On 25 March 1944, 16 Allied airmen set off to cross the Pyrenees to Bossost in Spain

On the evening of Saturday 25 March 1944, two groups of evading Allied aircrew (plus a large number of other men) met in the Pyrenean foothills before setting off together to cross the frontier to Bossost in Spain.
The first group comprised of one P-51 pilot (Charles Yeager) and eight men from the B-24 42-100421 Aphrodite's Disciples (Carl Nall, Michael Negro, Kenneth Walley, Travis Ross, William Malasko, William Gabonay, Richard Weiss and Herman Seidel), who were shot down on 5 March near the town of Sainte-Bazeille, Lot-et-Garonne.
The second group were more diverse; three men (Francis Witt, Kenneth Leach and Severino Fernandez) from a B-17 shot down over the Somme on 4 March, two men (Omar Patterson and Jennings Beck) from a B-17 shot down over Belgium on 29 January, one B-17 crewman (Robert Krengle) shot down over l'Oise on 30 December 1943, and an RCAF Mustang pilot from Bermuda (John Watlington) who was shot down over Amiens on 22 June 1943.
This page first posted 16 Dec 2020
On 5 March 1944, the 389BG/565BS B-24 42-100421 Aphrodite's Disciples was on a mission to Bergerac. The co-pilot says their bomb-run took too long and that before they had completed it, fighters had knocked out their #1 engine, set it and the wing on fire, and torn large holes in the fuselage. They lost altitude rapidly, and at 17,000 feet the pilot (2/Lt Elbert F Tucker) rang the alarm bell and gave the order to bail out.
2/Lt Carl Than Nall (#645) from San Angelo, Texas was the 23-year-old co-pilot, and when the alarm bell range, he went back to the waist and made sure the men in the rear had left the aircraft before jumping head-first out through the bomb-bay himself, forgetting to take his GI shoes despite having them with him in the ship.
Nall landed near Sainte-Bazeille (Lot-et-Garonne) and was immediately surrounded by Frenchman, one of whom, a young man aged about 25, took Nall to his house and hid him in a patch of woods. About two hours later, a boy and another man (a butcher named Coutellier - short, about 130 lbs, black hair, married, and with two small children, a boy and a girl) brought Nall civilian clothes and took him about two miles to the boy's father's farm and the Payrois family at Les Cerisiers, Taillecavat. Nall was fed and hidden in a straw-pile until nightfal when he was taken to the butcher's house in Taillecavat. He spent the night and next day there, and on the evening of 6 March, the boy and his brother-in-law led Nall on foot to the outskirts of Sainte-Bazeille where a vintner met them and hid Nall in a tool-shed in his vineyard. During the day the vintner, his wife and his daughter, supplied Nall with food, and that night, Sgt Negro was brought to to join him.
Sgt Michael J Negro (#682) from Philadephia, was the 19-year-old nose-gunner, and he was in the powered front turret of the J-model aircraft when navigator 2/Lt Herman Seidel started knocking on the door. Negro already knew that something was wrong and so got out of the turret and put on his parachute. He was the next to last man to leave, and as soon as he pulled the ripcord, he saw the aircraft dive and blow to bits in a ball of flame as it hit the ground. He saw one parachute behind him, which he presumed was that of pilot 2/Lt Elbert F Tucker, before landing in an open field with his nose and hands cut and bleeding.
Negro was still getting out of his parachute harness when a father and son (René and Martial Pierre) ran up, taking him and his parachute back to their house, the Moulin de Palard in Turon in Saint-Michel-de-Lapujade, while being overflown by an Me110 that seemd to be looking for him. The man's wife bathed Negro's nose, and the son (Martial) donated the clothes he was wearing just as a child ran in to say that Germans were coming, and Rene Martial and a neighbour (an Italian-looking man named Tollo, aged about 45, and with a son] took Negro was to another house about three kilometres away in Saint-Vivien, and put Negro into a shed in a field with some food and wine.
The wine put Negro to sleep until dark when the house owner, Jean-Baptiste Goalard, took him into the house. Negro explained in his limited French about his flying equipment, and asked him to bury his parachute, and at about two in the morning, he was taken to another house about five kilometres away in Monségur.
Negro stayed in the house at Monségur with René Delcros (aged about 50, a merchant marine who had been a prisoner in the last war), his wife, their 17-year-old son Pierre and 20-year-old daughter, for three nights, his nose being treated by Doctor Rousset (of Raba, Saint-Vivien-de-Monségur) who spoke a little English (he was aged about 32 or 33, fair complexion, clean shaven, medium height, curly hair, married with one child, Catherine. On the fourth day, Doctor Rousset took Negro in his car to a house on the other side of Monségur (to local resistance leader Philippe Ferchaud) where he also met “a French Secret Service man” (22 years old, dark, spoke some English, carried a .45). They apparently suspected Doctor Rousset of working with the Gestapo but after they finished interrogating Negro, Pierre Delcros took him by bicycle to Lorette (just north of Sainte-Bazeille), and handed him over to FTP leader and café owner, Raoul Chauvry, who took Negro to join his co-pilot, Carl Nall.
An hour later, Raoul Chauvry returned and led Nall amd Negro into the town of Sainte-Bazeille and the apartment on rue Saint-Pey d'Aaron of Marcel Erard (5 foot 10 inches, 140 lbs, dark curly hair, 29 years old). Negro thought both he and his wife were doctors but while Mme Erard was nurse, Marcel was a jeweller and clock-maker. There was radio equipmet in the apartment, and the two Americans were interrogated and told that their pilot Elbert Tucker, and radio operator S/Sgt James A D'Amore, had been shot by the Germans. Marcel then took them two doors down to the apartment of M. and Mme Claverie (M. Claverie owned a trucking business, their son and Mme Claverie's father were in Algiers), where they found Sgts Walley and Ross. The four Americans stayed in the apartment until the following night when they were taken to another apartment where they picked up Sgts Gabonay, Malasko and Weiss; and all seven Americans were led to the outskirts of town where Raoul Chauvry and Roger Condat were waiting in a lorry loaded with barrels.
S/Sgt Kenneth M Walley (#680) from Waltham, Massachusetts was the 19-year-old ball-turret gunner, and he delayed his jump and landed in a field on the outskirts of a village. Four Frenchmen ran to him at once while others spread out to watch the roads. His helpers dragged him into a house and changed his clothing for him as they were in too much of a hurry to wait for him to do it hiself. One of the men gave him a bicycle and led him to a café and dance-hall in the town where he was fed. Then word came that a German patrol was on its way to the dance-hall and Walley was hidden under the orchestra stand. When the danger had passed, the café owner, Raoul Chauvry, led him to a field outside the town, and a little cabin where he found Malasko; and an hour or so later, Ross was brought there.
S/Sgt Travis J Ross (#679) from Cheyenne, Oaklahoma was the 19-year-old tail-gunner. He also delayed his jump, landing in the yard of a house, and when no-one appeared from the house, hid his parachute under the porch and ran into a field. There was an empty shack in the field where he took off his heavy clothing and waited until the German planes which were circling about the area had left. He then went out across the field and declared himself to a group of Frenchmen. They asked to see his dog-tags, and as soon as he had shown them, they hurried him into a house and then to a chicken house where they brought food, drink and clothing. Later that evening, they took Ross to a cabin where Walley and Malasko were waiting.
