Françoise – Partis vers 7 Juin
In various files for Françoise Dissard, there is a list of evaders helped by her organisation in Toulouse, together with dates that one might assume referred to their departure dates from Toulouse.
The last date given is 7 June 1944, with five men listed. William Stephens and Edwin Worsdale actually arrived in Toulouse on the morning of 7 June, where they were joined Andre Duchesnay (who had reached the city on 1 June) before leaving for Montrejeau two days later. David Donovan didn't arrive in Toulouse until 26 June, and Joseph Purvis on 29 July – both of whom were then sent to maquis groups until joining up with Allied forces in August and September respectively.
This page first posted 03 Mar 2021
Lt-Cdr William Lawson Stephens RNVR (997) from Holywood, County Down in Northern Ireland, was the 31-year-old commander of HM Motor Launch 192, carrying men of No 2 Commando during the attack on the Normadie dry dock at Saint-Nazaire (Operation Chariot) in the early hours of 28 March 1942. At about one-thirty that morning, the launch was hit by gun-fire before they were able to disembark any troops, and with the ship immobolised, she was finally abandoned, and the wounded brought ashore.
All were captured immediately, searched and then held in an underground store until nine o'clock, when they were moved to a military barracks at La Baule-Escoublac. Later that same day, they were taken by lorry to Stalag 133 at Rennes, where they held in two wooden huts. A week later, they were moved to the local hospital, and on 10 May, Stephens (at least) taken to Milag Nord, the camp at Westertimke (north-east of Bremen) for merchant seamen, arriving on about 10 April. Two days later, he was transferred to Wilhelmshaven for interrogation by the naval authorities, and then to Marlag (Sandbostel) the camp for captured Royal Naval personnel.
Stephen and another man escaped from Marlag on 9 June but were recaptured three days later at Soltau. Then on 25 June, the whole camp was moved to Bremervorde, and on 24 July, Stephens and 16 others were sent to Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf) in Silesia. Stephens says condition there were very bad, and on 1 September, he (at least) left for Oflag IVC (Colditz) – the officers camp for trouble-makers. As if to prove a point, Stephens escaped that night from the train taking him to Colditz but was recaptured next day.
Stephens escaped from Colditz on 15 October 1942, along with Captain Patrick Reid (995), F/Lt Howard Douglas Wardle (996) and Major Ronald Bolton Littledale (998); and the story of their carefully planned and excuted escape to Switzerland (where Reid and Wardle arrived on 18 October, and Stephens and Littledale two days later) is well known.
Stephens remained in Switzerland until June 1944, when SIS station chief Victor Farrell informed him that he would be leaving the country along with Sgt Eddie Worsdale RAF.
Sgt Edwin Worsdale (2016) from Wellington, New Zealand, was the 21-year-old wireless operator of 75 (NZ) Sqn Wellington Z1562 (Hugill) on an operation to Milan on 24 October 1942. They unable to get the aircraft above 12,500 feet, and since they knew they had climb to 15,000 feet to clear the Alps and reach their target, they turned back. They were “uncertain of their position” when they flew out of cloud at about 10,000 feet, and were promptly attacked by a fighter, which put the rear turret out of action. Despite violent evasive action, and diving to 3,000 feet, with their instruments and then both engines out of action, the aircraft was crash-landed in a ploughed field about 20 kilometres west of Vouziers (Ardennes).
Sgt Barnes, the bomb aimer, was the only man able to bale out (he was later captured), and pilot Sgt Howard James Hugill RNZAF and navigator Sgt Edmund John Pete RAF both died in the wreckage. Sgt Leonard Newbold (2471) was trapped in the rear turret until Worsdale turned it by hand so he could get out, and then he turned the turret back from outside so Worsdale could follow him, both just clearing the aircraft before it exploded.
Worsdale and Newbold spent the rest of the night walking before resting up for the day. They set off again that night, and passed through Saint-Souplet-sur-Py (Marne) in the early hours of the following morning (26 Oct), and at daylight slept out on what Worsdale believes was a former battlefield. That evening, they stopped at a farm at Suippes, where they were sheltered overnight. They left very early the following morning but the bad weather prevented them from getting very far so they hid in the woods until evening, and then approached to a farm at nearby Somme-Suippes, where they were sheltered for the night and following day.
