The Royal Air Forces Escaping Society (1994)
Summary of some escape lines in France in World War ll
Below is a brief ouline of some of the escape lines operating in Occupied Europe during WWll. The information is derived from the booklet entitled Home-Run '94 published by the Escape Lines Reunion (now the WWll 'Escape Lines Memorial Society', known as ELMS and pioneered by Roger Stanton). This was published to coincide with a number of commemorative events 10th to 28th May 1994 which marked the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy in WWll.
This information was only intended to be a brief account of a handful of individuals and their experiences. It was never intended to be a history of the extensive escape line systems in Europe which involved thousands of workers, helpers, escapers and evaders. Furthermore, recent research (ca. 2000-2003) has done much to extend our knowledge of these operations. Notes are included here in [square brackets] where fuller or more reliable information has become available.
Compiled and edited by Sarah Long
During the autumn of 1940, a Capt Ian Garrow of the Seaforth Highlanders arrived in Marseilles. Having escaped capture at St Valéry at the end of May 1940 he, with four other members of the 51 (Highland) Division, had made their way south. He knew no-one, had no money, and found the town full of servicemen who had also made their way south and were now disorientated. He quickly decided that something had to be done to acquire accommodation and food, and in time devised a means of getting the men home. Contacts were made with a small group of people within the British and Greek communities. The risks were explained to potential 'helpers', very few of whom withdrew.
One of the first civilians to offer assistance was Tom Kenny, a Canadian who was resident in Marseilles. He was quickly followed by Elisabeth Haden-Guest. Elisabeth was not new to underground work and had much to offer in experience and knowledge. Bilingual, of Russian-Baltic birth, she had been working with Escape Lines for political prisoners in Germany throughout the thirties. Sentenced to death by the Nazis, Elisabeth was caught and interned in a prison camp to await trial. While being moved to Paris, she gave her four guards the slip and , with her young son, made her way south to Marseilles. Although in possession of papers to get her to America to join her husband, she chose to stay in Marseilles and assist Ian Garrow. She went to work immediately, setting up safe houses and recruiting couriers. Many of her safe houses were set up in the more dubious area of Marseilles, often in brothels. Elisabeth was instrumental in recruiting many key 'helpers' to the Line.
[Sad to say, the information regarding Elisabeth Haden-Guest in the above paragraph is almost entirely untrue. She was not previously involved in escape lines; she was not sentenced to death by the Nazis; she was not imprisoned pending trial in France; she did not escape as alleged; and she did not set up any escape line in Marseilles, nor recruit any of its key helpers. Subsequent research has shown that little reliance can be placed on any of the testimony of Elisabeth Haden-Guest, a.k.a. Elisabeth Furse. Her accounts of her work before, during and after her connection with Pat Line are now known to be largely inaccurate, exaggerated or invented. Nevertheless she did indeed play a useful role in Pat Line when she was the lover of one of its founders, Capt. Ian Garrow.]
Two names and two addresses laid the foundations for the future 'Pat O'Leary' Line. Firstly, Dr Georges Rodocanachi, who was born in Liverpool he spent his schooldays in Marseilles, was educated in Paris and was of Greek parentage. Together with his wife Fanny, and their elderly maid Seraphine, he ran the escape line's main safe house in Marseilles. His doctor's surgery was his collecting house. Later Pat O'Leary was to set up his HQ at Dr Rodocanachi's flat at 21 Rue Roux de Brignoles, Marseilles.
Secondly, the Reverend Donald Caskie, who had also chosen to stay in Marseilles to help Ian Garrow. Formerly a Presbyterian minister of the Scottish church in Paris, he had moved south initially to take a boat to England. He had changed his mind when seeing the number of refugees needing help and had now been given permission to take over the Seaman's Mission at 46 Rue de Forbin, on the understanding that should he help any servicemen he would be arrested. The Mission was to be used for civilian refugees only. Within days the Seaman's Mission was full of servicemen, with Donald Caskie taking their uniforms out at night, tying them around bricks and dropping them in the Marseilles harbour. Food was delivered to the Mission by unknown people. Food and clothing was left in bags in doorways overnight. People turned a blind eye on the Mission, and often should there be a security check Donald Caskie would be warned by unknown people. Other names also came forward to assist. Renée and Louis Nouveau also provided a main safe house in Marseilles. Guides were now found and money and food were also forthcoming, mainly from anonymous individuals. The line had started. Couriers were also found, amongst them Georges Zarifi, Dr Rodocanachi's nephew. Men were passed from Paris to Marseilles, over the Pyrenees and on to Gibraltar.
On 31st May 1940 a Belgian doctor, Dr Albert-Marie Guérisse, left the beaches of Dunkirk for England. On the capitulation of Belgium he was sent back to France. In the chaos that followed, Albert Guérisse headed south to join other Belgians to continue the fight. Having reached Gibraltar, he joined the crew of HMS Fidelity, which was a trawler used by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and which was involved with clandestine sabotage operations. He was now known as Lt Cdr Pat O'Leary RN. Whilst carrying out sabotage activity near Collioure, the small craft he was using was compromised by a French cutter resulting in Pat being interned in St Hippolyte du Fort. In the fort Pat was elected as leader on the escape committee and, after a short period of time, was ringing the doorbell of the Rodocanachi's safe house in Marseilles, having escaped himself.
Ian Garrow asked Pat to remain and help run the Line, rather than return to England along it. Permission was granted from London. Unknown to Pat and Ian, the line had been deeply penetrated by a British traitor called Paul Cole, who was working with the Gestapo. Cole had brought many evaders from the north to Marseilles and was well acquainted with the safe houses and contacts. Many 'helpers' were now being arrested along the line which now had to be reorganised. Amongst those arrested was Ian Garrow who was later helped to escape by Pat and who made his way down his own line to Lisbon and on to London. The Marseilles link was thus compromised. Pat now moved to Françoise Dissard's flat in Toulouse, opposite the Gestapo headquarters. The Line was kept open, based on Toulouse.
In April 1942 Pat went along his own line to Gibraltar to organise sea evacuations from Canet Plage beach near Perpignan, thus avoiding the risks of arrests and interment at the Miranda del Ebro camp in Spain. In July 1942 the first of such operations was successfully carried out. The future leader of the Shelburn Line, Lucien Dumas, also returned by this method. Pat Line continued sending evaders through to Gibraltar until early 1943 when disaster again struck. On this occasion a French traitor known as Roger Le Légionnaire had penetrated the line badly. Pat and a number of his devoted colleagues were arrested. The line lost its leadership and many of its leading figures. Most of the safe houses had also been blown. Françoise Dissard was, however, still free and the line grew again due to her courage and tenacity and that of the survivors whom she regrouped from her flat in Toulouse. Again the line continued to function, although on a reduced scale, until the liberation of France in 1944.
No precise figures of the numbers of Allied escapers are available, nor of the gallant Greek, Belgian, French and British men and women who gave their lives while serving Pat Line but it is believed to exceed 1,000. At Gestapo Headquarters the file was marked 'Acropolis', which may indicate the support given to the line by the Greek community in Marseilles.
Comparison with other escape lines in Western Europe would be odious, but Pat O'Leary Line holds one unique honour it was the first in the field.
The story of the Pat Line would not be complete without knowing what happened to the individuals mentioned:
Lt Col. Ian Garrow DSO
Arrested, escape organised by Pat O'Leary. Joined the staff of MI9, after escaping along his own Line. He died in Scotland in 1976.
Major General Albert-Marie Guérisse GC KBE DSO
Was betrayed by 'Roger Le Légionnaire'. Suffered badly under the Gestapo. Survived Mauthausen, Natzweiler and Dachau concentration camps. After the war, returned to the army, serving with gallantry in Korea. Lived in Waterloo, Brussels until his death in March 1989.
Employed as a courier. When the line had been betrayed, moved to Toulouse where he was sent down the line by Françoise Dissard. Caught in Spain and imprisoned at Miranda. Returned to fight with the Free French and de Gaulle. Now retired , living in Marseilles.
Dr Georges Rodocanachi
Arrested by the Gestapo. Died in Buchenwald concentration camp on 10th February 1944.
Fanny Rodocanachi OBE
Moved to London after the war. Died in April 1959.
Elisabeth had to leave Marseilles quickly with her son, Anthony, along her own escape line. They became the first woman and child to reach London from occupied France. Despite her work in Pat Line, and despite her protests, MI9 would not parachute her back into France. She was considered blown, too well known, and had been sentenced to death by the Germans. It was considered far too dangerous. She is now retired and living in London.
[The above information was provided by E. Haden-Guest herself and is largely untrue see note earlier in this article. However, she was indeed the first and only woman with a child to reach London through Pat Line with which she had had close associations...]