S/Sgt William Malasko (#666) from Minneapolis, Minnesota was the 29-year-old engineer, and one of the two waist-gunners. As soon as he heard the order to bail out he gave the signal to the other men in the waist and jumped. He delayed pulling his rip-cord until he was was very close to the ground, and landed in a farmyard just outside Sainte-Bazeille where a crowd were gathered. As soon as he touched the ground, he unbuckled his chute and ran but the farmer had already sent a girl on a bicycle to head him off, at which point Malasko stopped and turned around. The farmer beckoned him into the house just before a German aircraft came over the farm, apparently looking for the crew. Malasko was fed and given civilian clothes before the farmer took him to a wine cellar away from the house, and within a couple of hours he was joined there by Walley and Ross.
At midnight, a French captain named Lavisse (this was resistance leader Roger Levy) arrived and took the three Americans to a stable in Sainte-Bazeille. The following night they were taken into the house, which belonged to a Frenchman and his Spanish wife (Escolano), where they found Gabonay. Next day Weiss joined them, and the five Americans were then quartered in two apartments in the house, and the day after that, Nall and Negro joined them.
Sgt William J Gabonay (#659) from Yukon, Pennsylvania was the 27-year-old assistant engineer and top-turret gunner, and he came down on the south-eastern edge of Couthures-sur-Garonne (about 3 kms SSW of Sainte-Bazeille). A farmer gave him food but warned him that Germans were camped in the vicinity and so Gabonay hid until dusk before setting off. He had only gone about 300 yards when he was picked up by an elderly farmer and his married son who later that night took him across the river and turned him over to another farmer (about 40 years old, married, had a son about nineteen years old and daughter of eighteen). Gabonay stayed in his house until the following night when the farmer gave him civilian clothes, and took him to Sainte-Bazeille. They were met on the outskirts of town by a French lieutenant (Raoul Chauvry), apparently in the Secret Service (early thirties, dark hair) who led Gabonay to a house, the headquarters of an organisation, on rue Saint-Pey d'Aaron, where a French captain (Roger Levy) (in his forties, slightly bald, had a moustache) took his name, rank and serial number. Ross, Malenko and Walley were already there when Gabonay arrived, and for the next three days, Gabonay and Malasko stayed with an elderly couple and their eighteen-year-old son in the house next door. On the second day Weiss was brought, and on the third day, Negro and Nall arrived.
S/Sgt Richard C Weiss (#681) from Naytahwauch, Minnesota was the 24-year-old waist-gunner, and he was the first man to leave the plane. He landed near the village of Cocumont, about six feet from a farmhouse, home of Antoine Lorenson, and was immediately whisked inside. Two minutes after he entered the house, a baby was born, and Weiss learned later that he had been made his honorary god-father to a girl named Lucie. Then some gendarmes arrived, and they took Weiss in a truck to the police station in Cocumont. They gave him food and held him for four hours, explaining that if the Germans should telephone the station to say that Allied airmen had been seen in the vicinity it would be necessary to surrender him. When after four hours no telephone call had come, they gave Weiss civilian clothes, put him on a bicycle and a young boy (Guy Laloubère) took him about 20 kilometres to a farmhouse where there were about eight armed Frenchmen. They took Weiss across a bridge to the eastern side of the river Garonne to another farmhouse, this one belonging to an elderly couple, who Weiss thought were wine merchants. Weiss stayed with the elderly couple for two days, and on the third night, the boy returned to take him to Sainte-Bazeille, where he joined Malasko and Gabonay.
On the evening of Wednesday 8 March, all seven Americans were taken by lorry some fifty kilometres to a farm at Romestaing, home of Alexis Parage, where they were put up in a barn. Next day, they met two French captains from different organisations; one was a French-Canadian (Pierre Gombeau) about fifty years old, with grey hair and a moustache, and the other (François Lespine) about thirty years old, tall and red-haired. Next day, the two captains left to make arrangements for the Americans but nothing more was heard of them because that night, two young maquisards arrived to take the Americans to a maquis north of Allons at Carasset .
The Americans had pointed out to Roger Levy that the Canadian (Gombeau) didn't speak any English but what they couldn't have known was that Gombeau and his friend Lespine were members of the KDS (Kommando der Sicherheitspolizei) Bordeaux. Levy questioned them and soon realised they were traitors but they still managed to escape.
The Americans met a Monsieur Daniel at Carasset, former chief of the maquis, and at the end of the week, Doctor Henri Cahn, who they understood to be chief of all the resistance organisations in the district (about 30 years old, almost bald, lived in Nérac) arrived in a Franbel (Franco-Belge) Pencil Company delivery truck, driven by the head of Franbel, and with F/O Charles Yeager already on board. He took the Americans to another maquis near Nérac, and that evening brought Lt Seidel to join them.
2/Lt Herman Isador Seidel (#644) from Chicago was the 23-year-old bombardier of Aphrodite's Disciples. When he heard the alarm bell, he pulled the emergency handle, opened the outer door, and then hammered on the nose-turret. The nose-gunner (Michael Negro), who had not heard the order to bail out, swung his turret around, and when Seidel saw he was coming out, picked up his GI shoes, snapped on his chute and followed the bombardier (2/Lt Arthur W Stranlendorff) out of the ship.
Seidel landed near a house outside Lagupie (just north of Saint-Bazielle), home of a wealthy farmer named Jean Maurin who watched Seidel from his house – Seidel learning later that he couldn't come out and help because a German aircraft kept diving at Seidel, there were Germans all around, and the neighbouring house belonged to a collaborator. Seidel hid in a patch of woods until dark and then made his way to the outskirts of Marmande. A woman (Mme Copin – query) whose husband was a PW, and who had a young daughter named Emilie and a seven-year-old son, took Seidel in and fed him after her next-door neighbour, M. Robert (80 years old, with a 70-year-old brother) had assured her that Seidel was a genuine American. Then M. Robert took Seidel into his own house, gave him civilian clothes, and brought a M. Louis (FFI officer Georges Archidice) (a short man with sparse hair, a 26-year-old wife, a 7-year-old son named Serge and twin 4-year-old boys). Archidice, who already had the names and serial numbers of Walley, Ross and Malasko, took Seidel to his house in Marmande, opposite a coal yard and with a view from the rear of the railway station, and Seidel stayed with the Archidice family from 6 to 9 March.
During this time, Seidel was also helped by the family of 20-year-old lad named Paul who knew some English and who was doing forced labour for the Germans (the family consisted of Paul's parents, Paul and an 19-year-old daughter). Paul told Seidel that he had seen one member of Seidel's crew eating with German officers the day after they had been shot down, and that the Germans had shot another man, answering to the description of Sgt James D'Amore, when he had continued running after the Germans had called for him to stop.
On the night of 6 March, Captain Ivan Desaphy, a captain in the French army (about 50 years old, 5 ft 8 inches tall, with grey hair and a moustache) came to talk to Seidel, and showed him a code arranged with the RAF for dropping munitions.
On 9 March, knowing about the two KDS men at Romestaing and the subsequent arrest of Roger Levy, Georges Archidice took Seidel by bicycle to Sainte-Bazeille. They stayed the night and next day in a house on the edge of town, and on the night of 10 March, went to Jean Maurin 's house at Lagupie, next to where Seidel had first landed. Seidel was sheltered with Jean Maurin until 13 March, during which time the chief of police of Marmande and a gendarme named Jean came to have dinner and talk to Seidel.
