They came from Burgundy
Chapter 6
Some Pat Line and Oaktree Connections
The Oaktree escape line, set up by MI9 agents Val Williams and Ray Labrosse in early 1943 with the intention of sending men out from Brittany by Royal Navy MGBs, was closely associated with Elisabeth Barbier and groupe Vaneau in Paris. Following the cancellation of the proposed sea evacuations at the end of May, Oaktree began sending men south to cross the Pyrenees from Pau but the arrest of Williams a few days later – and of Elisabeth Barbier later that same month – left many men trapped in the capital.
S/Sgt Frank W Greene (#51) was assistant radio operator on B-17 41-24603 Green Hornet (303BG/359BS) (Sanderson) which was returning from Lorient on 23 January 1943 when it was damaged by flak and shot down by fighters. The crew baled out and the aircraft crashed near Plouray in Brittany.
Greene landed close to a village near the crash-site and was met on the ground by a crowd of Frenchmen. He ran to a nearby farmhouse where the farmer's wife hid his parachute and tended to his numerous facial injuries. Greene was moved to another house the following day where he stayed with a schoolteacher until 24 February when a man came to see him and arrange his subsequent journey. Greene was taken to Paris that night and sheltered by Simone Levavasseur. Mlle Levavasseur (born December 1895) lived at 6 rue Mouton-Duvernet, Paris XIV and owned a chocolate shop called ‘La Petite Chocolatiere', around the corner at 19 Avenue d'Orleans. This was the same building complex (Villa Adrienne) as Pat Line logeur Armand Leveque, the man who had recruited her the previous November. Greene stayed in a room above the shop, just across a garden from the Leveque apartment where Sgt Daniel C Young (LIB/1290) – the flight engineer of 35 Sqn Halifax W7885 - was being sheltered. Greene would visit Young and play cards with him and Armand's daughter Andrée had Greene's photograph taken for a new ID card. On the morning of 4 March, Armand Leveque telephoned to warn them to be extra careful and shortly afterwards, Greene saw five men in plain-clothes come and arrest Mme Marcelle Leveque, her sister Mme Julienne Lassouquere and Sgt Young.
Mme Reine Merovitz (a Swiss woman who was hiding with Mlle Levavasseur) moved Greene to stay with Paul and Olga Christol in their sixth-floor apartment at 4 rue Edouard Quenu until 9 April when Andrée Leveque took him to Elisabeth Barbier's apartment at 72 rue Vaneau. Greene was introduced to Frederic De Jongh of Comete who took him to be sheltered elsewhere. On 27 April, Frederic De Jongh turned Greene over to Oaktree boss Val Williams who gave him new ID papers and took him to the station where Genevieve de Poulpiquet, known as the countess, accompanied him, along with Gordon Spencer (1345) and other Oaktree evaders, on the train to St Brieuc where they changed for Etables.
Mme la comtesse Genevieve de Poulpiquet de Brescanvel (aka Gilberte) (born February 1905) and her husband le comte Césaire sheltered numerous evaders in their home at the Chateau de Trefy near Quéménéven, Finistere. Following Césaire's arrest in March 1943 – he was deported to Germany where he died - Genevieve, who was fortunate to avoid the same fate, was put in contact with Georges Jouanjean and Job le Bec of Oaktree. She also had the address of Paul Campinchi in Paris and later moved to the capital where she continued with her escape line work, first with Oaktree and later with reseau Francois.
I mentioned earlier that this story could get confusing with so many other organisations being involved. As an example, it is perhaps worth noting that men sheltered at the Chateau de Trefy included five evaders from the B-17 41-24584 SUSFU, which was shot down over Brittany on 23 January 1943. All five were later captured at Tours with Louis Nouveau of the Pat line. The other two evaders from the crew were evacuated on board the Breton fishing vessel Yvonne along with Sgt Reginald Smith RAF - the first evader to be helped by Paul Campinchi. It was Mme de Poulpiquet who later introduced Paul Campinchi to Olga L'Hoir-Sivry, the lady who sheltered Campinchi and his wife Therese at her home at 6 rue Nicolet after they were forced to leave their apartment on rue des Ursines following the demise of Oaktree in June, and where Lucien Dumais and Ray Labrosse stayed when they came to Paris in November to set up the Shelburn escape line.
Paul Francois Campinchi (born Oct 1903) first became involved with helping Allied evaders in January 1943 when he sheltered Sgt Reginald Smith (1074) for three weeks in his Paris home before taking him to Quimper, Finistere. Smith was handed over to two men who arranged his evacuation to England on board the Breton fishing vessel Yvonne (along with two SUSFU crewmen) which sailed from Carantec on 5 February. Campinchi's name was passed to MI9 in London and he became a contact for Val Williams and Ray Labrosse when they arrived in Paris the following month to set up the Oaktree mission. With the demise of Oaktree, Campinchi came under suspicion, forcing him and his wife Therese to leave their apartment on rue des Ursines but when Labrosse returned in November with Lucien Dumais to set up the Shelburn escape line, Campinchi was persuaded to help them. He created reseau Francois, the ultra secure organisation in Paris that collected and sheltered most of the evaders taken back to England by Shelburn on the five Bonaparte operations.