Françoise Dissard GM
Françoise kept the Line open even when it was almost dead, despite living opposite Gestapo headquarters. She not only ran the line from her flat in Toulouse but also escorted airmen to the Spanish border. Died in 1957. Commemorated by a statue in Toulouse.
Rev. Donald Caskie OBE
Donald was arrested and sentenced to death. Kept in many different prisons, finally released by the Allies. Remained in France after the war. Retired to Edinburgh. Died in 1983.
Louis Nouveau GM
Arrested by the Gestapo. Survived Buchenwald concentration camp. Remained in Marseilles.
[His memoirs Des Capitaines par Milliers is a remarkable and very valuable account of Pat Line's operations in Marseilles.]
Worked for the Gestapo. Betrayed countless Escape Line 'helpers', most of whom were shot. Shot by French police in Paris in 1945.
'Roger Le Légionnaire'
Worked for the Gestapo. Betrayed Louis Nouveau and Pat O'Leary. Moved to work on Shelburn line. Dealt with by the Maquis after the war.
On the night of 20th May 1994, the Home Run Team will be following in the footsteps of an evader who entered Toulouse that same evening fifty years ago. The team will also lay a wreath on the monument of his 'safe house keeper', Françoise Dissard, in the centre of Toulouse. That evader was John Franklin.
On the evening of 5th April 1944, the crew of a Halifax Mk V Bomber, of 644 Squadron, boarded their aircraft at 2230hrs. The Squadron was based at Tarrant Rushton, Dorset, and was employed on Special Duties. The role of the Halifax Mk V was to drop arms, ammunition, explosives and agents to the Maquis and other resistance groups. The crew which boarded were:
Flt Lt Frank W. Cleaver DSO ............ Pilot
Plt Officer Norman Wyatt ............ Navigator
Flt Sgt John Franklin ............ Wireless Operator
Flt Sgt Donald J. Hoddinott ............ Rear Gunner
Sgt Alan Matthews ............ Bomb Aimer
Sgt Raymond Hindle ............ Flt Engineer
The aircraft took off and headed across the Channel to a rendez-vous in south west France. The crew settled in to their long flight, which was destined to drop arms, ammunition and explosives to a Maquis group operating in the region of Charente Maritime. There was a good moon that night, and it was found later that 44 aircraft of the same Group were also on similar missions. The motto of this newly formed squadron was We Sow the Seeds of the Dragon. The squadron had been formed from 298 Squadron.
Although flying at low level to find the Dropping Zone (which made the aircraft very vulnerable to flak), no contact signal was received from the ground on arrival. It was not known if the DZ had been compromised or whether the reception party had not arrived due to enemy activity in the area. Flt. Lt. Cleaver made the decision to leave the area and return home. The return flight path had taken the aircraft near to the German airfield at Cognac. Still low, having been searching for the DZ, the aircraft was caught in a flak barrage from the airfield.
Flt. Lt. Cleaver took violent evading action and the rear gunner, Flt. Sgt. Hoddinott engaged the flak positions with bursts of fire. The starboard wing caught fire, and the aircraft started to lose height. Realising how low the aircraft was, Flt. Lt. Cleaver gave the order to bale out whilst they still had enough height, and stayed at the controls to allow his crew to escape. The height of the aircraft at this time was little more than 1000ft. The aircraft was losing height rapidly. Leaving little time for a parachute descent, Flt. Lt. Cleaver chose to stay with the aircraft, knowing full well however, that he had on board explosives and ammunition which could easily explode in the event of a crash landing. He did not know the ground, and attempted to put the aircraft down in a field in the dark. The ground was covered in mist, with only the tops of the larger trees showing through. The Halifax crash landed in a field and was now well ablaze, acting as a beacon to every German in the area. Flt. Lt. Cleaver hastily left the area. In August 1944, Flt. Lt. Cleaver was awarded the DFC for his actions that night, which undoubtedly saved the lives of his crew. Shortly after crash landing, his aircraft exploded.
John Franklin had now landed without injury, and was hastily trying to bury his parachute when he heard Sgt. Raymond Hindle, who was also trying to hide his parachute. Both men had come down on the outskirts of Châteauneuf-sur-Charente, and were now planning their route home. Both John and Ray obeyed the rules, walking at night and hiding up and sleeping for most of the day. Along the route they met up with one of the many farming people who helped evaders. This farm labourer found clothing for both men, and they swapped these for their uniforms. He also gave them food. The weather at this time in April was still quite cold and they missed the warmth of their battle-dress uniforms. They were also given food on many occasions by farming people along their route. After walking over 100 miles and arriving in the early hours of the morning at a small village called Marsaniex, south of Perigeux, both men, physically exhausted and very hungry, sought help and were directed to the parish priest. The priest also had hidden in his house a couple who were sought by the Gestapo. Through this valuable contact arrangements were made through the maquis to get both men on to the escape lines.
In the early days of the escape lines many evaders knew the names of their 'helpers'. As life became more difficult, and the Lines became more organised and security conscious, names were not known and couriers often only knew the next link in the Escape Line chain. John and Ray had their photographs taken for ID cards, were given a new identity and were taken by a young girl courier by train to Toulouse. Although it was not known at the time, the name of their 'safe house keeper' was Françoise Dissard. Toulouse was now the main collection point for the 'Pat O'Leary' Line in the South of France after its betrayal, with many arrests, in the Marseilles area and surrounding countryside by a double agent known as 'Roger Le Légionnaire', who was also responsible for the arrest of Pat O'Leary. Françoise Dissard, a strong-willed lady who hated the enemy, was now the main 'safe house keeper' and organiser for the 'Pat O'Leary' Line in the South. Due to her efforts the Line stayed open. She often gave abuse to the enemy, who thought her eccentric. She stood no nonsense, trusted no-one. Only her cat Miff went everywhere with her, and he lived to 18 years of age. Often she would be seen escorting agents herself.
John and Ray now spent their first night in a bed since leaving England. The night, however, was sleepless. The RAF had decided to bomb the railway goods yard nearby and both men watched the raid through a skylight. The following day both men were taken by courier through the chaos of the railway station to catch a train south. Due to damage in the station, lorries were now provided to take passengers to the train outside the station. The train now headed south towards the Pyrenees. At a station in the foothills, the courier indicated that they should now leave the train and get on to a coach parked outside the station. Many enemy soldiers were now in the area, especially around the station. The coach was boarded up, the seats had been taken out, and together with many other evaders who had also headed for the coach, John and Ray lay on the floor of the vehicle as it sped away quickly from the station yard.
In the foothills of the Pyrenees the coach stopped and the group, which was quite large now, was handed over to a mountain guide and started on foot towards the Spanish border. The guide stopped for the night at a ski hut high in the mountains. All seemed to be going well until the guide did not return the next morning. The hut was on the French side of the border, and the group still had a long way to go. A decision was made to split up into small groups as it was now thought that without a guide they may have a better chance of survival if they did so. John and Ray now took with them an American airman, John Betolatti. They now headed off in single file at a lower level along the gorge on the eastern side of the Garronne river. The actual border was at the Bridge of Kings. The men next had to negotiate the almost vertical side of the mountain by night with the road and river below them, both areas being patrolled by guards. With daylight approaching, and now in Spain, the small group kept a low profile and made for the town of Viella where they handed themselves over to the Spanish Civil Guard. Almost immediately, their footwear was removed and they were put under guard. The British Consul was now informed.
The British Consul collected the men and took them back to Madrid. From Madrid, John and Ray were now taken by car to Gibraltar, arriving back in England at RAF Whitchurch on 6th June 1944, two months after being shot down. Their freedom they owed to the 'Pat O'Leary' Line.
The story of the crew would not be complete without knowing what became of the individuals mentioned:
Flt Lt R. F. W. Cleaver DSO, DFC
Also returned to England via the 'Pat O'Leary' Line. Decorated by the Dutch. Died in a flying accident in 1953.
Plt Officer N. Wyatt
Evaded capture for a short time. Captured, POW. Released by advancing Russians. Died in 1988.
Flt Sgt J. Franklin
After his successful escape, returned to flying duties until 1951. Now retired, living in St Albans.
Flt Sgt D. J. Hoddinott
Tragically, he suffered injuries on landing. It is thought that he may have been too low for a parachute descent. Although taken to hospital, he died of his injuries and was buried at Cognac.
Sgt A. Matthews
Evaded successfully. Joined the Maquis and fought with them until the end of the war. Now retired, living in Southampton.
Sgt R. Hindle
After his successful escape, returned to flying duties. Died in 1970.