On 13 March, Georges Archidice returned to take Seidel by bicycle through Sainte-Bazeille, where two other Frenchmen on bicycles joined them and guided them to the farm just south-west of Grignols. This was the home of Jean Dubroca, a 30-year-old man whose father (actually a man named Menvielle), who lived with him, was a local chief of resistance – Seidel also mentions a Spaniard named Maurice Adam, who lived at Sillas, and worked with Dubroca, and a neighbouring farm (Jean-Louis Méric at Au Régent) where they had a dump of munitions dropped by the RAF. Seidel lived with Jean Dubroca and Menvielle until 16 March, when Henri Cahn arrived in a Franbel delivery truck with F/O Yeager on board. The doctor took Seidel to a maquis base in a farmhouse near Nérac, from where two of the maquisards took Seidel to join Nall and the six other members of his crew at the maquis.
F/O Charles Elwood Yeager (#660) from Hamlin, West Virginia, was the 21-year-old pilot of 357FG/363FS P-51 43-6763 Glamorous Glen on a mission to Bordeaux on 5 March 1944 when he was shot down by enemy fighters.
Yeager bailed out at about 18,000 feet, discarding his dinghy pack, oxygen mask and helmet before pulling his rip-cord at about 8,000 feet. He landed near Grignols (Gironde) (about 25 kms SW of Sainte-Bazeille) at Cours-les-Bains, where he was immediately helped by a group of Frenchmen who took him to a nearby farmhouse. A young man and his two sisters (18 and 23 years old) lived at the farm, and they fed him and gave him civilian clothes before he was taken to a hotel about a kilometre north-west of Grignols. At the hotel, a 60-year-old English-speaking Frenchwoman (who had a 30-year-old daughter, and a grand-daughter) explained to him how he would be helped. Then the man who had brought him to the hotel, took him by bicycle about 10 kilimetres south-west to Casteljaloux where he stayed overnight with a “fleshy, white-haired man of forty”, married, with a 19-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter. Next morning, the same man returned and took Yeager by bicycle to a farmhouse off the RN133, between Pompogne and Houeillès, where he was sheltered by a young couple, aged about 35, with a 5-year-old son named Jean. Yeager stayed with the couple for seven days until a farmer from Houeillès took him to a house just outside Nérac .
The house belonged to the “regional maquis chief”, a man called Gabriel Lapeyrusse (born 21 March 1907) who lived with his wife Marie-Rose, her brother Leon, and Gabriel's mother – and where Yeager says that the maquis doctor, Henri Cahn (born 12 November 1911 in Cologne), stayed when he was in the neighbourhood. Both men were members of the SOE Wheelwright circuit, and Yeager reports unpacking grenades and machine-guns that had been dropped by the RAF, and says they also had 37mm anti-tank guns. He also mentions a maquis member named Robert Osso, a photographer who had lived in NYC for fifteen years, and whose father Adolphe still lived there.
A few days later, Henri Cahn arrived in a Franbel lorry (driven by the company boss, 5 feet 6 inches tall, about 130 lbs, with sparse, dark hair) and took Yeager when he went to collect Nall “and the six sergeants with him” and deliver them to a maquis near Nérac. The doctor then went back through Casteljaloux to pick up Seidel (from Grignols) and bring him to the maquis. It's not clear from his report where Yeager was staying but perhaps with Doctor Cahn .
On 25 March, the Franbel lorry (again driven by the company boss) brought Nall, Seidel, Negro, Walley, Ross, Gabonay, Malasko and Weiss from the maquis, picked up Yeager, Henri Cahn and a Belgian lieutenant (René Van Der Stock), and took them to a farmhouse 4 kms south of Nérac. There, they transferred to a larger truck in which there was a gendarme sergeant from Nérac with official papers saying that the evaders were Portuguese workers for the Organisation Todt going to work on German fortifications.
The truck took them to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges (6 kms south of Montréjeau) and stopped at a shop, where the gendarme sergeant from Nérac left them. When it got dark, two boys from the shop led the party down the road where they met another party consisting of Francis Witt, Kenneth Leach, Severino Fernandez, Omar Patterson, Jennings Beck, Robert Krengle, John Watlington, eleven Dutchmen and two Frenchmen.
1/Lt Francis John Witt Jnr (#647) from Youngstown, Ohio was the 23-year-old co-pilot of 384BG/547BS B-17 42-31606 which was returning from Berlin on 4 March 1944. Almost immediately after droppng their bombs, heavy flak riddled the tail section and hit #2 engine. Soon afterwards #1 engine began to leak oil and could not be feathered. They jettisoned the guns but could not salvo the ball-turret, and when the navigator (2/Lt John Kazmerski) decided that he could not get a heading home, they turned south-west and prepared to bail out. At 8,000 feet, Witt ordered the crew to leave the ship, bailing out himself at 6,500 feet after checking on the rest of the crew, and leaving just the pilot (1/Lt Hollie R Lovvorn) who was preparing to jump when he left.
Witt landed close to a barn near Brucamps, Somme (about half way between Abbeville and Amiens), with his parachute tangled in a tree. A farmer (a short dark man, aged about 24, had been in the French army, his wife was pregnant, and they had a baby with a cast on its leg) ran to him at once, cut down his chute, and led him into the house where he hid Witt under the rafters. That evening, Witt was brought out of hiding, given an overcoat and led to another farmhouse, home of a woman with an 8-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter (her husband was a POW in Germany]. One of his waist-gunners, Sgt Leach was brought to join him, and they were hidden in the barn by day and brought into the house only at night because the Germans were searching the neighbourhood for the crew. During their stay they met Miss Thompson, a schoolteacher in Brucamps (aged about 55, a dignified woman who helped organise their escape), and an Englishman (40 or 50 years old, medium height, black bushy hair, horn-rimmed glasses) (Frederick Bundock – query) who was making the arrangements for them. Two days later, the Englishman took them down the road to where a cart was waiting, with Witt's first helper and their other waist-gunner, Sgt Fernandez, on board.
S/Sgt Kenneth Leach (#677) from Webbs Cross Roads, Kentucky, was 20 years old, and S/Sgt Severino J Fernandez (#698) from North Conway, New Hampshire was 23 years old, and both were on their nineteenth mission when B-17 42-31606 was shot down on 4 March 1944.
When Leach heard the bail-out bell he passed it on to the tail-gunner (S/Sgt Homer W Taylor) and ball-turret gunner (S/Sgt Robert L Miller). They jumped at about 8,000 feet and Leach followed them, falling 1,500 feet before pulling his rip-cord, and then landing just on the edge of the village of Brucamp, with his parachute hung up in a tree. Leach unhooked the harness and ran for a thicket but before he could hide, two Frenchmen had got his chute and overtaken him. They told him to hide until they came for him, and a few minutes later, they returned and took him to a farmhouse where he was fed and then hidden in a barn. At about seven o'clock that evening, another man, an Englishman who had married a Frenchwoman after the last war (Frederick Bundock – query) came and led him to another farmhouse, where a woman whose husband was a POW lived with their young son and daughter. Later that night, Lt Witt was brought to the house.