They left Somme-Suippes on the evening of 28 October, walking through woods by day and along roads by night (generally heading south-east) until 1 November, when they found shelter in a farmhouse at Villers-le-Sec, where they were given food, and for the first time, civilian clothes. They left the farm next morning, more confident in their new outfits, walking by day, and only approaching villages at night to find food and shelter. They had by then given up on the idea of making for Spain, and were heading for Switzerland, crossing the border unassisted and unseen in thick fog (Worsdale says to Damvant, while Newbold says between Delle and Lebetain), on the afternoon of 11 November 1942.
They reported to the mayor (Worsdale says at Damvant, while Newbold says Buix) who handed them over to the military police, and after four days in prison at Porrentruy, they were passed to the British Legation in Berne. About a week later, they were sent to Vevey, on Lake Geneva, where they stayed until October 1943, when Newbold was moved to Arosa, and Worsdale started work at the British Consulate in Geneva .
On 5 June 1944, William Stephens and Eddie Worsdale met in Geneva, and later that day had a rendezvous with Vic Farrell, who handed them over to the Swiss Military Police. They were taken to a deserted spot on the border west of Annemasse, and passed through a hole in the wire at eleven o'clock that morning. They quickly met their contact, a Frenchwoman whose name was “probably Paulette”, in a café opposite where they had crossed. They stayed in the café until five o'clock that afternoon, when the Frenchwoman took them by bus to Annecy.
In Annecy, the two men were passed over to Françoise guide Jean Henri Bregi (known to them as Philippe) who took them by train, travelling first-class to Valence. When they reached Valence howver, there was an air-raid in progress and they had to leave the train for a shelter, which meant they missed their connection. Next morning, they found the maquis had blown up a railway bridge on the line they wanted, and they had to take a bus via Avignon and Tarascon to reach Nimes, where they took an express train to Toulouse, arriving there at eleven o'clock on the morning of 7 June.
Stephens says that Philippe took him and Worsdale straight to Françoise house, where they stayed until the afternoon, when she took them to stay with an unnamed friend. The following day, F/O Andre Duchesnay was brought to join them, apparently under suspicion because he claimed to be French-Canadian and spoke fluent French but Stephens (and probably more importantly, fellow airman Worsdale) soon established that Duchesnay was indeed who he said he was.
F/O Adolphe Antoine Henry Jules Noel Andre Duchesnay RCAF (2020) from Quebec City, Canada was the 21-year-old navigator of 10 Sqn Halifax LV867 (Trobe) which was on the way to Dusseldorf in the early hours of 23 April 1944 when the two port engines stopped. As neither of the engines could be restarted, S/Ldr Jack H Trobe (2533) ordered his crew to bale out before he crash-landed the aircraft just north of Griendtsveen in Holland (between Eindhoven and Venlo).
Duchesnay landed in the canalised area at Helenaveen, about 5 kilometres south-east of Liessel, and after burying his parachute and flying kit, set off walking. As it was a Sunday, there were few people about, and Duchesnay carried on in daylight before resting. That evening, whilst waiting for darkness so he could swim across a canal near Neerkant, he was approached by a man who wanted to know who he was. A short time later the man returned with an English-speaking man (a former Dutch soldier named Jan Gaisbers) who took Duchesnay to a hiding place in the woods just south of Sevenum. Duchesnay joined three Dutchmen in hiding, and three RAF men – Sgt Albert Kevern (MB/1485) (air bomber of 12 Sqn Lancaster ND650), Sgt Mansell Williams (2531) and Sgt James Firth (2532), the mid-upper and rear-gunner respectively of 578 Sqn Halifax MZ563 (none of whom mention Duchesnay in their reports), and they stayed in the woods until 11 May, when one of the men accidently set fire to their hut and the surrounding woods.