On 7th November 1941, Alan Mills was a sergeant observer (navigator and bomb aimer) with 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds. The Squadron was equipped with Wellington Mk 1C aircraft with Bristol-Pegasus engines. That night he was due out on his 10th operational flight, replacing a navigator who was sick. At dusk the crew boarded the Wellington, and at 18:18hrs they took off. Their destination that night was Mannheim. The crew were:
Plt Officer E. V. Lawson ............ Pilot/Captain
Sgt C. W. Onions ............ 2/Pilot
Sgt A. W. Mills ............ Navigator
Sgt W. S. C. Partridge ............ Wireless Operator
Sgt H. Mossely ............ Front Gunner
Sgt C. L. Williams ............ Rear Gunner
After reaching their target, the crew hit bad weather. High winds and 10/10 clouds had made the going difficult. On top of this reciprocal bearings from base had put the aircraft south of its intended route. With the weather and the extra distance the aircraft quickly ran short of fuel. When over France the fuel gauges registered empty and the pilot ordered the crew to prepare to bale out. At 9,000 ft, with no fuel left, the crew jumped out over Vichy France.
Alan landed alone in a field near a village called Beaurepaire, not far from Lons-le-Saunier near the Jura region. Looking around, he found a small cottage, the occupants of which gave him coffee. He was later joined by Charles Williams, his rear gunner. Both men were now planning their next move, when the Vichy police arrived and arrested them. The rest of the crew had similar bad luck, all but one being caught during daylight hours on 8th November. Sadly, Clifford Onions had had what appeared to be a parachute malfunction his parachute had got tangled and he died upon landing.
All the men were taken to Louhan Gendarmerie and then to Aix-en-Provence for interrogation, finally finishing up at St Hippolyte-du-Fort on what was thought to be 13th November 1941. In March 1942 the men were moved to Fort de la Revere, near Monte Carlo.
All officers from the Fort had recently been moved out to a camp near Lyon which had left an SNCO, Sgt Mel Daphone RCAF, in charge of the escape committee. Mel was determined that every effort should be made to escape from the Fort, and he had made contacts with the escape line in the area.
Three tunnels had been started, and discovered. A fourth tunnel was now started and a plan formulated which was to meet with unexpected success. The route of the new tunnel went under a wall near the soldiers' quarters and into the unoccupied part of the fort. Once under the wall it was necessary to negotiate about thirty yards of barbed wire (most of which was covered by armed sentries), then cross a twenty-foot deep moat and finally dash to cover in a wood of pine trees.
Interned in the Fort were over two hundred British and Allied servicemen, the majority of whom were soldiers of the 51st Highland Division, with about twenty RAF aircrew. On the afternoon of 5th September 1942 over fifty members of this group, known as Detachment W, escaped from the Fort.
The escaped had to be made in daylight because access to the tunnel was only available in daylight. The men were split into groups of five and six, and started their escapes at half-hour intervals. It was thought at the time that only the first, and possibly the second, group would get out. Alan Mills had been put into the third group, which also included Sgts. Dough Walsh and Les Pearman, both RAF; ex-Guardsman Cpl Lofty Howarth (who had been captured on the St Nazaire raid while serving with No 2 Commando) and a Highlander, Pte. McFarland. The group cleared the fort and made for cover, only to hear more and more men escaping.
So great was the alarm raised that the group chose to lay up for three days until things had calmed down. Moving on, the group sought help from the monastery at Laghet, but unfortunately others had tried to get in and were caught in the monastery garden by Vichy troops, and the Abbot would not now assist this group. Unknown to the group, a young French boy called Raoul had witnessed the conversation and waited for them to leave the monastery. Raoul now took charge of the men and hid them in a ditch under the monastery wall, which had good top cover. He offered to get help for them, and they decided to trust him, giving him an address of a contact in Nice. Later that evening Raoul returned and moved the men to another hide location until the frequent military patrols had died down.
Alan Mills was now in the hands of what he learned later to be the 'Pat O'Leary' line. Three more soldiers were gathered in, and joined up with them. On the third night, Sgt Doug Walsh was taken away from the group to be given a briefing on the route to follow that evening. At dusk, the group set off on a roundabout route up to the wall of Mt Agel Fort, and then down to the golf course above Monte Carlo. They were taken to a safe house run by a Madame Seracauld, on the edge of the golf course. At the house the men were introduced to their guide, Réné Grottoli, who was to take them on the next part of their journey. After a meal the group said their goodbyes to Madame Seracauld and proceeded at a very fast pace over rocks and down very steep slopes travelling in single file, jumping from rock to rock, barely being able to see or keep up with the man in front. Although Réné set a cracking pace the group reached his villa in Beausoleil, just outside Monte Carlo, without mishap. Once they were safely hidden in the villa Réné produced drinks all round, resulting in the party falling asleep in their armchairs for what was left of the night. When the men woke it was broad daylight, which came as a shock as they should have been in Monte Carlo before daybreak!
That morning Réné took Alan Mills and four of the group into Monte Carlo. On the way in the men had to walk on both sides of the road with at least 50 yards between then with Réné at the front. That evening the men were moved to a larger flat in the centre of Monte Carlo. This flat had belonged to an elderly couple who had left in 1940 and was now a safe house looked after by Marcel and Simone Guiton. Food was brought to the flat by Miss Eva Trenchard who, with her sister Susie, ran the Scottish tea shop in Monte Carlo. Both sisters, elderly and with grey hair, knew exactly where their loyalty lay. They provided a safe house rendezvous for evaders on the run. At the end of the war they were awarded a King's Commendation for bravery.
A number of visitors came to the flat. Francis Blanchain arrived to take ID photographs and Tony Friend, an officer with the Monaco police, made out their ID cards. Another visitor was Pat O'Leary who, while the group were in the flat, received news of his DSO over the radio.
Alan, Doug Walsh and Les Pearman received only hours' warning of their impending move. Simone Guiton offered the men suits left by the previous owner, and Alan can still recall choosing a white flannel suit. A guide collected the three men and took them by train, first to Nice and then to Marseilles. There were a few worried moments when their guide fell asleep on the train with the train tickets in his pocket and a ticket collector asked for tickets. The guide had to be woken up and fortunately the ticket collector accepted the situation.
Once in Marseilles, the three men were taken to a café near the old harbour before being taken to Louis Nouveau's flat, on the fifth floor overlooking the harbour. Louis Nouveau was a leading member of the Pat O'Leary Line. He not only ran one of the largest safe houses, but also undertook many journeys to northern France acting as courier, collecting evaders and bringing them into Marseilles. After a few days in the safe house, which already held three airmen, the group were warned of a move. This time, however, Alan was told in no uncertain terms by Louis Nouveau to get rid of his white suit, which was both "conspicuous and horrendous".
The men boarded a train at Marseilles, which first called at Narbonne before reaching Toulouse. The courier had managed to get first class tickets which was a safer way to travel with fewer ID checks and, as the courier put it, "Mr Churchill will pay". At Toulouse the men were put up in a safe house by Paul Ullman. Paul, a French Jew, was taking many risks. He already had a house full of escapers from the fort and also had his sister in hiding she had fled from Paris one step ahead of the Germans. The Germans had intensified their deportation of Jews to concentration camps, and as such Paul and his wife needed to live a low-profile life.
One evening, while staying with the Ullmans, there was a loud knock on the door. It was in fact the letter 'V' in Morse code. The door was opened and what appeared to be an eccentric old lady was introduced to the group. The lady was Françoise Dissard. Françoise told the men of the tricks she had played on the Vichy police, the abuse she had given them, and how they considered her to be an eccentric old lady with a cat called Mifouf who followed her everywhere. They even thought that she was crazy. The old lady, who hated the Vichy regime and the Germans more than anything else, knew what she was doing. She trusted no-one.
When the line was first compromised by the British traitor, Paul Cole, and suffered many arrests and executions by the Gestapo, Françoise herself took many of the evaders to the Pyrenees. Later on, with the arrest (due to the activities of the traitor Roger Le Légionnaire) of nearly all the key couriers and safe-house keepers in Marseilles (including Pat O'Leary and Louis Nouveau) it was Françoise who kept the line together. It was a critical time for the O'Leary line the main players had been arrested and many had escaped down their own line with the help of Françoise. It looked like the line was blown completely. Françoise then set the line up to operate from Toulouse, drawing together the remaining 'helpers' and starting evaders moving again, but on a reduced level. New safe houses were found and many established safe houses remained loyal, despite the worsening risks.
The time came to move on. Alan, with Dough Walsh and Les Pearman, was taken by train to Perpignan and then later by a train to Canet Plage a small seaside resort not far from the Spanish border. Their guide took them for a meal in the Hotel du Tennis. Later, in darkness, they headed for a deserted villa among the sand dunes. The men were told to remain there and await the arrival of a fishing boat that would take them to Gibraltar. In the course of the next few days, more escapers and evaders arrived. The house became quite full.