When Fernandez got the bail-out order, he went out from the waist exit, delaying his jump from 8,000 to about 1,500 feet. He landed in an open field, stuffed his parachute under a nearby stump, took off his heavy equipment and hid in some bushes. He could see people in a nearby village (Brucamps) watching him as he got out of his clothes, and heard later that they had misdirected the Germans who came looking for him. Fernandez hid in the bushes for about three hours while the Germans searched before following a wooded path and walking east. About half an hour later a farmer saw him and beckoned him over. Fernandez showed him his phrase-card and the farmer hid him in some straw until seven o'clock that evening when he put Fernandez in a cart, covered him with hay and took him to his father's house in Brucamps. The man's parents were a Belgian couple in their fifties, with a 23-year-old son and 18 or 19-year-old daughter. Fernandez was given civilian clothes and stayed at their house for two nights. Like Leach, he mentions an Englishman married to Frenchwoman – and also a very large, elderly, grey-haired single woman who spoke English (although only his Belgian helpers knew this), who talked to him for about 15 minutes. At 5 am on the Monday morning (6 March), the farmer took him in his cart to Longpré-les-Corps-Saints , and at edge of village picked up Witt, Leach and a guide.
Witt's first helper took the three Americans by train to Amiens, where they took a train to Paris. Unfortunately though, once in the capital, their helper apparently lost his way because after he had taken them back and forth and all around the city on the Metro, he took them to a railway station, bought them tickets to Toulouse, and left them.
They boarded the train by themselves and rode to Orleans without trouble but in the yards at Orleans all passengers with tickets for destinations south of Vierzon, which was on the line of demarcation, were herded into a forward carriage, and they saw a German control preparing to get aboard that carriage. They therefore left the train, hid in a slit trench beside the line, and when the coast was clear, climbed over a fence and hurried away from the railway yards.
The night was very dark, which made finding their way out of the city particularly difficult; they avoided one bridge which was guarded, and were about to cross another when a gendarme stopped them and demanded their papers. Since they didn't have any papers, the gendarme arrested them and marched them up the street. At this point Witt decided there was nothing to lose by declaring themselves, and as soon as they told the gendarme they were American airmen he stopped short, signalled for them to be very quiet, led them past a German headquarters where he had apparently intended to deliver them, and took them to a French police station. The gendarmes (including the police chief) welcomed them with food and wine, and then took them out of town in a patrol wagon with a bicycle escort. They failed to find a house where the Americans could stay and so left them in a haystack with instructions to start walking south at 0500 hrs when the curfew ended.
They walked south for the next two days, never stopping until sun-down and then getting food and a place to sleep at the first farmhouse they approached each evening. By the third day they were very tired and their feet were in bad condition and so they approached several people during the day but got no response until late in the afternoon when they met a villager who was on his way to saw firewood. As soon as they told him they were Americans, he took them into a road-side bar for a drink.
A group of men who were drinking in the bar put the Americans into a truck and drove them to the outskirts of Vierzon where they helped load wood until the bar-keeper (a young and handsome man who contacted a resistance organisation in Vierzon) appeared with a man he had fetched from Vierzon. The man was named Fernand (Fernand Legay of 91 rue Etienne Marcel – query) - he was 45 years old, married to a younger woman and with an 11-year-old daughter, and he took them to his house in the town.
That night they slept in the stable of another house (owned by a man with light wavy hair, a very large dark wife and an 18-year-old daughter) and next morning returned to Fernand's. That night, a train driver (55 to 60 years old) put the three Americans and Fernand, in the cab of his electric locomotive and took them to Toulouse.
Fernand waited with the Americans in a restaurant used by the organisation while the train driver brought a tall, thin-faced, brown-haired man, about 45 years old. This man (who Witt says was arrested by the Gestapo eleven days later) took Witt, Leach and Fernandez to 38 rue de la Colombette where they stayed with Ferdinand Benazet, his wife Francine, son Robert (whose right index finger was missing), and his mother-in-law. Françoise (Dissard) and Philippe (Jean Bregi), a tall man who spoke English, came to see them there, and they received identity cards.
After 12 days with the Benazet family, Witt and Leach were taken to stay overnight with Paul (18 years old, 5 ft 10 inches tall, with fair wavy hair) a student at the University of Toulouse, while Fernandez stayed at a rooming house on the outskirts of town where two or three elderly ladies were also staying. It was run by a married couple (the man being tall, dark, slim, about 38 years old, and his wife being very blonde and about 35 years old). Next morning, a woman called Anita (5 foot 2 inches tall, dark, wore glasses, daughter of a French diplomat) took all three Americans to a restaurant where they were handed over to another student who took them to Montauban.
In Montauban, Witt stayed with an elderly couple whose son Georges was in the French army in Morocco. He also met Mrs Jacobs, an Englishwoman whose husband was interned in Paris. Fernandaz slept in the apartment of a priest who was away, and ate with the family of the student who had brought them from Toulouse. The student's father was a supervisor of schools in Montauban (6 foot 1 inch tall, with a heavy black beard) and his mother (5 foot 4 ins tall, about 55 years old, with reddish hair) taught business classes in school, and had a sister with two small children. Leach just says that he stayed with an elderly lady whose daughter was a typist.
After two nights in Montauban, the three Americans were taken back to Toulouse by the same student who had brought them, and returned to the restaurant. They were given rucksacks before Anita took them back to the railway station where they met Paul and another student called Jake (5 ft 10 inches, smoked a pipe and was growing a beard) (more likely Jacques – and probably Jacques Lartigue) who had Omar Patterson and Jennings Beck with them.
2/Lt Omar McKinley Patterson Jnr (#648) from Roanoke, Virginia was the 26-year-old bombardier of 95BG/334BS B-17 42-3545 (Roznetinsky) which was returning from a morning mission to Frankfurt 29 January 1944. They were at about 25,000 feet, and just past the Belgian frontier when two of their superchargers failed. They fell out of formation and lost altitude to about 20,000 feet where they were attacked by five Me109s and one Focke-Wulf. After fifteen minutes of combat, they were down to 3,500 feet, and with the ruddder and elevator cables cut, and the aircraft on fire, the alarm bell was sounded. Of the ten-man crew, only the four officers and engineer T/Sgt Frank Vandam (#2233) managed to bail out before the aircraft crashed.
Patterson landed near Hulst in Belgium where a 16-year-old boy donated his clothing before Patterson set of running. He was soon caught by a man in farmer's clothes who rode up on a bicycle, gave him his cap and told Patterson to go to a canal and wait for him. Patterson describes the man as being about 50 years old, and had lived in the US, and he asked Patterson to write to his daughter's husband, Paul Roecheck in South Bend, Indiana. Whilst waiting by the canal, Patterson stopped another man, a 35-year-old farmer named Gerome (or Jerome), who took him to his house and fed him. Jerome lived his 60-year-old mother and 24-year-old sister. A flax dealer known as “Little Jock” came in; he was 29 years old, dark, with a medium build, and he asked Patterson to write to his friends Mr and Mrs John Houston of Elgon, Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He then left with Jerome, and brought back four young cyclists and five bicycles. The young men were armed, and they took Patterson to Courtrai (Kortrijk), one riding each side of him, one far ahead and one far behind. Patterson understood they were with the White Brigade, and one of them, a fluent English-speaking boy (blond hair, aged 22, 5 foot 7 inches tall, 140 lbs) seemed to be the leader.
