The men brought back by the Shelburn escape line,
and the people who made it possible
This is an extract from my 2019 book "Express Delivery"
Sidney Casden was one of the sixteen evaders collected by MGB 503 from the beach at l'Anse-Cochat in the early hours of 29 January 1944 on the first Operation Bonaparte
2/Lt Sidney Casden (#355) was the 22-year-old bombardier of 384BG/546BS B-17 42-30058 (Rosio) which was hit by flak and fighters on 26 June 1943 near their target of Villacoublay aerodrome, and at about 10,000 feet, abandoned to crash near Dourdan (Essonne). All ten crew landed safely and eight of them evaded successfully, the other seven - pilot 1/Lt Joseph Rosio (#54), co-pilot 1/Lt George W Evans (#55), navigator 2/Lt Leonard J Fink (#180), radio operator S/Sgt Lester Brown (#52), ball-turret gunner S/Sgt John H Houghton (#53), and waist-gunners S/Sgt John H Kuberski (#56) and S/Sgt Anthony F Cucinotta (#71) – were all helped by the Bourgogne organisation and crossed the Pyrenees the following month – apart from Fink, who was sheltered in Ymonville for eleven weeks before being taken to Paris and on to cross the Pyrenees to Andorra in October 1943.
Casden spent seven months in France, helped initially by people not connected with any organisation, and then with a group of helpers in Juvisy-sur-Orge linked to the Bourgogne escape line but who (temporarily) lost that contact in November with the arrest of Madeleine Melot. It wasn't until January 1944, when he was passed to the remnants of the John Carter organisation in Paris, that Casden finally met Marie-Rose Zerling of reseau François.
Casden says that he baled out on hearing the order and then on looking up and seeing eight parachutes above him (and despite the advice he should have been given in his E&E lectures), figured it was time to open his. Unfortunately he still had a walk-around oxygen bottle with him and when his chute opened, the bottle smacked him in the face. After that, and having nothing much to do while he drifted down, Casden lit a cigarette. When he did finally land, he landed hard and although wearing GI shoes under his flying boots, still turned his ankle – he blames the flying boots for that mishap – and so was unable to run from the five men working in the field who came to check him out. Casden spoke enough French to ask if there were any Germans in the area and on misunderstanding the hand-gestures this question provoked, asked if they would help him. They reluctantly showed Casden on his escape map that he was somewhere north of Chartres (he says between Saint Germain and Versailles, and 19 kms from Paris so perhaps near Plaisir, Yvelines) and pointed the way south for Spain. They also pointed to a town where they thought Casden could get help but as he was still in uniform, Casden was understandably reluctant to approach any built-up areas. The men took Casden's flying jacket and coveralls, swapping them for a beret and an old jacket for him to put on over his OD (oliver drab) uniform shirt, and he started walking towards the nearest road.
He was soon spotted by two men on bicycles who took him to hide in a wheat field, saying they would come back later, and leaving Casden to examine the contents of his aids box. When the two men did eventually return, they seem to have changed their minds about helping him so Casden continued along the road until he was stopped by a peasant family who wanted to know where he was going. When he told them he was heading south for Spain, the family advised him to get off the road at once as it was heavily travelled by the Germans, and suggested he go back to his wheat field and wait for them. It wasn't until the afternoon of the following day that the family finally came back, bringing another man with them. The new man had brought a rhubarb tart and a bottle of wine – for which he charged Casden 130 francs - and insisted on exchanging clothes with him, including his shoes, which Casden readily accepts was a mistake. The man then led Casden through the town to a café where Casden was shown off and given a meal of lamb chops before heading for the railway station and being taken by local train to Paris.
Casden thought the man was called Champignon - he was about 40 years old, a heavy-set, balding man of medium height. He sheltered Casden for the night but it was clear that he wanted Casden to move on and after consulting a map, Casden decided he would like to go to Bayonne. Next day, Champignon took Casden to the gare d'Austerlitz, bought a third-class ticket (which cost Casden 400 francs) and put him on the train but there were no available seats and Casden, who had no experience of French trains, was unsure if he would be allowed to travel standing up. Seeing a young girl sitting alone in a compartment, Casden asked if he could share with her. She immediately realised he wasn't French and leaned out of the window to consult with her young man who was on the platform. Champignon was also there and Casden decided to take the chance and tell the young man who he was. The young man asked if Casden had any papers and when told that he did not, offered to get him some and so Casden got off the train. Casden didn't have photographs either so he and Champignon went to a department store to get pictures taken (six for twelve francs) and then spent the rest of the day sight-seeing until it was time to go to the café where they were due to meet the young man. At the café they met Auguste Valentin Brila (who worked on the wagon-lits) and his friend Paul (a short, blond, married man who worked as an agent with the Police Bureau) who told Casden that he would be leaving by aircraft within the next two weeks. M. Brila took Casden to Le Perreux-sur-Marne (east of the city) and his home at 99 rue du Maréchal Joffre, where Brila suggested that Casden could pose as his deaf and dumb son. Three days later, he presented Casden with a new identity card, courtesy of Paul.