Duchesnay says he had been given civilian clothes but one of the Dutchmen had lost his in the fire, so Duchesnay donated his civilian suit and put his uniform on again. The four airmen were taken to a farmhouse about 8 miles from Maasbree belonging to local resistance leader Jan Cox, and then next day, to another farm on the opposite side of the village to stay with a farmer named Pete. Duchesnay (who had acquired another set of civilian clothes by this time) stayed with Pete until 24 May, when he decided to set off on his own, making his way to Helden and stealing a bicycle. He rode to Ittervoort, where he crossed into Belgium before crossing into France somewhere near Beaumont on 26 May, and continuing to Vervins (Aisne) where he was given overnight shelter on a farm.
He decided to abandon his bicycle at Vervins, and took a train to Laon, and next day to Tergnier. The train was stopped at Tergnier, and everyone had to get off and walk the eight kilometres to Chauny, Duchesnay helping a woman with luggage and a small child on the journey. On the train to Paris that afternoon, he explained to her (in his fluent French) who he was, and she said she would do what she could to help him, and gave him some food coupons.
Duchesnay spent that night in a hotel, and next morning tried to buy a railway ticket to Toulouse. All tickets were booked up in advance but when he told the woman in the booking office that he was an escaped P/W, she gave him a ticket, and Duchesnay left Paris on an eight o'clock train that evening.
Duschesnay arrived in Toulouse next day (1 June), and having befriended a former French air force sergeant on the train, stayed at his flat (name and address not known) until 8 June, when Duchesnay was put in touch with an organisation, and the remainder of his journey “with Lt-Cdr Stephens” was arranged.
Stephens says that Françoise had heard there was going to be a state of seige declared in Toulouse the following day (8 June) and considered it essential the three evaders left that night. Because there was so much maquis activity, none of her usual passeurs were available but she was able to contact a French corporal called Andre who had taken two Frenchmen for her earlier, and he agreed to take them to the frontier.
Andre took them by train to Montréjeau, from where they walked to Loures-Barousse, arriving there at about one o'clock on the morning of 9 June. They stayed at Andre's house for two nights before making the short walk to Izaourt, where they spent another two days hiding in a house. It had became apparent that Andre was having second thoughts but then they heard that German soldiers were coming to search the town, and Andre agreed to take them as far as Sost, and put them on the right path.
The three men set out from from Sost using a compass and escape map, walking through Cier-de-Luchon to reach Bausen in Spain at one o'clock in the afternoon of 14 June. They saw no German patrols, and actual crossing was made in thick mist. On their arrival in Spain, they gave themselves up to the police who took them to Viella (Vielha) where they spent two nights in a hotel. After one night at Sort (where they are recorded as arriving on 16 June), they were sent to Lerida. They were interrogated by the military police, who Stephens says took their details but seemed primarily interested in communism in France, before Stephens was put into prison for three days – he says the two sergeants spent a week in prison there. On his release, Stephens spent one night in a hotel in Lerida before the Consul-General took him to Barcelona. He stayed in Barcelona for two weeks until being taken via Madrid (where he stayed for two days) to reach Gibraltar on 10 July.
William Stephens (997), Edwin Worsdale (2016) and Andre Duchesnay (2020) all left Gibraltar on 10 July by overnight flight to RAF Whitchurch (Bristol).
1/Lt David A Donovan ( #1630 ) from Bayonne, New Jersey was the 26-year-old pilot of 335FG/358FS P-51 43-6879 Mary Joyce. He was strafing the Bordeaux to Tours railway line on 8 June 44 when he was hit by flak and forced to bale out .
Donovan landed in a field near Chalais (Charente), and as he saw German soldiers coming in a truck, ran to some woods and covered himself with leaves. After the soldiers left, Donovan made his way to a farm where he spent the night in a barn. Next day, he approached the farmer to ask for breakfast, and whether he could contact the resistance. The man gave him some food and suggested he go to Perigueux.
Donovan got as far as Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, where a young blond-haired radio mechanic put him in his garage for the night, and next day took him by bicycle, south to Mussidan. At Mussidan, they went to a café where the mechanic turned Donovan over to a man named Yves Roche, who put Donovan up at Hotel Dupoy where he worked. Next day, Yves took Donovan to meet the regional resistance chief, a tall, dark-haired, 25-year-old man called Bernard, who took Donovan to a maquis about three miles north-west of the town, where the chief was man called Francois.