They took Patterson to a house about three blocks from the station, home of Mrs Nasseons, aged 40, with a 15-year-old daughter from her first husband, and another three from her present husband, a Belgian Major who had been picked up by the Germans 18 months earlier, where Patterson stayed for the next two nights. On the evening of 1 February, Patterson was taken to stay with a M Wedelmitt (query spelling), a map-maker and surveyor, an older man, with a wife and daughters aged 24 and 27. He and the elder daughter worked in a furniture factory in Courtrai. On the evening of 4 February, Patterson was moved to the nearby home of Mrs Delportere (Mme Barbara Delporte of 21 rue de Tournai (sic) – query), where he was joined by Lt Beck an hour later.
2/Lt Jennings B Beck (#649) from Sharon, Pennsylvania was the 21-year-old navigator of B-17 42-3545, and he pulled his rip-cord as soon as possible. He came down over a house in Hulst, manoeuvring his chute to miss the house, swerving into a ditch alongside the house, and spraining his ankle. He says that many people saw him come down but none of them approached when he landed, although they did smile.
He took off his parachute and hobbled across a field to a farm where he hid in a haystack, and two Belgian boys brought him some overalls. He put the overalls on, carefully transferring his escape equipment to the pockets, and the boys took his flying equipment away. Beck gave the boys his watch as a souvenir, and they showed him to a road heading south. It led past the house where Beck had landed, and there were Germans there, but he passed unnoticed.
Having passed the house safely, Beck met a girl on a bicycle who indicated that he should follow her. They passed a man along the way who told Beck that he could trust the girl, and she led him to her house on the outskirts of Ingelmunster (about 5 kms north of Hulst). The girls' name was Elsa Callene, she was about 19 years old, and she lived with her mother and younger brother – Beck thought her father was a baker but he was in a prison camp in Germany “for political reasons”. Beck spent the afternoon in their house while Elsa went to see some people about getting help. That evening, Elsa dressed Beck in a skirt, with a handkerchief over his hair, and lipstick, and took him into Ingelmunster, and the home of a couple (about 50 years old) where Beck spent the night while Elsa went back to her house.
Elsa returned next morning with a butcher boy called Emile - he was aged about 19, and had brought a bicycle. Beck was put on the bike and taken to another couple in Ingelmunster, these two aged about 30, and they bathed Beck's foot, which was now about three times normal size. Beck comments that he noticed that he was being moved around so much because the people didn't want anyone to become suspicious - the Germans made no bones about shooting anyone who helped evaders. Beck stayed in the house for the rest of the day, and during the afternoon, the ex-chief of police of Ingelmunster came to see him. He spoke English and assured Beck that he could trust all the people he was with. That evening, Emile took Beck by bicycle to Roulers (Roeselare) and the house of a 70-year-old lady who lived with her 30-year-old son and 25-year-old daughter. He also met a “well-to-do” lady and her husband, both about aged 45 - she spoke English, and told Beck that they were all afraid, and asked if he knew anyone who could help him.
Beck stayed in the house for four days, the English-speaking lady coming to see him every day. Then Emile, Elsa and another young girl arrived with bicycles and took him back to Englemunster to meet the White Brigade. Beck was unsure if this was what underground in that area was called or whether the name was used throughout Belgium. Beck was taken to a farmhouse where a couple aged about 70 lived. There were also two sons around, aged about 30, who were members of the White Brigade, and two other men, and they told Beck that when he got back to England he was to say that the White Brigade was still operating. Two days later, an English-speaking man arrived and put Beck in a Red Cross ambulance. The driver was a girl, and she took Beck to a rendezvous in Courtrai (Kortrijk) where he was passed on to two more girls, named Wendelsmitt (query spelling). They had been helping his bombardier Patterson, and they took Beck to where Patterson was staying with Mme Delportere.
Mrs Delportere was Dutch, married to a Belgian (who was away), with a 15-year-old daughter. Patterson says she had money; she worked as a nurse in a German hospital, had a car, gas, and ration stamps, and bought food on the black market; she was very intelligent, a good organiser and helped others. They were visited by Miss Peel (35 years old, her brother was in prison for having a radio) who took the two Americans to have their photographs taken, and met Mr De Portee (no relation to Mrs Delportere), who owned tapestry factories all over Europe, and one near London; he had one son in English army and another, 24-year-old Frank De Portee, who helped them with suggestions for their onward journey.
On the evening of 15 February, Mrs Delportere and Frank De Portee drove Patterson and Beck to within 500 yards of the Belgian border. Mrs Delportere then took them on foot through the first barrier and left them in a restaurant. The Americans went out the back door and followed an old woman with a black shawl, and then followed another old woman with white shawl, zigzagging for about 500 yards. They entered the back of a house where two elderly Frenchwomen, with two elderly men, were smoking and laughing at them. They followed the woman in the white shawl out of the house and met Mrs Delportere on the corner in the car with Frank De Portee, who drove them to a house in Tourcoing where they spent the night with a French war-veteran postman.
Next day, Frank De Portee took them to the station and bought tickets for Paris; he took a first-class ticket for himself while Patterson and Beck went second-class. They changed trains at Paris, where Frank apparantly managed to “bribe” a first-class compartment for the three of them alone for the overnight journey to Saint-Sulpice (Tarn).
The following morning, they went to the home of M et Mme Paul Decoene, close friends of Mrs Delportere; aged about 50, Paul Decoene was a wealthy nylon brush manufacturer. Patterson and Beck stayed with the Decoene family (on and off) for nearly six weeks, and for the first three weeks, a girl cousin from Coutrai was also staying there. Patterson also mentions Andre Fauvel, his wife and three small children living next door.
On about 1 March, the two Americans were taken to stay with M et Mme Pichon; he was a wealthy baker, active in underground, who listened to BBC with great attention, and had secret conferences. They also stayed for about five days with Emile Gorce, a very large former French colonial official in Africa, who worked in shoe manufacturing, and another five days with 55-year-old Ernest Cambon, his wife and daughter. Patterson also reports spending one night about seven miles from Saint-Sulpice with 30-year-old Mr Furrier and his pretty wife, in order to “avoid the Gestapo” before returning to the Pichon home where they met two teenage students from the University of Toulouse who were “working with the maquis”, one called Lavignotte Hertrich, whose father was in Algeria.
Date not given when the two students took Patterson and Beck to Toulouse (Mr Pichon, Emile Gorce and Mrs Decoene seeing them off from the station) and passed them over to an organisation but it was probably 25 March as there is no mention of them staying overnight in the city.
Patterson says that on Saturday 25 March, he and Beck were put on a train with tickets for Saint-Laurent-Saint-Paul, although they got off before the station, somewhere between Saint-Gaudens and Montréjeau. They were met by men from a maquis, and tall blonde Californian called “San Francisco” - this was Joseph John Barrère from Loures-Barousse, born 1 August 1913 in Oakland, California, and generally known to evaders as “Frisco”. They were taken to a large house where there was a total of 15 Americans, 22 Dutch and 1 RAF airman. The town seemed to belong to the maquis, who were very bold, and at dusk the whole group were taken by truck to a sawmill in the hills. They set off walking with four maquis guards and one guide, all armed with Sten guns, crossing a creek many times until eight o'clock that evening, when they stopped at a shepherd's house for the night.
Francis Witt says that the two students, Paul and Jake, took him, Leach, Fernandez, Patterson and Beck by train to Montréjeau where they met Robert Krengle and John Watlington (RCAF) and then a lorry took them to join a large group of Dutchmen with two Frenchmen and a Belgian captain (about 31 years old, who had spent five years in German prison camp). After dark, lorries took the whole party up into the foothills where they joined Nall, Negro, Walley, Ross, Gabonay, Malasko, Weiss, Seidel and Yeager.