Unfortunately, when M. Brila took Casden back into Paris, the man they were hoping to meet failed to arrive and on telephoning Paul, learned that he had been arrested with 50,000 bread tokens in his possession - which cancelled the aircraft idea. Paul then suggested that Casden wait a few days after which he would be taken to Marseille to board a submarine but apparently the Allied landings of 12 July on Sicily put a stop to that plan and contact with Paul was lost soon afterwards.
Casden spent the next four months living in some squalor at Le Perreux-sur-Marne, Auguste Brila apparently being unwilling to let Casden go for fear he might “fall into the wrong hands” but towards the end of September, a neighbour's child realised that Casden was an American airman and word quickly spread. Casden was taken to stay with an old man named Cartalade (at 17 rue Denfert Rochereau – query) for a few days before returning to the Brila household where, despite staying in his room, word soon spread again, this time as far as the local resistance chief, who said he had to be moved.
“One night they came for me with Alfred and Emile Courtet of 6 rue Nouvelle Monceau . They had pistols, slouch hats, horn-rimmed glasses and false moustaches. There were look-outs on every corner. It was all very Hollywood, and all very bad. I went to the home of Alfred and Emile where I was given new civilian clothes and a really good identity card.” (Casden MIS-X #355)
It was not until about 28 November (five months after he bailed out) that Casden seems to have been taken on by anyone associated with an escape network when Marie Therese Labadie (31 years old, about five feet tall with jet black hair) and Elsa Janine MacCarthy (Irish, about 45 years old, plump with greying hair) took him to the gare d'Austerlitz. They handed Casden over to a blonde-haired nurse (about 19 or 20 years old, about 5 foot 6 inches tall, nicely dressed, with a floating eye over which she had no control) who took him to an apartment at 74 rue du Moulin Vert, Paris XIV where he stayed overnight with Mme Vve Cecile Maynial (about 45 to 50 years old with henna dyed hair), and next day Maurice Bidaud took Casden to his Garage du Parc in Juvisy-sur-Orge.
Marie Therese Labadie was an apparently wealthy lady of about thirty-one. Helene Gill (see later) gives the address where she lived with her mother as 8 rue de Paris, Ecouen although the (post-war) IS9 Helper List has her and her brother Pierre living at 12 rue du Pontcel, Luzarches.
Elsa Janie MacCarthy (aka Jeanne Rose ) (born Jan 1885) was an Irish-born English professor from Killarney (Kerry) who lived at 64 rue Sainte-Anne, Paris II. Janie MacCarthy had moved to Brittany in 1910 before studying at the Sorbonne in Paris where she obtained advanced degrees in English and French. In 1939, with the outbreak of war, and to avoid being interned, she obtained an Irish passport (to replace her British one), and continued giving language classes. She also became involved with helping evaders, working with Robert Aylé of Comète, Lucienne Bodin (mentioned earlier) and Elisabeth Barbier 's groupe Vaneau – the organisation in Paris centered around the Barbier apartment at 72 rue Vaneau that sheltered so many men for Comète and Oaktree until Elisabeth's arrest on 19 June 1943.
Casden slept in a hotel next door to the garage for three nights, along with an escaped POW called Edmond, during which time Maurice's wife Marie went into Paris and returned to tell Casden that the organisation (sic) had been caught and that Marie Christine had been arrested (this was Madeleine Melot, arrested 19 November). Maurice Bidaud took him to visit wine merchant André Lefevre at 29 rue Hoche where three other American airmen – T/Sgt Otto Bruzewski (#320), Sgt William Howell (#328) and 1/Lt Norman Schroeder (#329) - were just leaving for the Pyrenees with the Bourgogne escape line.
Albert and Emile Courtet stayed in touch with Casden and he returned to Le Perreux to spend Christmas with them but on 26 December, Marie Therese Labadie took Casden to the home of an English woman (Lily Asselanidis) where he met Andrew Hathaway (#346), and Mlle Labadie took them both her house in Ecouen where they stayed with her and her mother for the next three weeks. Casden says that while they were at Ecouen, Marie Therese contacted Miss MacCarthy who got in touch with another organisation, and on about 6 January, a striking blonde woman called Nell came to see them.