At midnight on 5th October the men were given their instructions and at one o'clock left in single file to meet the boat from Gibraltar. This was attempted on three separate occasions and each time the boat failed to arrive. On each occasion, Pat O'Leary had led the men to the RV accompanied by Lucien Dumais, a French Canadian Sergeant Major, who had landed at Dieppe with the Commandos. Lucien was later to return to France to run the successful 'Shelburn' escape line in Brittany. Louis Nouveau normally covered the rear of the line. Annoyed that the boat had not turned up again, Louis Nouveau returned to Marseilles to send a signal to Gibraltar. The signal was direct and to the point: "No more sign of a boat than butter on your backside". The boat had missed the initial RV but, on receipt of the signal in Gibraltar, returned on 11th October to collect the thirty two men hidden in the deserted villa at Canet Plage.
After a five day journey by sea, Alan Mills, together with his friends, Dough Walsh and Les Pearman, arrived in Gibraltar. Three days later, the men were on a Sunderland flying boat of 10 Squadron RAAF, on their way back to Blighty.
Of the fifty two men who escaped from the Fort de la Revere on 5th September 1942, twenty five made it back to England. All owed their freedom to Pat Line.
The Daily Telegraph of 8th November 1941 quoted thirty seven bombers missing from raids on Berlin, Cologne and Mannheim on the night of 7th/8th November, the heaviest loss to date in a single night.
Now retired, Alan lives  in West Sussex.
At 02:00 hrs on 12th October 1915 a British nurse, Edith Cavell, was executed by a German firing squad at the Tir National in Brussels. Her crime was helping British, French and Belgian soldiers to escape to safety into Holland. She also ran a safe house for Belgians of military age. A nurse by profession, she ran a training school for nurses in Brussels and was, at the time of her arrest, treating the wounded of both sides. It is believed that, with her help, over 600 soldiers were taken to safety. A generation later, in 1940, the sacrifice of Edith Cavell was remembered by many Belgians. Her words to an English clergyman the night before she died were also remembered: "I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no bitterness towards anyone". In the dark days of 1940, many Belgians recalled Edith Cavell's last words.
Every October in Brussels, the surviving members of Comète Line meet for their annual reunion. Each year the ranks are thinner. Each year they remember their friends who lost their lives while taking their 'parcels' of Allied aircrew down Comète line from Brussels to Bayonne and over the western Pyrenees. In one incident alone, on 20th October 1943 at 06:00 hrs, eight members of Comète line were to lose their lives by being shot by a German firing squad at the same Tir National in Brussels for the same reason as Edith Cavell running an escape line for Allied escapers. By coincidence, the leader of Comète line had also been trained as a nurse. Attending the same reunion in Brussels every year are men who owe their freedom, and possibly their lives, to Comète line.
On 10th May 1940, German troops entered Belgium. On the move also was a 24-year-old commercial artist who had also trained as a nurse. Andrée de Jongh returned to her parents' home at Schaerbeek in Brussels knowing that her nursing knowledge would be of more use to her countrymen than her skills as a commercial artist. Andrée (code name Dédée), worked throughout Brussels with the wounded and at the same time looked for safe houses to which she could send any of the soldiers that could be smuggled out of the hospital. Many problems now faced Dédée clothing, food, couriers and, most of all, money. The task that Dédée had set herself was far too complicated and difficult to carry out alone and help was sought from her Belgian friends.
In May 1940 the situation was bleak. The British army had been taken from the beaches of Dunkirk. The German army had taken over most of western Europe and it seemed only a matter of time before they crossed the English Channel. Despite the difficulties many Belgians came forward to offer help, money and safe houses. Many of the difficult tasks of couriers were carried out by young girls, mainly school friends of Andrée de Jongh. A chain of safe houses was quickly set up from Brussels to the western Pyrenees. Collection points were set up in both Brussels and Paris. In the foothills of the Pyrenees a collection of safe houses was set up at Bayonne, Anglet, Ciboure, Hendaye and Urrugne. Mountain guides were organised and routes chosen. The line was now ready to take its first 'parcels'.
The first party to head south consisted of eleven people, including one woman. The Pyrenees were reached and the group was taken by a mountain guide into Spain. All eleven were arrested by the Spanish police. Only two returned to England. The second group, again eleven, had difficulties before leaving Brussels, two being arrested. The remainder were taken by Arnold Deppe and Andrée de Jongh in separate groups, to meet up at the crossing of the river Somme at Corbie. Arnold did not arrive and it was later found that he had been arrested at the station in Brussels with his evaders. Dédée carried on alone, deciding to cross into Spain herself to hand her evaders over.
In August 1941 Dédée arrived at the British consulate in Bilbao with her group of four evaders consisting of a Scottish soldier called Colin Cupar and three Belgian officers who wanted to join the Allies. At the consulate Dédée requested funds for mountain guides, safe houses, food and rail fares. She promised more evaders in return. It was however made clear to the consul that the line was Belgian and would remain in Belgian hands. After a fortnight of waiting, funds were made available. So began a story of ordinary people from all walks of life who had taken on a role collecting evaders and Allied aircrew. None were trained for their role and all knew they would be shown no mercy if caught.
The line operated through a system mainly of young girl couriers who took evaders between safe houses by train, bicycle and on foot. Many of these couriers were caught and suffered badly under the Gestapo and the concentration camp system. Many never returned. When Andrée Dumont (known as Nadine and one of the first couriers employed) was captured in 1942, her younger sister Michou came forward to carry on her courier work. Elvire Morrelle was a young courier who fell and broke her leg while taking a party of evaders over the Pyrenees in appalling weather conditions. She was brought down by the legendary Basque guide Florentino who led most of the evaders over the mountains.
Despite a permanent leg injury, Elvire later ran a safe house near Paris. Later still she was captured by the Gestapo. Both Nadine and Elvire returned from the camps. One safe house used frequently in Brussels was run by M. & Mme Evrard. Their attractive 16-year old daughter Gisèle was also employed as a courier. Sadly, the family were arrested in November 1942. All returned from the camps though M. Evrard died shortly after his release.
Many individuals ran safe houses throughout France and Belgium but in the south, the Pyrenees area, Comète' line was controlled by Elvire de Greef. Known as 'Tante Go', Elvire de Greef had her whole family involved. Both her husband and son worked as translators for the Germans and as such kept her informed of their every move. Her daughter ran safe houses in the area and both ladies hid and sent over the border 340 Allied aircrew. Another key helper was Albert Johnson, an Englishman who lived with the de Greefs. He was credited with getting 122 Allied aircrew into Spain. Amongst the family's most daring exploits was the escape of the legendary Basque guide Florentino Goicocechea who had been shot while returning from taking a party of evaders into Spain. While under the control of the Gestapo and receiving treatment for bullet wounds in his legs, he was snatched to safety from his hospital bed by Ferdinand de Greef, dressed in Gestapo uniform and shouting orders in German to two Resistance men dressed in German uniforms. They in turn took Florentino out on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance driven by the concierge of the Anglet Town Hall. Florentino was then hidden in one of the line's safe houses.
The winter of 1942/43 proved a bad one for Comète line. Not only was the route over the Pyrenees often completed in appalling weather conditions, but the River Bidassoa was often too fast-flowing and dangerous to cross (and it had to be crossed in the mountains), resulting on too many occasions with evaders returning to Urrugne to await a break in the weather. The Gestapo was now putting pressure on the line. Nadine had been arrested in Paris the previous summer whilst taking evaders south. Dédée's home in Brussels had been raided and her sister, who was also working as a courier, was arrested. Her father, Frederic de Jongh, now moved to Paris to evade capture. Many of Comète's trusted helpers from Brussels to the Pyrenees were arrested.
In January 1943 disaster also struck the home of Francia Usandizaga. Francia was running the last safe house before the Pyrenees crossing, at Urrugne at the foot of the Pyrenees. It is thought that the house was betrayed. She, Andrée de Jongh and a number of evaders were arrested. On capture, Dédée tried to explain that she was the leader of the line, to take the pressure off the other captives. The Gestapo refused to believe that such a young girl could be running such an escape line. Francia did not return from Ravensbruck concentration camp. Frederick de Jongh kept the line moving from his flat in Paris, but he too was to be captured and executed. He is commemorated at the Ecole Frederick de Jongh, in the Schaerbeek area of Brussels, where he was headmaster.
The arrest of Dédée was a terrible blow to Comète line. For a short time it stood still but continued to collect evaders while Elvire de Greef (Tante Go), in the south, and Jean-François Nothomb (Franco) in the north, reorganised the line. That it continued was due to the courage of the helpers who stayed at their posts and the keepers of safe houses who, despite the pressure from the Gestapo, continued to hide evaders. More couriers came forward, more safe houses were set up and more evaders were again taken south.