F/Sgt Gordon L Spencer RCAF (1345) was the air bomber (bomb aimer) of 405 Sqn Halifax BB250 (Dennison) which was returning from Stuttgart in the early hours of 12 March 1943 when they were attacked by fighters and the aircraft abandoned to crash near Mondrepuis (Aisne).
Twenty-one-year-old Spencer landed in a wood near Mondrepuis (Aisne). His escape and evasion lecturers had advised against staying in heavily wooded areas as these were liable to be searched and on leaving the wood, he found some scattered paper fragments with writing that Spencer, a passable but not fluent French speaker, recognised as French – his first indication that he had actually landed in France. Spencer had prepared for the possibility of being shot down and in addition to his aids box, carried a basic wash kit and some first-aid items. At daybreak he made his way to an isolated farmhouse but while he was studying it, was surprised by a customs officer armed with a pistol. Before Spencer could make his escape, the man came to attention and saluted, asking if he was an English parachutist. Spencer explained he was in fact Canadian and the Frenchman used Spencer's escape map to show him where he was. He also told Spencer the people in the farmhouse could be trusted but that he should wait until nightfall before approaching them. Spencer followed this advice and was sheltered in a hayloft on the farm for two nights before being taken into the house. He was visited by the maire of Mondrepuis, Georges Clement, who gave him civilian clothes and news of some of his crew. Next day (16 March) a doctor from Mondrepuis drove Spencer about ten miles south-east to the village of Aubenton where he joined his pilot, P/O Borden Dennison (1325) and their journeys were arranged ...
On 23 March, Emile Fontaine (one of Dennison's helpers from Aubenton) drove Spencer and Dennison to Any-Martin-Rieux where they caught a train to Charleville. A woman from the mairie took them back to her flat and they met a man named Stefan Brice. Brice, who spoke some English and said he had earlier worked for an organisation in Lille, had a list of the crew from another aircraft (Halifax R9149) which included Sgts Douglas Cox (1328) and George Howard (1329). Brice wanted Spencer and Dennison to confirm their identities (he seemed suspicious of Howard) but unfortunately they didn't know either of the 7 Squadron men.
A few days later, Brice took Spencer and Dennison to stay with Andre Fainot (query) – they also met George Howard (1329) who was staying nearby – until 7 April when Brice took them, Howard, Mme Fainot and a woman friend of hers, by train to Paris. They went to Paul's apartment (on the third floor at 28 rue Vaneau) where they stayed about a month. They also met F/Lt Moire Pierre (1171) and learned that Paul (Fredric De Jongh) had paid all of Brice's expenses. On 6 May, Paul handed them over to Val's organisation (Oaktree) and they left Paris for St Brieuc in Brittany – the group being Spencer, Dennison, Howard and Frank Greene (#51) with their guide, Genevieve de Poulpiquet. From St Brieuc they went on to Etables and then to a farm near St-Quay-Portrieux. On 1 May, they moved to stay with Mme Emilie Cellarier at the villa Lein-au-Lan at Treveneuc, near Plouha.
On about 3 June, Andrée Leveque (who had left Paris following the arrest of her mother and was living in St-Quay-Portrieux) took Spencer, Greene, Sgt Henry Riley (1359) and a Russian evader named Abram Kononenko ( 1455) back to Paris to meet Val Williams who was supposed to give them new ID papers and take them to Pau. They got as far as St Brieuc but couldn't get tickets for the Paris train and so stayed overnight and didn't reach Paris until the following day. Andrée took them to Elisabeth Barbier's apartment at 72 rue Vaneau before they were moved elsewhere - Spencer to stay with Albert Calonne (a friend of Gabrielle Wiame's brother, Emile Debouche) at 42 bis rue Poliveau until 15 June, and Riley and Kononenko with Madeleine Melot - whilst waiting for their tickets. On 6 June, they were told that Williams had gone on to Bordeaux with two Polish evaders (Sgts Leszek Zaborowski (LIB/1006) and Rech Urbanski (LIB/1208) from 138 SD Halifax BB340) and been arrested and a blonde lady called Marie (Gabrielle Wiame) took Greene to stay with a doctor from Paimpol. On 18 June, Elisabeth Barbier's apartment was raided and Elisabeth was arrested.