1/Lt Robert V Krengle (#646) from Houston, Texas was the 22-year-old bombardier of 389BG/564BS B-24 42-63973 which was on the way to Ludwigshaven on 30 December 1943. They still had their Spitfire escort at about ten o'clock that morning when they were hit by flak which stopped their #1 engine. They were then attacked by fighters which sent the bomber into a spiral dive, and pilot 2/Lt Richard F Schafer (#499) gave the bail-out order. Waist-gunner S/Sgt Paul Dicken (#500) jumped before Schafer regained control and cancelled the order. However the aircraft was then flying in circles with engines #2 and #3 running away, the bail-out order renewed and the rest of the crew abandoned the stricken aircraft, leaving it to crash near Cambronne-les-Ribecourt, Oise.
Krengle says he jumped at about 4,000 feet, pulling his rip-cord as soon as he cleared the plane. Several Frenchmen were standing in the field near Soissons where he landed, pointed to some woods and told him that Germans were coming. Krengle spent the next few hours hiding before setting off, and at nightfall came to a farmyard where he planned to spend the night. He was spotted by a girl milking a cow in the courtyard, and when Krengle explained who he was, she took him to a workman's dugout under the nearby road. She told him to hide there until morning, and then make his way to a certain farm in the morning.
Next morning, Krengle found the right farm, about half-way between Soissons and Attichy, south of the RN31, and was welcomed in. He was hidden in a cellar during the day by the foreman and his wife, and slept in the house for the next two nights before deciding to leave, the family giving him civilian clothes before a friend of the foreman took him to the neighbouring town of Attichy, and put him on a train with a ticket for Paris.
On arrival in the capital, Krengle bluffed his way out the station by taking the bags from two women and then carrying them through the ticket check, before returning the women's luggage to them. While Krengle was wondering what to do next, there was an air-raid warning, and since he had been warned in England against using the shelters because they would be checked, and with the police clearing the streets, he went into an apartment building. At the entrance he came face to face with a workman, and having little choice, declared himself to the man. The man took Krengle to an empty apartment where he had been working, and then tried to help Krengle work out a plan using his escape map. They decided that the safest route would be for Krengle to take a train to Bourges and then walk across the demarcation line. The man then took Krengle back to his apartment in the suburbs for the night, stopping on the way to buy him a train ticket, and in the morning took him back to the station and put him on the right train. Krengle adds that while he was waiting for his friend to buy the ticket, a large bus drove up and stopped quite near him, and he saw a German guard and sixteen American airmen, including a member of his own crew, on board.
Krengle arrived in Bourges without further incident but then found all the roads out of the town were guarded by German soldiers. He wandering around the town until evening when he finally stopped a young boy on a bicycle and asked for his help. The boy took him to a house next to the grocery shop where he worked, where a woman gave Krengle dinner and then hid him in her garage. Then the boy came in with an even younger boy to tell Krengle there was a train leaving for Toulouse in fifteen minutes, and that he had to be on it. They marched him to the station, bought him a ticket and gave him instructions on how to change trains at Vierzon.
On arrival at Toulouse, Krengle saw Germans checking everyone's tickets and so tried leaving the station through the marshalling yard. He was spotted by a German soldier just as he was passing around a goods train, doubled back and got back on the train he had arrived on, where he locked himself in the lavatory. He decided the train would probably go on to Carcassonne, and once it left the station, came out from the lavatory, and bought a ticket to Carcassonne from the conductor.
On arrival at Carcassonne, Krengle set off walking south. After failing to help at the first house he tried, he went to the small railway station at Couffoulens to see if he could take a train further south. The station-master immediately realised Krengle wasn't French, and asked him to wait until he returned with a friend who took Krengle back to his house in the village of Leuc. Krengle was sheltered there overnight before being returned to the station and put on an electric train for Quillan. The train was very crowded, and after a while, Krengle passed a note to the man sitting next to him saying that he was an American, and the man wrote back that he would pass him to a friend. After a while, the first man was replaced by a second, and Krengle followed the second man when he left the train at Quillan. This man met several friends at the station, and they put Krengle onto a bus crowded with workmen, with instructions to follow the last man off the bus. Krengle duly followed the last man, and after some discussion, the man told Krengle to wait until four o'clock that afternoon, at which time he returned with another man, who took Krengle back to Toulouse, where his journey was arranged.
In Toulouse, Krengle was taken to a house “on the avenue du Colleges (rue du College de Foix – query) where a 30-year-old man lived with his mother and his mother's parents. Krengle stayed four days until Jacques (40 years old, short, thin, ruddy complexion, married, has a son, wears leather jacket and beret) took him to stay with Gaston Lejeune (Krengle says Maurice) (born 25 June 1911) and his English wife Joan at 13 rue Helene Boucher in Montaudran. Gaston was an aircraft technician, and Krengle says he was the manager of a repair depot at Breguet airport (which I assume is now aerodrome Toulouse-Lasbordes). Krengle was sheltered with the Lejeune family for a month, being joined after a week by Spitfire pilot Robert Davenport.
On 16 February, Krengle and Davenport were taken by train to a station near Saint-Laurent where “a whole party of evaders” got off the train. They were taken to a hut in the mountains but after two weeks, Krengle, who had still not been given shoes suitable for walking, left with six Dutchmen in the party and returned to Toulouse. Krengle went back to the Lejeune family at 13 rue Helene Boucher, where he lived for the next five weeks - a man named Servat and his family, who had a farm on nearby Chemin de Firmis, supplying extra food for him.
F/O Robert Davenport (1869) was an American serving with the RCAF, who was sheltered by Gaston Lejeune (who had been a lieutenant in the French army, and had a wooden leg) and his wife from 17 January until 16 February. Davenport confirms meeting Krengle at the Lejeune home but says Krengle left before him, meeting up again when he was taken to the station where he joined Krengle and a party of 25 others, including British, American, Czechs, Dutch and French. They were taken by train to Saint-Laurent, and then by truck to a village (unnamed) where they were looked after by a maquis. Snow prevented their immediate crossing and most of the group, including Krengle, returned in dribs and drabs, leaving just Davenport and six others - John McLaughlin (1872), George Watts (1874), Campbell Brigman (#606), Nicholas Mandell (#629), Norman Elkin (#641) and Walter Snyder (#642). They stayed with the maquis, and on 16 March, were driven to Troubat (Haute-Pyrenees), where they were joined by more men until there was a party of about 42 (including 19 Allied aircrew). They set off with several guards, all armed with Sten guns, and on 19 March, were passed over to two Spanish guides, and crossed to Bossost in Spain the following day.
On 25 March, Krengle was again taken to Saint-Laurent, this time with Mustang pilot John Watlington. At the station, they met Witt, Leach, Fernandez, Patterson and Beck (who had been on the same train), with whom they were taken in a lorry to a forestry camp (or sluice mill) in the mountains where they were joined by Yeager and the eight men from Aphrodite's Disciples.
F/O John Hartley Watlington (1925) from Hamilton, Bermuda, who joined the RCAF in February 1941, was the 22-year-old pilot of 400 TAF Mustang AG641 on a night sortie against enemy fighters when he was shot down by flak near Amiens in the early hours of 22 June 1943.