In its three years of life Comète line returned over 800 aircrew to England. The cost was staggering. Amongst the helpers captured many were executed and many did not return from the camps. Many helpers returned with appalling injuries and many still suffer today . The line was broken many times but despite this it was always rebuilt. Other courier came forward and other safe houses were offered.
The story of Comète line would not be complete without knowing what became of the individuals mentioned:
Andrée de Jongh (Dédée) GM
The creator of Comète' Line. Dédée took over one hundred and fifty airmen to safety making the double crossing of the Pyrenees thirty six times. She was betrayed with Francia Usandizanga and seven airmen at Francia's farmhouse (the last safe house before the Pyrenees crossing) on 15th January 1943. Arrested by the Gestapo, Dédée admitted that she was the leader to take the pressure off the other captives. The Gestapo refused to believe that such a young, small girl could be the leader of Comète Line. Eventually she was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Dangerously ill when released from Ravensbruck, Dédée recovered, returned to nursing and worked for many years as a sister in a leper hospital in the Belgian Congo, later moving to Addis Ababa. In later years Dédée was made a Countess by the King of the Belgians. Now retired, Dédée lives in Brussels.
Andrée Dumont (Nadine) OBE
One of Dédée's original couriers. Nadine made many journeys from Brussels to the western Pyrenees, crossing the Pyrenees many times. Caught by the Gestapo in August 1942 and interrogated for 12 months, Nadine was sent to both Mathausen and Ravensbruck concentration camps. Now retired and living in Brussels, she is the secretary of Comète.
Florentino Goicocechea GM
Florentino led most of Comète's evaders over the Pyrenees, almost always crossing the River Bidassoa in the mountains. A Basque, he had fought in the Spanish civil war. By profession he was a smuggler and when awarded the George Medal he was described as being 'in the import and export business'. Returning over the Pyrenees into France from dropping off evaders, he was shot in the legs by a German patrol. As he was alone, he was arrested for smuggling. Under guard by the Gestapo he was snatched by Comète and hidden. He died in 1980 and is buried in Ciboure at the foot of his beloved Pyrenees.
Micheline Dumont (Michou) GM
When her older sister Nadine was captured and her father in a concentration camp, Micheline took on the role of courier for Comète. She became one of the line's most successful operators. Eventually chased by the Gestapo, Michou escaped down her own line, reaching London in May 1944. She is now retired and living in France.
The Evrard Family
The Evrard family ran a safe house in Brussels. Their attractive young daughter, Gisele, was a courier for Comète. The whole family was arrested in November 1942 and after interrogation was sent to a concentration camp. All survived. M. Evrard died shortly after the war.
Elvire was one of the original couriers, taking evaders the full distance from Brussels to the Pyrenees. She also ran a safe house in Paris. While crossing the Pyrenees in appalling snow conditions she slipped and broke her leg. Carried down through the mountains by Florentino, she later returned to her safe house duties with a permanent leg injury. She was arrested on 20th November 1942 and survived Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Elvire de Greef GM
Elvire was the main organiser for Comète in the western Pyrenees. Her husband, son and daughter worked for Comète as organisers, couriers and safe house keepers. They organised Florentino's escape from the Gestapo. Elvire was arrested on one occasion but was released due to her knowledge of German black market activities. The family moved back to Brussels after the war. Elvire died in Brussels in 1991, aged 94.
A farmer's wife, Francia ran the last safe house before the Pyrenees crossing. She was arrested on 15th January 1943 with Dédée and seven evaders. Francia did not return from Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Albert Johnson MBE
Albert Johnson was an Englishman living with the de Greef family. He took over one hundred evaders across the Pyrenees into Spain. Captured by the Germans he was released by the intervention of Elvire de Greef who threatened to expose German black marketeering. On his release he made his way to Gibraltar and England. He died in 1954.
Frederick de Jongh
Both his daughters worked for Comète. Both were eventually captured. On Dédée's capture, Frederick ran the line from Paris. Captured by the Gestapo, the quiet, gentle schoolmaster gave nothing away. On 28th March 1944 he was taken from his prison cell to Mont Valerien with his two friends, Robert Ayle and Aimable Fouquerel, to face a firing squad. Frederick de Jongh is commemorated at the Ecole Frederick de Jongh in Brussels were he was headmaster.
Baron Jean-François Nothomb (Franco) DSO
Known as Franco, he took many evaders over the Pyrenees. When tragedy struck Comète Line in early 1943 he, with Elvire de Greef, reorganised and kept the line in operation when all seemed lost. On the capture of Dédée, he ran the line. On 18th January 1944 he too was arrested, but was released at the end of the war.
It was early in August 1941 when Jack Newton decided to spend the August bank holiday with his wife Mary at Binbrook in Lincolnshire. Little did she know what fate had in store for Jack. The Newtons had a pleasant weekend. On the night of the 5th/6h August 1941 Jack's aircraft took off with five others for a raid on Aachen. Mary Newton and a number of villagers waved them off. Mary returned to London and heard on the early morning news: "We regret to announce that a number of our aircraft did not return...".
On the evening of 5th August 1941, the crew of W5421 (a Wellington Mk 2 Bomber) boarded their aircraft. Their destination that night was the railway goods yard at Aachen. The crew were:
Flt Lt R. Langlois DFC ............ Pilot
Sgt P. McLarnon ............ 2/Pilot
Sgt L. Burrell ............ Navigator
Sgt R. Copley ............ Wireless Operator
Sgt D. Porteous ............ Front Gunner
Sgt J. Newton ............ Rear Gunner
The crew took off and settled into their routine. There was, however, one change for some reason Doug Porteous had asked to change to rear gunner. Jack thought, "Well, first over the target first home!"
The raid was a success but, turning for home, the aircraft was hit by flak. The starboard Merlin engine caught fire and the aircraft started to lose height. The pilot set a straight line course for home. The aircraft was now nearing Antwerp and losing height rapidly, heading for the open sea, with the dinghy behind the engine on fire. The order came through to bale out. Jack Newton, as front gunner, had a better view than most. He saw white stripes approaching with Antwerp Cathedral to the right, and immediately yelled back to the skipper and crew: "Aircraft below". Flt Lt Langlois turned the aircraft to port, put the wheel down, and landed on a German occupied airfield, without ground guidance, in a matter of seconds from the first identification of the airfield and earned the highest respect from the crew.
The crew worked quickly, piling up anything that would burn with their parachutes and setting them alight with twelve Very cartridges. They hastily left the airfield and, when in cover, decided to split up into two three-man groups. Jack, along with the skipper and the wireless operator, now planned their next move.
The three men walked for two hours and then rested behind a hedge in a cornfield. They were spotted by a Belgian on a cycle who told them to stay where they were as he would return later that evening. True to his word the man returned and took the group to a safe house where they were given a selection of coats, trousers and shoes to change into. The men were then moved through a series of houses in Antwerp, Liege Spa and Brussels. The three were then split up. Jack was accommodated by Mme de Porque in Brussels before moving to another safe house in the city run by M. & Mme Evrard, later moving in with the Becquet family. Photographs were taken, papers organised, and Jack was taken to meet Andrée de Jongh (Dédée), the leader of Comète Line.
Dédée took Jack out of Brussels first to Corbie, where the river Somme was crossed, and then continuing south by train via Paris to St Jean de Luz. From here they changed trains and continued on to Anglet where Jack was taken to a farm at the foot of the Pyrenees. It was at Anglet that Jack met Elvire de Greef, Comète's organiser in the south. The de Greef family controlled all safe houses and border crossings in the western Pyrenees for Comète. It was the family business. Frederick de Greef was a courier and produced travel documents. Their daughter, Janine, ran a safe house and also travelled frequently to Paris to collect evaders and take them south. In all, nearly four hundred evaders passed through the de Greef family. Contrary to the rules, Elvire de Greef kept a list of all evaders who were passed over the Pyrenees and produced it at the end of the war. Jack Newton was listed as the first RAF aircrew member to be taken over the Pyrenees.
At the farm, the men were kitted out with weatherproof clothing for their climb over the Pyrenees. Their guide was a legendary Basque called Florentino. The men were also accompanied by Andrée de Jongh, who had no difficulty in keeping up with the fast pace set by Florentino. The border was reached and the River Bidassoa had to be crossed. The Bidassoa was a high mountain river, fast flowing and often strewn with boulders which could cause problems in the dark. It had been raining quite heavily and the river was in torrent. Andrée decided that the crossing would be too dangerous and the small group made their way back to the safe house run by Francia Usandizanga at Urrugne. The group arrived exhausted and after a hot drink fell asleep. Four days later they again tried to cross and again the river was a torrent. Florentino knew of a wooden bridge that would possibly be unguarded which they found and the group crossed into Spain. Francia was later to die in Ravensbruck for her loyalty to Comète.
