
Crossing from Saint-Girons to Esterri d'Aneu in Spain
Watkins describes how their young guide led them into the mountains the following night (7 April), and near Castillon-en-Couserans, they were joined by an older guide, who brought another group, including one Frenchman, one Dutchman, two Americans, and three members of the RAF.
Two of the RAF men were WO1 Wilfred Gorman RCAF (LIB/20) and WO Arthur Holden (LIB/676) from 405 Sqn Lancaster LM345 (Logan), who had been evading since September after bailing out over Holland; and the third, according to Holden, was P/O V Thompson (query), all brought from Bordeaux to Toulouse by “Claude”, who lived on the rue de la Liberté in Toulouse, and worked for “Françoise” and “Philippe”. Françoise met them at Toulouse and gave them a sandwich each and tickets for Boussens, before Claude pointed out their guide who took them to Saint-Girons, where he passed them on to another man, who took them to join Crosby and the others.
They walked all night and in the morning, when they were on the top of a mountain, the older guide, who was supposed to know the route, admitted that he was lost - the younger guide had not previously crossed by this route. The Belgians and the French were all for turning back, and Holden was exhausted. The older guide pointed to a mountain, beyond which he said was Spain, and told them he was willing to take them there. They went on for some distance and then broke into a shepherd's hut, and during the day, the shepherd turned up. He gave them directions for Spain but Holden decided to abandon at this point (Holden stayed in the hut for four days before walking back to Saint-Girons, and later joined another party, crossing on about 5 May, only to be captured near the border on 8 May).
The rest of the group walked all that night, and at nine o'clock the following morning, reached the pass over the second mountain (which Smith says was the Pic de Mont Valier), only to find they were still in France – and it was starting to snow. The guide pointed to another pass, on which there was a cairn, and said that was definitely the frontier. There were footprints in the snow up this mountain, and by following them, they reached the head of another valley, which they descended. At the bottom of the valley they sheltered under a rock and lit fires to dry themselves.
By this time the older guide had disappeared but the younger one stayed with them, and during the night, he went down into the valley to try and get food and information. While he was away some of the Belgian, French and Dutch members of the party went back alone towards France. The young guide returned in the morning and told them there was a German patrol in the valley. After some discussion, Watkins, Goldberg, Crosby, Lathrop, Smith, Creason and Pederson decided to go on with the guide, while Gorman and Thompson, the two Americans, and one Frenchman decided to go back (Gorman later joined another party and was captured near Luchon on 22 April).
The seven remaining airmen followed a set of tracks across another mountain, Smith saying that the weather was then “lovely and sunny” at which point their guide said he knew where he was. He took them down to the Pallaresa river, and a barn where he knew the the owner, where they got food and stayed the night. The following night, the guide took them down the valley to the village of Esterri d'Aneu, where they stayed one night and part of the next until the guide's brother arrived. He then took charge, and led them down to Escalarre, where they waited at a farm while the brother went to Barcelona. Five or six days later a car arrived and took them to the consulate in Barcelona - Pederson says the car was 1929 Cadillac running on charcoal, and that there was a Spanish captain on board who got them through the military check-points.
My grateful thanks to René Lesage at Fauquembergues for added details of helpers in the Pas-de-Calais; to Daniel Tarin and Janine Barbey at l'association Marie-Thérèse Auffray (MTA) in Echauffour for introducing me to Mary Behrends; to Mary and her father Arnold Pederson in Duluth, Minnesota for letting me use details from Arnold's memoire; to Michael Moore LeBlanc in New Brunswick, Canada for sharing his extensive research of Marie-Odile; and as ever, to John Howes and Franck Signorile.