Greene and Spencer remained in Paris, taken to be sheltered by two English ladies, Maud Couvé and Alice Brouard in their third-floor apartment at 25 rue de Madrid, until Ray Labrosse (either through Paul Campinchi or Gabrielle Wiame - both of whom knew Georges Broussine personally) made contact with the Bourgogne organisation. On 8 July, Ray Labrosse took Greene and Spencer to meet Broussine at a Presbyterian church ...
Maud Couve was of French descent but born in 1905 on the British colony of Mauritius, and married to Englishman Edward Couve, who was with the RAF in England at this time. They had two children – Jimmy aged ten and Betty, aged about three, who was physically handicapped. Alice Brouard was also British (born 1904 on Jersey), and married to John Brouard, a British citizen of French descent from Guernsey, who was interned at La Grande Caserne, just north of Paris at Saint Denis. They also had two children – Christine, aged thirteen, who was staying with her grandparents in Normandy, and fifteen-year-old Marguerite. The two-bedroom, third-floor apartment at 25 rue de Madrid belonged to Maud Couve but Alice and Marguerite Brouard joined her there after both families were released from the internment camp at Besancon in March 1941. The following year, Maud was asked by her dentist if she would consider sheltering downed airmen in her apartment and after discussion with Alice, she agreed. They were visited by Robert Guillet and Gabrielle Wiame but were never told which organisation they were working with. Both women were bilingual in French and English and Maud had a library with many books in English – a real luxury for evaders with time on their hands (they weren't allowed to leave the apartment) and little or no knowledge of French. Evaders stayed in the larger of the two bedrooms while Maud, Alice and their children slept in the living-room. Pseudonyms were not used and many evaders mention the two middle-aged ladies by name.
25 rue de Madrid was (and still is) a fairly up-market building that had been converted to have two apartments on each of four floors plus a fifth floor that had housed the maids. There was a lift and a service entrance with rear stairs that could be used by the evaders if necessary. Being British, the two women had to report to the police each day and neither was allowed to work. With so many visitors however (there was no telephone) their concierge began to wonder if they were prostitutes - a not unknown side-line for women in those desperate times. Their only friends were a select group of fellow helpers and resistance contacts. Maud and Alice sheltered numerous evaders in their tiny apartment, the last being F/Lt James L Kennedy RCAF (1658) who left on 28 November 1943 (see later) as well as guiding others around the city.
Unlike Gordon Spencer and Frank Greene, who evaded for several months with Oaktree and group Vaneau before being passed on to Bourgogne, Lester Brown and John Houghton were on their way to the Pyrenees within twelve days of baling out - and safe in the neutral principality of Andorra two days later.
S/Sgt Lester Brown (#52) and S/Sgt John H Houghton (#53) were the radio operator and ball-turret gunner of B-17 42-30058 (384BG/546BS) (Rosio) which was shot down by fighters returning from Villacoublay aerodrome on 26 June 1943. The bale-out order was given and the aircraft abandoned to crash near Dourdan (Ile de France).
Brown and Houghton were helped immediately on landing and soon joined fellow crewmen 1/Lt Joseph Rosio (#54) 1/Lt George Evans (#55) S/Sgt John Kuberski (#56) and S/Sgt Anthony Cucinotta (#71). They were driven to Saint Cyr-sous-Dourdan and on 28 June, Brown and Houghton were taken to Paris where they were passed on to Georges Morin, the caretaker at Napoleon's Tomb (Les Invalides). They were visited that evening by two English speaking Frenchmen and moved next day to the home of a Marquis on nearby rue de Varenne where the butler, Albert Rault (of 34 rue Saint-Dominique) sheltered them. During their stay they had their photographs taken and were supplied with ID cards and work permits. Eight days later (on 8 July) they were taken to a Presbyterian church where they met Burgundy (Georges Broussine) who stamped their cards and gave them new clothing. They were passed to a guide known as Jacques (Jacques Niepceron) who took them and a French airman called Jean Bataille - and Oaktree evaders Gordon Spencer (1345) and Frank Greene (#51) – to the Gare d'Austerlitz and the overnight train to Toulouse where they changed for Foix ...
From Foix the group walked south until collected by a small Renault pick-up (at which point Jacques left them and was replaced by two Spanish mountain guides) and driven further south before starting their walk across the Pyrenees. They reached Andorra the following day (10 July) where they stayed for three days at the Hotel Coma in Ordino before being driven to the Spanish border. They crossed into Spain in the late evening of 14 July and then continued on the long walk to Manresa (some 135 kilometres away) arriving at about three o'clock in the morning of 21 July. They took a train to Barcelona, reaching the British Consulate - at the end of Avinguda La Jonquera, above the lamp-shop on the corner with Placa d'Urquinaona (thanks Geoff) - that same morning.