Dédée left the group and headed for the British consulate in Bilbao, later returning for the group. From Bilbao Jack was taken to La Linea and on to Gibraltar. From there he was taken as a 'tail end Charlie' gunner in a Short Sunderland flying boat of 202 Squadron, finally arriving at Pembroke Dock 16 hours later on 13th January 1942. Back in Blighty, Jack was informed that he was the only member of his crew to get back the remainder had been caught and registered as POWs. He was also informed that he was the first aircrew member to be returned by Comète.
At the time when Jack was being interviewed in comfort at the British consulate in Bilbao, Dédée and Florentino were returning over the mountains, probably crossing the Bidassoa again to collect more evaders from Elvire de Greef.
Dédée made at least thirty-six double crossings of the Pyrenees with her evaders. Florentino made considerably more. Both were later awarded the George Medal.
The title of this escape line was established in early 1943, in Paris. This was in reply to a question put to an RAF evader who had been brought there from Holland, and was about to leave for Toulouse. Until that time the line had no name. It had been started by John Weider who had studied at Collonges on the border between France and Switzerland. Later when it was found that Allied personnel could face internment a second route was established via Toulouse and the Pyrenees, passing through Andorra into Spain, and then on to Gibraltar. This was an extremely dangerous route covering very high ground, steeped in snow and well guarded. The cost of running safe houses, fares, and the charges asked by many mountain guides were proving to be too much. At this critical stage the Dutch government came to the aid of the lines with an extra funding for Allied aircrew.
'Dutch-Paris' operated until the Allied invasion . More than 1,000 evaders were taken to Switzerland and Spain, including over 200 aircrew. The main clearing house for the line was Paris, although the route also included safe houses in Brussels. The line was operated throughout by John Weider, assisted by Jacques Rens, Edmond Chait, Jef Lejeune, Hermann Laastman, Paul Veerman, Benno Nykerk, Hans Wisbrun and Father aan de Stegge. Many of the couriers were only known to evaders by their first names and included Françoise, Okkie, Anne-Marie, Lucy, Simone and Jacqueline.
One of the many successes of 'Dutch-Paris' was Flt Lt Bram van der Stok, who was one of only three Allied airmen to make a 'home run' to England after the 'Great Escape' from Stalag Luft 111. Also in the group were Sgt Per Bergsland and Pilot Officer Jens Muller. The remaining escapers were all recaptured, fifty of whom were later shot. Van der Stok took the identity of a Flemish worker and evaded for six weeks before being collected in by Dutch-Paris. He was first hidden in Halle by a Dutch family and smuggled in a skiff across the Maas into Belgium. He then cycled to Brussels and stayed with a Dutch family for six weeks until he could go down the line to Toulouse. Once in Toulouse he had to sell his watch to pay his Pyrenean guide. In the border area there was a skirmish with frontier guards and his guide was shot. Van der Stok then joined up with local maquis who took him into Spain. From Madrid he was passed to Gibraltar.
During the whole period that Holland was occupied, widespread assistance was offered to British and Allied aircrews who were shot down or evaded through Holland. Because of the difficulties of making a sea crossing from a heavily guarded coastline, most evaders were hidden by the Dutch and passed along the line to Belgium, France or Luxembourg or, towards the end of the war, through Allied lines.
The Dutch Resistance and escape line in the Biesboch area was highly organised. The Biesboch, a fresh water delta of waterways, creeks and islands was a natural hiding place for evaders. In addition to the escape lines, the Dutch resistance tied down many enemy troops in the area. Operations from the Beisboch area resulted in large numbers of Allied aircrew returning to their units. However, as with all escape lines, the price of freedom was high. Many couriers and operators were lost. In one incident alone, 150 members of Dutch-Paris were arrested and 40 of those never returned including John Weidner's sister. Today in Lage Zwaluwe is the Line Crossing Memorial, a statue of a lone escape line 'helper'.
Mary Lindell, Comtesse de Milleville, alias Comtesse de Moncy, alias Marie-Claire: these were the names of a very remarkable English woman. Born Mary Lindell in Surrey in 1895, she was impeccably English in upbringing and manner, extremely resourceful, courageous, strong-minded and used to getting her own way.
During the First World War Mary served as a nurse, at first as a VAD. But she was sent home for hitting a matron with a bed pan brush. Mary now joined Secours aux Blessés Militaires, a division of the French Red Cross, and was decorated for gallantry under fire. She was awarded the Russian Order of St Anne by the last Czar of Russia and also awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Star. She married a French nobleman, Count de Milleville, and lived in Paris. In the late summer of 1940, Mary Lindell was hard at work ensuring that all her medal ribbons were sewn onto her Red Cross uniform, with the English ones first. No-one was to be in any doubt as to her nationality. Helped by her sons, Maurice 10, Oky 16, and her young daughter Barbe, the family business of collecting evaders and taking them into the unoccupied zone began. Later, Mary, by sheer bluff and boldness, managed to get petrol permits, and permits for herself, a nurse and a mechanic to travel freely on humanitarian missions. These were obtained via the German commander in Paris, General von Stulpnagel, and also Count von Bismark. Earlier, General von Stulpnagel had in fact signed an order, stating that men found helping evaders would be shot and women sent to concentration camps. This order was posted throughout France. He had now given Mary petrol and permits in disobedience of his own orders.
Now, better organised with her fuel and permits, Mary smuggled many evaders over the demarcation line, usually disguised as a mechanic or a nurse. Their eventual contact was the Pat O'Leary Line in Marseilles. Despite Mary's success her methods were amateurish and it was only a matter of time before the Gestapo were on to her. Arrested by the Paris Gestapo, Mary was interrogated and kept in solitary confinement for nine months. The Gestapo were now waiting for further instructions to detain Mary, but with the help of a friendly wardress Mary walked out of Fresnes prison and kept on walking without looking back. Making arrangements for her children first, Mary travelled to a safe house at Ruffec and, disguising herself as an elderly governess, followed the escape line to Spain and England.
Once in England Mary was recruited by MI9 and demanded to be sent back to France. MI9 did not, however, agree! People who had been in the hands of the Gestapo did not return. Her strong personality prevailed and Mary was sent back to France on 21 October 1942 in a Lysander from one of the Special Duties Squadrons, landing near Limoges. She had not, however, agreed to take a wireless operator as she had decided she could not work with the one she had been given. Mary began organising her new escape line, Marie-Claire Line, based on the Hôtel de France at Ruffec.
Many more evaders were moved along Marie-Claire line, two of whom were Major C. Hasler and Cpl W. Sparks. This pair were the two survivors of Operation Frankton raid on shipping in Bordeaux harbour (otherwise known as the Cockleshell Heroes) Lack of a radio operator prevented Mary knowing of the raid. But the commandos, who had to make their way inland to contact an escape line, had been briefed to make for Ruffec and the Café du Paris. This was unusual practice but on this occasion the only way to return was via an escape line. The Café du Paris was not found, however. Both men entered a small café and were helped by the owner, eventually finding themselves with 'Marie-Claire'. Of the eight Commandos only two survived. The remainder were captured and executed.
Unfortunately at this time Mary was in hospital having been deliberately run down by a car thought to have been driven by collaborators. Her son Maurice took Major Hasler and Cpl. Sparks and hid them in a safe house in Lyons. Mary met them there and, characteristically, her first reaction was to hand Major Hasler a pair of scissors and order him to remove his magnificent blond moustache.
By this time the Gestapo were putting pressure on the line. Maurice was arrested while talking to two girls who were under surveillance. Once his identity was confirmed he was severely beaten in prison in an effort to obtain from him the whereabouts of Marie-Claire. He revealed nothing and was finally released after much punishment. Later Oky was also arrested and, like Maurice, beaten to obtain information. Oky revealed nothing and was deported to a concentration camp, never to be heard of again.
The Marie-Claire line operated by collecting evaders from many parts of France and moving them by stages to safe houses at Ruffec. Once a group of 5-8 had been gathered, Marie-Claire would take them herself to the Pyrenees and hand them over to mountain guides. In the last group to travel to Spain with Marie-Claire was Flt Lt A. F. McSweyen, an Australian bomber pilot who had also escaped from Stalag Luft III (at Sagan, Lower Silesia) and who had been collected in at Luneville and taken to Ruffec. The other men in the group were Flt Off. M. Cooper RAF, Plt Off. H. Smith RCAF and Sgt L. Martin RCAF. These men had been collected in by the Jean-Marie resistance network in the Calvados region of Normandy. They were kept in a safe house at Villers-sur-Mer until contact had been made with the Marie-Claire line and they were then taken via Paris to Ruffec. The last member of the group to arrive was Capt. R. B. Palm of the South African Air Force. He was being moved from Italy to a POW camp near Moorsburg, Germany, when he made his escape. He travelled across Germany to France, and was collected in by Marie-Claire line at Luneville and taken to Ruffec.