Watlington baled out and landed in the middle of a cornfield, about 20 kilometres north of Neufchatel-en-Bray. He hid his parachute and Mae West and headed south-east until an hour after dawn when he hid in some trees on a hill-top. He ate the contents of his aids box and then slept until noon, when he woke up and saw a boy herding cattle in an adjoining field. The boy took Watlington back to his house where the family gave him two meals before he set off again that evening. He used his compass to continue south-east, reaching Bouelles at about three o'clock next morning, and sleeping in a barn, again until noon. The owner of the barn gave Watlington a meal, a civilian suit and a cap before he set off that night, aiming for the Seine somewhere between Rouen and Paris. He found a railway track running west, and was following that when two French policeman jumped from a ditch and pointed their revolvers at him. Watlington quickly declared himself – “Je suis anglais” – at which point they put their guns away, took him into a field, checked his identity, gave him instructions on how to buy a train ticket to Paris, and told him there was a 1622 hrs train from Saint-Saens. Watlington spent the rest of the night, and much of the following day, in a haystack before making his way to Saint-Saens, and reached the capital at about nine-thirty that evening (24 June).
Watlington wandered around near the station until half an hour before curfew, finally entering a restaurant where he approached a man and two women. One of the women spoke some English, and she took Watlington back to her apartment building where she convinced the concierge that Watlington should be given a room for the night without producing the usual identity card. Next day, he went to the gare d'Austerlitz but on seeing gendarmes demanding papers, which he didn't have, decided to try and join the train at a later point. He walked to Choisy-le-Roi but found the next train for Toulouse that would stop there, wasn't until the following morning, and so went to a nearby hotel. The owner, on learning that Watlington was English, and let him have a room for the night, and the following morning, friends of the hotel owner bought Watlington a ticket to Fleury-les-Aubrais, in the northern suburbs of Orléans, and travelled with him as far as Etamps.
From Fleury-les-Aubrais Watlington walked through Orleans to cross the Loire and then headed south, looking for a small town with a railway station, almost reaching La Ferté-Saint-Aubin before spending the night in a haystack. Up early next morning, Watlington went to the railway station but on seeing a German soldier checking everyone's tickets, decided to move on, taking a side-road to Neung-sur-Beuron, and then heading south before spending the night in a farmhouse. Next day he walked around Romorantin-Lanthenay, finding shelter at a farmhouse where he also got some advice on crossing the demarcation line. He crossed the Cher at Selles-sur-Cher and carried on to Valençay, where a farmer let him sleep in his barn. From Valençay, Watlington took a train to Chateauroux and on towards Montluçon but getting off at La Chapelaude. He was hoping to get a train further south, and the station-master changed the Belgian money he was carrying into French, and gave him directions for Saint-Affrique (Midi-Pyrenees). Watlington got as far as Merlines (Corrèze), and on finding the next train for Saint-Affrique would be early the following morning, got a room in a hotel, declaring himself to the owner that he was British, and next day, Watlington was put in touch with an organisation.
A English-speaking dentist, referred to as M. Robert, took Watlington back to his house, and next morning, Watlington boarded a train. However, he quickly decided this was the wrong train, and got off again at the next station, the train then leaving before he could get an answer from a railway official. Watlington walked back to M. Robert at Merlines, and he put Watlington in touch with a Scotsman named James MacNelly, a male nurse at a nearby church asylum. MacNelly thought he might get help from a railway worker but whilst talking to the man, was overheard by a member of a resistance group. This man then took Watlington to stay with station-master, Pierre Deyx .
Watlington stayed with Pierre Deyx until the night of 7 July, when a doctor took him to Liginiac, and the home of Max Felix de la Boissy, a former govenor of one of the French colonies, and his English wife. On 17 July, a garage owner named Leon Moneger took Watlington back to his home in Neuvic, and then to Lamazière-Basse, where Watlington was sheltered by Baron Calary de la Maziere and his family at Chateau Roussille until 13 August, when he was taken by truck to Ussel. At Ussel, Watlington was supposed to be put a train to Pau but this scheme fell through, and Watlington stayed in Ussel for ten days with insurance agent Louis Philippe Pradel.
On 23 August, a young man took Watlington by bicycle to Saint-Exupéry-les-Roches, and from there to a farm at Veyrières where he was sheltered by Antonin Meynial. Meynial seems to have been the recipient of containers dropped by the RAF as Watlington says he helped to bury 60 canisters of machine-gun parts. On 6 September, Watlington was moved to a “regular maquis camp”, where he joined 25 men armed with French machine-guns and pistols, and which seemed to be a “school for instruction in the use of explosives in sabotage”.
On the morning of 11 September, guards raised the alarm because gendarmes were approaching, and the group broke up immediately. Watlington and two others ran south for about ten kilometres to a village where one of the men contacted his father, who sent a truck from Ussel to collect them. Watlington spent a couple of nights back in Ussel before being taken to another, larger maquis camp near an abandoned aerodrome to the east of the town. Watlington was getting tired of life with the maquis, seeing no likelihood of them helping him get back to England and on about 14 September, was returned to Antonin Meynial at Veyrières, and then on 26 September, to Baron Calary de la Maziere at Chateau Roussille.
On 11 October, a man who worked with Leon Moneger, arrived from Paris with a truck and told Watlington that he was going to Toulouse. He was dropped off at a station near Maymac and travelled to Merlines alone, where he was met by Pierre Deyx's adopted daughter Rolande. She took him to her home, and that night, Andre Chaussade and his wife took Watlington back to their house in Toulouse at 4 rue Jean Favier.
Andre Chaussade thought he knew about an organisation that operated aircraft from Toulouse but that turned out to be just rumour, and several people from organisations visited before three Frenchmen, one of whom spoke very good English, said they would take him to Paris, and then Quimper to be taken to England by boat. On 28 October, Andre Chaussade took Watlington to a M. Collaine at 14 rue Temponières, where he was given a new identity card, and that night, two men took him by overnight train to Paris. He spent the day with Mme Vve Marianne MacConnel at 119 rue Exelmans, and that evening was taken to gare Montparnasse and shown a tall man he was to follow when their train arrived at Quimper (Finistere). On arrival at Quimper next morning, Watlington couldn't see the tall man, and so walked out of the station alone but then a man known as Fanfan followed and spoke to him (in very good English) before leading Watlington to a truck which already had several English and American airmen on board. They were driven to a fish-canning factory that Watlington says was owned by Fanfan's father, and operated by a collaborator, and the party of seven Americans and five Englishmen were hidden on the first floor – the only name that Watlington could remember being that of Sgt (Anthony) Reynolds (1835).
They were to have been embarked by sea in a Dahlia operation organised by Yves Le Henaff (Fanfan) - the idea being to take the evaders from the harbour at Douarnenez by fishing boat and rendezvous at sea with a Royal Navy torpedo boat - but the plan fell through and evaders returned to Paris on about 6 November.
Watlington was only in Paris for a few hours before being taken to Epernay, along with 2/Lt Alden Faudie (#1566), 2/Lt Roy Davidson and S/Sgt Fred Kreuger (all from B-17 42-30453 Thunderbird), and an RAF sergeant with the first name Hugh. In Epernay, Watlington and Faudie were taken out of the town to 73 rue de Champagne, home of wealthy champagne grower Pierre Servagnat, and then to Athis, where they stayed with Francois Machet at the Chateau d'Athis. Watlington developed yellow jaundice, and when the Germans made a number of arrests, and Faudie was moved to Chalons-sur-Marne, Watlington stayed with a local stone-mason who was not in a resistance group, until 8 December, when he was taken to rejoin Faudie at Chalons. Faudie was staying with a local resistance chief, and when Watlington arrived, they were each given 1,000 francs before the chief's chauffeur drove them to Baine-Nauroy, where they were sheltered with farmer Georges Lundy and his brother René.