Mme Helene Gill (aka Nell aka Mme Antoine) (née Feodossief 12 May 1917 in Petrograd) of 12 rue Le Sueur, Paris XVI, was naturalised as a French citizen in 1936 but then became a British subject by marriage to Englishman James Charles William Gill (who was interned at La Grande Caserne, Saint Denis) and had a young son named Daniel. Like Marguerite Schmitz , Nell worked with the John Carter organisation until Carter was captured in early January 1944.
Mme Gill says in her diaries that it was her John Carter contact, Jean-Pierre de la Hutiere, who sent her to collect Casden and Hathaway from Ecouen on 13 January, and Jacques Dupuis who gave her Mme Schmitz address to deliver them to that same evening.
Nell took Casden and Hathaway to stay with Marguerite Schmitz at 87 rue Rochechouart, where they joined S/Sgt Walter Dickerman (#354), F/O Norman Maybee RCAF and S/Sgt Paul Saunders. There was also a suspicious character staying there (variously named as Olaf/Olafson/Alfred/Fred) who claimed to be Norwegian. On 17 January they were visited by Madeleine Dupre (this was Madeleine Grador) and others, and by Marie-Rose Zerling (aka Claudette) who worked for Captain Hamilton. Casden says that Claudette's organisation was prepared to take them on and next day (18 January) she took Casden, Hathaway, Maybee and Saunders to “another house”. That evening, they were questioned by Captain Hamilton (a short dark man with a moustache) who asked them about the Flatiron building (in New York) and theatres in Times Square, before Claudette took them to the station. They were joined by a girl, a young man and an elderly man who took them by overnight train to Saint-Brieuc – where Maybee and Saunders were arrested by a French gendarme. Casden and Hathaway were taken to a room above a bar while they waited for the train for Plouha ...
F/O Norman W Maybee RCAF baled out of 401 Sqn Spitfire MH845 near Gravelines on 20 December 1943 following a collision with another aircraft from his own squadron. S/Sgt Paul R Saunders was one of the waist-gunners of 384BG/547BS B-17 42-30033 Little America (Goulder) which was abandoned over Belgium on 1 December 1943 after the loss of three engines. The two men were brought to Paris by Marie-Rose Zerling and lodged initially with Mme Mansienne at 10 rue de Geoffroy Marie.
Saunders says (in a letter dated 22 May 1946 to Major John F White Jnr of MIS-X) that they were arrested by the Chief of Gendarmes at Saint-Brieuc, and that after holding them for 36 hours, and being fully aware they were evading Allied airmen, he handed them over to the Gestapo. Saunders describes the man as being a “definite collaborator”.
“They arranged to arrive at Saint-Brieuc at about four o'clock in the afternoon, when inspections were likely to be the most relaxed. Apart from the first two airmen, none of the evaders were questioned about their papers. It was the responsibility of the Saint-Brieuc crew to look after the evaders for an hour or so until the connection to the local train arrived. Sometimes they went to Mme Boschat, who had a café-tabac, and sometimes to M. Le Ster, who lived nearby, to wait for the local train to take them to Plouha. At Saint-Brieuc, the new guides were often young girls from the local youth hostel - Henri Le Blais and Adolphe Le Troquer thought they would attract less suspicion.
The evaders were then dropped off in small groups at Kertugal, Plouha-Ville, Plouha-Embranchement, Keregal, Dernier-Sou and Lanloup. At each stop, a member of the Plouha group, Marie-Thérèse Le Calvez, Pierre Huet, Job Mainguy or Jean Tréhiou, waited to take the men to their new hosts scattered amongst the community – Mme Léonie Le Calvez at Kerlérot, Mlle Françoise Monjaret at Ville-Dé, Mme Marie Tréhiou at Lizandré, famille Couffon at Kérizago, famille Lesné at Kerverzio, famille Ropers at Camblac'h, and Jean and Marie Gicquel at Saint-Samson.” (my translation from Roger Huguen 1976)
The train which took the evaders from Saint-Brieuc to Plouha was the one metre gauge Chemin de Fer des Côtes-du-Nord (CdN) – aka “Le Petit Train” or “Le Tortillard”. There were numerous CdN routes but this particular line ran to Paimpol from Saint-Brieuc gare Centrale (which is now a university building at boulevard Waldeck Rousseau) and just a few hundred metres from the main-line Saint-Brieuc Ouest station.
Note that it was only the men taken out on this first Bonaparte operation who travelled on the CdN Saint-Brieuc to Paimpol line, and they probably got off at either Plouha-Embranchement (which was south of the town, near the first roundabout of the present-day D786) or Plouha-Ville, on the western edge of the town, near the mairie and behind the present-day Collège Jean-Louis Hamon, or perhaps the unmanned “halte” at Keregal.