The group with Marie-Claire plus four 'helpers' set out by train via Toulouse and Foix to Andorra. The group was warned at Parniers (before Foix) that the line had been blown, so they all returned to Ruffec. Ten days later a new route was planned via Limoges, Toulouse, Tarbes, Pau, Oleron and Tardets, and then on foot over the Pyrenees. This route proved to be a success and the group crossed the Pyrenees towards the end of November 1943 in winter conditions. On the 25th November Marie-Claire was waiting to meet a courier called Ginette who was escorting airmen from Ruffec to Pau. The weather was very cold and it was snowing. The train arrived at Pau station without Ginette and the airmen. Marie turned to leave and was confronted by two Gestapo men. Later, after initial interrogation, Marie-Claire was taken by train to Paris. Whilst under escort by two Gestapo guards she feigned sickness, made her way to a toilet, saw an opportunity and threw herself off the train. The guards immediately started firing and she was seriously wounded in the head and neck. She was returned to the train and taken to a German hospital. A German doctor rebuilt her neck and saved her life in a 4.5 hour operation. Despite being extremely ill and running a high fever, Marie was deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Two things were in her favour and probably saved her life: firstly, she was moved into the hospital at Ravensbruck initially, and secondly, as a trained nurse, she remained in the hospital and survived.
After the war, Marie-Claire became the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society's representative in France. A film of her WW2 exploits was made called One Against the Wind. The story of her life is told in a book, No Drums, No Trumpets by J. B. Wynne, published by Arthur Baker Ltd. Mary Lindell died in 1986 aged 92.
On 11th October 1942, a number of evaders were gathered in a deserted villa at Canet Plage, near Perpignan. They were waiting for an RV with a fishing boat from Gibraltar. The Pat O'Leary line had arranged the RV, with Pat leading the men out at night along the deserted beach. Alongside Pat was a tough Sergeant Major of the famous Canadian Regiment, the Fusiliers Mont-Royal. Armed with an iron bar, he was determined to deal with anyone who got in the way.
The man was Lucien Dumais, captured with the commandos at Dieppe, who had escaped and made his way alone to Marseilles and then returned to England via Pat Line. On arrival in England he volunteered to return to France to work on escape lines. Turned down by MI9, he returned to operations in North Africa, receiving praise for his work behind enemy lines. On return to England he again applied for Special Duties and repeated his request to work on escape lines. It was the reversal of one of the worst errors of judgement made by MI9 that produced an efficient escape line which returned 135 men back to England in less than a year, 107 of these by sea.
In February 1943 an attempt was made to set up an escape line in Brittany code-named 'Oak Tree'. Oak Tree had difficulty from the beginning and never really got started. In November 1943 Lucien Dumais, with his wireless operator Ray Labrosse, were landed by Lysander in northern France to set up an escape line from the Brittany peninsular to Cornwall. (Ray Labrosse had already escaped from the Gestapo, made his way south, crossed the Pyrenees and made for Madrid, taking with him a party of evaders.) The plan involved crossings by Royal Navy Motor Gun Boats to RV with 'Shelburn' at a deserted beach near Plouha in Brittany (code-named Bonaparte). By December 1943 Dumais had safe houses arranged near Plouha and main holding areas in Paris. He had recruited couriers throughout northern France. He then signalled through that he was ready for his first operation.
On 28th January 1944 eighteen men were taken off the small beach near Plouha and returned to England. It immediately became clear in London that Shelburn was well organised and extremely thorough with its planning and security. Dumais also demanded a mine detector to check the beach on each operation and one was dropped by parachute for him. When a mine was found it was covered with a white handkerchief on the way out, the handkerchief being retrieved on the way back. On most occasions small dinghies were used to ferry the men from the beach to the MGB 503, about a mile offshore. On 28th February 1944 in a second operation, twenty-one men were returned. Although at times up to twenty men were being moved in one vehicle, the plan was that, if compromised, they would be passed off as returning workmen. One would be suspicious, twenty would not! Also, the penalty for being caught with one evader was considered to be the same as for twenty.
Many more evacuations by sea took place during the Spring of 1944. At the same time many more evaders were taken south to the Pyrenees and on to Gibraltar via Shelburn's system of guides and couriers. Later more were sent to the Forêt de Freteval, near Cloyes, where they were hidden in the forest until liberated by the Allies.
Most operators in the field stayed six months and were then recalled to England for a rest. When Lucien and Ray were recalled they both refused to leave. The line was working well, evaders were moving, and they considered that they should stay and continue their work.
As with all escape lines the courier work was mainly carried out by young girls and Shelburn was no exception. Among the many couriers and safe house keepers were Madame Georges, Marguerite Carrier (whose main task was line security), Louisette Loire (who covered liaison), Guette, Suzanne, Marie-Thérèse and Madame Bellenger. Mathurin, Branchoux, Jean and Marie Gicquel were the safe house keepers at the rallying point 'La Maison d'Alphonse'. Pierre Huet, François Kerambrun, Paul Campinchi, Fernand Trochel, André le Bervet, Françoise le Cornec, Georges le Cun, Joseph Mainguy, Anne Ropers and Jean Trehiou were also involved.
[There appears to be no evidence for saying that "as with all escape lines the courier work was mainly carried out by young girls". Girls were apparently used more often in Comète and Shelburn operations but very rarely, for example, in Pat Line.]
Shelburn also suffered from traitors and collaborators. A number tried to infiltrate the line as evaders. None were successful. Roger le Légionnaire, who had been responsible for many arrests on Pat Line and also on Comète, was now operating under the name of Roger le Neveu in northern France with orders to infiltrate Shelburn. He was unsuccessful. The discipline and security of Shelburn was second to none. He was found out very early on before he could do any damage. He was followed and his car was booby-trapped. Unfortunately a friend borrowed his car that day and twenty metres from his garage the car exploded killing the occupant. Although not killed, Roger le Neveu was not seen again in Brittany.
The line was active for some six months but in that short time eight pickups took place and returned many airmen to England from the USAAF, RCAF, RAF and other nationalities, as well as French agents and SAS teams.
Captain Lucien A. Dumais, MC MM, died in Montreal, Canada, on 10th June 1993, aged 88.
From 1940 until 1944 major escape line routes were centred on main collecting areas: the Biesboch area of Holland, Brussels, Paris, Bayonne, Marseilles and Toulouse. Travel was usually by train or cycle, with evaders moved from safe house to safe house by girl couriers.
The prelude to Operation Overlord (the D-Day invasion) brought many problems to the escape lines. By April 1944, the massive attacks by heavy bombers and fighter aircraft on the enemy lines of communication across France had effectively put a stop to evaders travelling by rail to the Pyrenees. The last aircrew evader did so on 23rd April 1944.
However, the collection and hiding of airmen continued at a considerable rate. Safe houses that were being emptied regularly when the routes were in operation, now became clogged. Many new people came forward to run safe houses, with added security risks. Something had to be done. Operation Marathon was the answer. A plan worked out by Lt Col. Airey Neave (who had escaped from Colditz and returned via Pat Line and who was now working for MI9) was put into action. The plan was to assemble evaders in densely wooded areas which were out of the way of the enemy and also out of the way of the expected Allied advance. There were to be three locations: one situated near Rennes in Brittany; one in the Freteval forest near Cloyes; and a third in the Ardennes. The largest and most successful of these was Freteval, code named 'Sherwood', which was situated in the forest near the small village of Villeboute west of Cloyes.
MI9 in London chose Comète, in conjunction with the resistance leader of the Libe Nord, Omer Jubalt, to organise Sherwood. Baron Jean de Blomaert from Comète, (known to the Germans as 'the Fox') planned the operation. Squadron Leader Lucien Boussa, a Belgian serving in the RAF, was chosen to organise the camp locally a very difficult task. Omer Jubalt undertook to manage all resistance operations in the Freteval area. Aircrew moved into the camp at the beginning of June.