Two weeks later, a girl put him on a train to Beaupouyet (WSW of Mussidan) where he was met a short, slim, dark-haired girl called Yvette (I think this was Mlle Yvette Breard). Yvette and Donovan boarded a train, joining Philippe, a tall, husky man, about 50 years old (this was Jean Bregi, born 27 November 1898), and they went to Toulouse, arriving there on 26 June. Philippe took Donovan to 95 Chemin de Nicol where there were three families, including Mme Vve Henriette Garric (born 27 April 1891) and her daughter Marcelle (born 22 January 1922), and Donovan was told that six Americans had left Toulouse that morning.
Donovan stayed at Chemin de Nicol for two weeks before being transferred to the villa Pamplemousse, at 27 rue Cazals, Croix-Daurade where Mme Vve Andree Lamy, was living – Donovan commenting that Françoise herself was in hiding elsewhere (she had been continually moving since the arrest of Sherry (Andre Pollac) on 28 January). About five days later, Jean Bregi took Donovan to a maquis at Laguépie (Tarn et Garonne), saying that he was going to Bordeaux to pick up another airman and would return for him. When Bregi failed to return after a week, a naturalised Frenchman from Australia named Stephen Post took Donovan to Villefranche-de-Panat (Aveyron) where a maquis took him to Millau, and handed him over to an OSS team.
The OSS team consisted of two Englishmen, Captain Harold Hall and Captain Hubert, American S/Sgt Theodore Baumgold and a French lieutenant named Morgan, and four days later Donovan went with them to Lodève (Hérault) and Le Vigan (Gard) where they worked with the FFI. From Le Vigan, some maquisards took Donovan to Nimes, where they turned him over to officers of the French First Division who had liberated the city the day before (on 25 August). An American private then took Donovan to Avignon, from where he went to 12 Tactical Air Force at Salon-de-Provence, Bouches-de-Rhone. Donovan was then sent to Naples and Casserta to be flown to Gibraltar and back to England, arriving there on 6 September 1944.
Fusilier Joseph Purvis (2710), a former miner from Ashington, Northumberland, was serving with 7 Bn Royal Northumberland Fusiliers when he was captured at Saint-Valery-en-Caux on 12 June 1940. He was taken first to Stalag XXA (Thorn) in Poland, and in September, transferred to Stalag IXC (Bad Sulza) in Thurigia. Purvis was sent out to various work camps, including a salt main at Volkerode, and in December 1942, to a another salt mine at Merkers, from which he escaped on 2 May 1943. Purvis hid in a railway wagon loaded with salt and destined for Austria and Italy, not leaving the wagon until 6 May, when he heard both German and French being spoken at a stop, meaning that he had finally arrived in Switzerland.
Purvis remained in Switzerland until July of the following year, working in the press department of the British Legation for several months before going to stay at Le Basset on Lake Geneva.
In the summer of 1944, Purvis says he was summoned to the British Legation, and told he was being sent out of the country with two Belgians, and on 24 July, a Swiss official took them to the border near Redon, which they crossed without incident. Their only instruction was to make for Toulouse, and they travelled via Annecy, Chambery and Lyon to arrive in Toulouse on 29 July. A Dutch official in Switzerland had given the Belgians an address where they could find an organisation but on arrival, were told the organisation no longer existed. Purvis had been given an address in the rue du Temps, which he gave to one of the Belgians to try but again with no success, and as they were unable to contact any other organisation, they booked into a boarding house.
Two days later, Françoise Dissard came to the boarding house asking for Purvis, and took the three men back to her house (no details given). Next day, they were taken to the villa Pamplemousse, where Purvis was told that he would have to join a maquis.
After two days at the villa, Purvis was taken to the station (probably by Françoise), where he was met by a maquis officer who took him to a town in the mountains about a hundred miles south of Toulouse (La Bastide-du-Salat, Ariège – query). Purvis stayed with the maquis, fighting with them against the Germans in four separate battles, until 30 September, when he contacted a British officer at Decize, and was taken next day to Marseille. Purvis left Marseille on 5 October, and arrived back in the UK on 4 November 1944.