On 11 December, Watlington and Faudie were taken by horse and cart to an apartment in Reims where they stayed for a week with a man they knew as “Jicky” before being moved to three other addresses in the town, one the home of a butcher where they shared with two American air-gunners (S/Sgt Robert Henry and S/Sgt Tollie Berry from Wabbit Twacks III - query). They were visited by a French-Canadian who Watlington says was chief of the Reims organisation – this was Possum radio operator Conrad Lafleur – who said they would be leaving by air from Fismes but then they heard the Gestapo were making more arrests, and that the French-Canadian had left the district.
On 26 December, a girl (Possum guide, Raymonde Beuré) took Watlington, Faudie and two other Americans (2/Lt Carlyle Darling and Sgt Robert Deghetto – query) to Tergnier, where they spent the night at the railway station, and next morning, went on to Amiens. Their guide contacted Doctor Robert Beaumont (of 75 rue Dhavernas, Amiens), and he took the four airmen by car to Toutencourt, where Watlington and Faudie stayed with baker Louis Delaporte on rue de Cimetiere. During that time Watlington visited Dr Beaumont, and met the French-Canadian from Reims, who told him he had lost all of his equipment and could do nothing more to help them.
On 21 January, the four evaders were moved to Contay; Watlington and Faudie staying on a farm (with M. et Mme Emile Puchois – query) while the other two airmen (Darling and Deghetto) were sheltered with Mme Vve Magniez (assume Mme Michelle Magniez (agent bancaire) in Amiens).
On 27 January, Watlington was taken back to Amiens, and travelled to Paris alone to an address that Mme Magniez had given him, that of Charles Ramsey, a Scotsman who lived at 47 rue Dulong. Charles' French wife Jeanne got in touch with Mme MacConnel at 119 boulevard Exelmans, who was in contact with “the organisation on the coast”, and Mme MacConnel put Mrs Ramsey in contact with Fanfan's mother (Charlotte Le Henaff), who arranged for Watlington to be taken to Montparnasse station on 2 February, and put on an overnight train to Quimper once more.
This time, the idea was to board a French fishing boat called the Jouet des Flots and sail her to England from the port of Ile-Tudy – Watlington being one of seven military evaders on board (including Davidson and Kreuger, who he'd met earlier), along with a number of Frenchmen. Unfortunately, the boat was in less than ideal condition, and they were wrecked off Feunteun Aod in the early hours of 4 February. Everyone managed to get ashore, although three of the evaders and many of the Frenchmen (including Yves Le Henaff) were captured. Watlington was eventually able to get back to Quimper, where he took a train back to Paris and the Ramsey family, where he stayed until 18 February, when Mrs Ramsey gave him a train ticket to Toulouse.
In Toulouse, Watlington went back to Mme Collaine at 14 rue Temponières, and she got in touch first with a French organisation, and then with Gaston Lejeune, who was married to an Englishwoman. Gaston Lejeune visited and told him that 1/Lt Robert Krengle USAAF was living with him, explaining that Krengle had left for Spain with the D-P (Dutch-Paris) organisation but had returned to Toulouse for shoes and a haversack. Lejeune then arranged to get Watlington into the D-P organisation, and they supplied him with a pair of boots and two pairs of warm socks.
Watlington says that he and Krengle left Toulouse on 25 March with several Americans (Witt, Leach, Fernandex, Patterson and Beck), a Dutchman, two Frenchmen, and a Belgian Air Force lieutenent. They went by train (Watlington's report says to Lannemezan), and then by car to a field where they waited till nightfall. A car and a truck then took them, along with a total of 14 other Americans, 11 Dutchmen, two Frenchmen and one Belgian, south until they had by-passed Bagnères (although I think that's wrong). They then spent three days in the Pyrenees, out of which they walked for about 40 hours with very little food before crossing the frontier near Bossost on 28 March.
Carl Nall (from Aphrodite's Disciples) says that one of the boys from the shop collected what money the men in his party had, supplemented it, and gave the whole sum to the guides of the new party. The boy also gave Seidel and Nall a note to give to the guide when they had crossed into Spain, which the guide was to return to the boy to prove that the party had been safely delivered across the Pyrenees. The whole party then walked until 0300 hrs, rested for the night in a barn, and then at 1100 hrs next morning walked to the outskirts of Marignac where they waited until after dark. They then circled Marignac and at 0300 hrs reached a barn in a forestry camp. They rested there until 2000 hrs before going on to cross the border at 0600 hrs, coming out just below Bossost, at which point the guides left, and the party split up.
Robert Krengle says that he went by himself into Bossost where he spent the night in a hotel. The next morning, the Dutchmen from the group arrived, and they were all sent on to Vielha where they met the rest of the party again.
Omar Patterson, who had become delirious with fatigue on the crossing, and had to be helped over last hours by Yeager, says that his group were arrested by the Guardia Civil whilst eating at a farm near Les, and taken to Vielha.
Nall says that after crossing the frontier, he, Seidel, Ross and the Belgian lieutenant (René Van Der Stock) kept together. They rested until the afternoon and then walked to Vielha where they were arrested by the Guardia Civil (joining the rest of the group) and were put into a hotel for two days. He reports that there were armed German soldiers in Vielha, and an English-speaking Polish girl who tried to get military information from them - they were later told she was a German agent. The party was then taken to Sort, where they are all recorded as arriving on 31 March and staying overnight at the Hotel Pessets. Next day, they were taken by bus to Lerida where they stayed at the Hotel Palacio until 22 April, when the Spanish Air Force took them (but not Fernandez) to Alhama. They stayed at Alhama until 14 May, when Colonel Clark (from the embassy) took them to Madrid, only staying a few hours before taking an overnight train for Gibraltar.
Fernandez was held at Lerida for another three weeks after the others left, apparantly because of his Spanish-sounding name, and on 8 or 9 May, was on his way to Miranda (along with two other Americans) when an American representative put a stop to that.
Seidel (#644) and Nall (#645) left Gibraltar on 16 May by overnight flight to Bristol; Krengle (#646), Witt (#647), Patterson (#648) and Beck (#649) left on 17 May; Gabonay (#659) and Yeager (#660) on 20 May; Watlington (1925) left on 22 May, Malasko (#666) on 24 May; Leach (#677), Ross (#679), Walley (#680), Weiss (#681) and Negro (#682) left on 26 May; and Fernandez (#698) on 31 May 1944.
I had just about finished writing the first section about the eight evaders from Aphrodite's Disciples when I received a copy of Marie-Claude Jean's 2016 research, published by Groupe Archéologique et Historique du Monségurais (ISSN: 0296-8959), which I have used (with the author's permission) to include further information, and correct some errors in the American reports.
I have also used some additional detail from “Under Cover in France”, an account written by John Watlington, and published in Bermuda Historical Quarterly, I think in 1949.
My grateful thanks to Jean Michel Dozier, Fred Greyer, Oliver Clutton-Brock and Franck Signorile for their help with this article.