It is difficult to imagine life in France under occupation. Everything was rationed to insufficient quantities. All elements of daily life became insurmountable problems. Farming produce was taken by the Germans. There was no fuel and clothing was scarce. Young men were taken to Germany for forced labour. In this situation, imagine a total stranger, who could not speak French, arriving at Châteaudun station, being collected by couriers like Daniel Cogneau, taken to a very dense forest at night and then being given a meal. Local people in the area made Sherwood work. Despite meagre rations and very little equipment they worked with the organisers. They posted sentries out around the camp until the evaders took over. Farmers brought in live animals, eggs, vegetables and butter. Night fishing parties were organised in the Loirs by local people, despite curfews. Flour was brought to the camp daily by Micheline Fouchard on her horse and cart, despite strafing by Allied aircraft.
To avoid smoke, charcoal was used to cook on. Cooks became chefs. Shelters were made from branches and leaves and mattresses from dry grass. Chairs and tables were made from branches and tents were camouflaged with branches. A routine was established in the camp over a 24-hour period. Jobs were rostered, from starting fires in the mornings to collecting water in the late evening. Even Albert Barillet, the barber from Cloyes, arrived once a week.
Many evaders arrived wounded or sick. Mme Despres, from the village of Villeboute who was in her eighties and who spoke perfect English, turned her house into a hospital. At any one time she had at least five patients. Doctor Teyssier from Cloyes, together with his son, provided medical cover for the camp. Transporting sick patients from the camp to Villeboute was carried out by a 16-year old girl, Ginette Jubault, accompanied by her brother Jean. Many incidents took place and many local people lost their lives or were tortured and sent to concentration camps. On one occasion a Comète courier called Virginia was compromised at a road block. Arrested, then tortured, she was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where she almost died of hunger. She revealed nothing. After the incident, Daniel Cogneau laboriously searched the area for Virginia's five evaders who had fled in five directions. They were all found. Later Maxime Plateau was arrested while taking food to the camp. Arrested, tortured, he revealed nothing and was sent to a concentration camp. Many more local people were arrested and never returned.
Lt Col. Airey Neave reached the camp on 13th August 1944, and the airmen took a last look around their temporary home. Resistance members and local people came to see the men leave and to say their adieux. One hundred and fifty-two aircrew had been hidden from May till August 1944. The fact that couriers led 152 evaders (some wounded) into the forest of Freteval, hid them, treated their wounds, nourished them and guarded them, and the fact that no evaders were captured, was a credit to the local people and to the resistance. Thirty-eight of the men from the camp later lost their lives while on flying operations over Germany.
On 11th June 1967, a ceremony took place to inaugurate a monument to commemorate the extraordinary adventure of the Forest of Freteval. The monument is situated on the edge of the forest near the village of Villeboute.
The following local people never returned from concentration camps:
Mesdames Lucienne (Callu) Proux, Marie-Louise (Delbert) Gaspard.
Messieurs Robert Germond, Rene Roussineau, Raymond Evrard, Maurice Pommier.
The following returned:
Mesdames Madame Helen Germond
Messieurs Lucien Proux, Paul Taillard, Raymond Cordier.
At 4am on 9th April 1940, without warning, German troops crossed the Danish border. They also landed from ships at strategic points and at key points inland by parachute. From a vague beginning, a resistance and escape line grew that was described by General Montgomery as 'second to none'. Danish resistance had no age limits nor class distinction. Four hours after German troops had entered Copenhagen a seventeen-year old college student, Arne Sejr, was distributing anti-German leaflets he and his school had prepared. Few Danes were prepared to accept occupation. Many made plans to leave and join the Allies, others used the only weapon they had at this early stage the underground newspaper.
The Danes used many forms of resistance, from knitting bob hats in the form of an RAF red, white and blue roundel, to putting sugar into building fortifications. German troops were kept on constant alert by persistent small sabotage attacks and underground activities. Over 25 million illegal newspapers were printed during the war years, many distributed by school and college students.
From the beginning escape lines were set up between Denmark and Sweden for both refugees and Allied aircrew. In October 1943, Berlin ordered the arrest of all Danish Jews. Immediately the Danish people reacted: they warned them, hid them, fed them, and eventually over 7,000 people were taken out by boat to Sweden. Only about 250 Danish Jews were arrested. Altogether about 18,000 refugees, Jews and Allied aircrew escaped along this route manned by Danish seamen. It is a strong indication of attitudes that when all Danish shipping and seamen were ordered to return home or head for a neutral port, more than 90 per cent (5,000) headed for England or an Allied port. Most returned to sea under a British flag 600 seamen paying for this decision with their lives. The shipping losses were also high, with a loss of 60 per cent.
The ordinary people of Denmark young and old employed their own simple method of passive resistance, or the 'cold shoulder'. They pretended that the German army did not exist. They did not speak with them or help them in any way. King Christian X continued his daily ride on horseback through the streets of Copenhagen alone, often stopping to speak to his people or shake their hands, refusing to acknowledge the salutes and greetings from German troops. When asked by a German soldier, "Who guards the King?", the Danes replied, "The Danish people do".
As a percentage of its population, more people served the Allies than any other country in Europe. Many Free Danes served in the Buffs, the English regiment which had as Colonel-in-Chief King Christian X. Many more served in the RAF and Royal Navy. Amongst these volunteers was Anders Lassen. He joined as a seaman, transferred to the Commandos, served with the Special Air Service and Special Boat Squadron. He served throughout the Middle East and the Aegean, winning a Military Cross and later a posthumous Victoria Cross for gallantry on the northern shore of the Comachhio Lagoon while serving with the Special Boat Squadron.
During the war years many Danes were arrested, tortured and executed. Many were sent to concentration camps. But despite knowing that they would be shown no mercy, the escape line from Denmark to Sweden remained open.
The most northerly escape line route was known as the 'Shetland Bus'. It consisted of Norwegian fishing boats manned by Norwegian seamen who had made their way to Shetland with their boats to continue the fight. A base had been set up at Lunna Voe on Shetland, and these small armed fishing boats made their way to the Norwegian coast, often up to three times a week in the dark winter period. The Norwegian sea and the North Sea are probably the most hostile in the world in winter. Add to this snow and appalling weather conditions and the fear of being found by enemy aircraft and it is hard to imagine anyone putting to sea at all. But put to sea they did, and they achieved wonderful results.
Their main role was working with the Special Operations Executive to deliver arms and ammunition to the Norwegian Resistance forces, and to collect and drop off agents. Many refugees and evaders were also brought out from Norway. Many were being hunted by the Gestapo. The Germans were aware of their existence and deployed many troops along what is probably the most rugged coastline in the world to find their landing areas. Many fishermen died on these trips, often being fired on out at sea on the return journey by enemy aircraft, which they had little chance of losing in the open sea. Many Norwegians knew of the service and provided safe houses along the coastline for their passengers, plus stores for their arms and ammunition. The Shetland Bus provided a link with the free world and boosted the morale of the Norwegian people.
Many Allied aircrew headed east to Sweden. This route was often in very bad snow conditions, with freezing temperatures. Mountains had to be climbed and good clothing found. Evaders heading east often found shelter, food and clothing in friendly farms in the mountains. Some families would escort the men eastward to other farms where other people took over guiding them through the mountains.
At the end of the war, the fact that the resistance forces were well armed was a tribute to the crews of the Shetland Bus service. It was also a tribute to the Norwegian people who knew of the regular bus service, ran safe houses for its passengers, stored its deliveries of arms and ammunition, and spoke to no-one.
Written by Flt Lt Gordon Brettell RAF, whose address at the time was 'Cooler', Gross Hartmannsdorf, Saxony, Germany, in April 1943 while in prison following recapture after escaping from a POW camp. He was sent to Stalag Luft III, from which he took part in The Great Escape in March 1944. He was recaptured and died in Danzig on 29 March 1944, being one of the fifty officers murdered by the Gestapo after the escape.
If you can quit the compound undetected
And clear your tracks nor leave the smallest trace
And follow out the programme you've selected
Nor lose your grasp at distance, time and place
If you can walk at night by compass bearing
Or ride the railways by day and night
And temper your elusiveness with daring
Trusting that sometimes bluff will find a way
If you can swallow sudden sour frustration
And gaze unmoved at failure's ugly shape
Remembering as further inspiration
It was, and is, your duty to escape
If you can keep the great Gestapo guessing
With explanations only partly true
And leave them in their heart of hearts, confessing
They didn't get the whole truth out of you
If you can use your 'Cooler' fortnight clearly
For planning methods wiser than before
And treat your miscalculation merely
As hints let fall by fate to teach you more
If you scheme on with patience and precision
It wasn't in a day they builded Rome
And make escape your sole ambition
The next time you attempt it YOU'LL GET HOME
At the end of the booklet are quoted verses 35 & 36 of the Bible's 'Matthew' (chap. XXV); part of I Vow to Thee my Country by Cecil Spring-Rice; and Psalm 107.
© (1994) RAFES and (2003) Sarah Long & Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.