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WING COMMANDER FOREST FREDERICK EDWARD YEO-THOMAS – British Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent

“The White Rabbit”

His action-packed life was the stuff of boyhood fantasy

Tommy Yeo-Thomas was dropped into occupied France three times and fell into the hands of the Paris SS and Gestapo. Brutally interrogated to the point of death for a total of over 6 months at the SS and Gestapo HQ at 84 Avenue Foch and Fresnes Prison, he told the Germans nothing. Transported to Buchenwald Concentration Camp he escaped and eventually made his way to the Allied lines.

Espionage has always been a business marked by deceit, betrayal, and frequently, death. The fate of a captured spy is usually brutal, and even relatively benign entities like the Allies dealt harshly with such individuals. Still, their treatment was relatively kind compared to the Nazis. The remarkable World War II spy stories include heroes and villains, loyalists and traitors, and the greatest World War II spies that were motivated by duty, principle, or just plain money.

Forest Yeo-Thomas

Recruited: February 1942

Role: Deputy Head (RF Section)

Missions: SEAHORSE, MARIE CLAIRE, ASYMPTOTE

Codenames: Shelley, “The White Rabbit”

Fate: Captured, deported to Germany, survived

Forest Frederic Edward Yeo-Thomas (who went by F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas) was not your typical cliché espionage agent, photographing documents in the early morning hours behind the embassy doors of some darkened office. After serving for two years in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, Yeo-Thomas requested even more hazardous duty in occupied France serving as a liaison between the French government in exile and the Resistance.

On his third mission in 1944, he was betrayed to the Gestapo and was so badly mistreated that he developed blood poisoning from the shackles worn during his isolated confinement. After numerous escape attempts (which prompted the Gestapo nickname “the White Rabbit”), Yeo-Thomas was transported to Buchenwald. He survived eight more months of abuse, escaped from a work detail, and eventually lead other POWs to freedom in the final days of the war. Yeo-Thomas is recognised by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “among the most outstanding workers behind enemy lines whom Britain produced”. Yeo-Thomas is also credited as the inspiration for the character James Bond.

The author of the James Bond books, Ian Fleming held a briefing about Yeo-Thomas, especially on the spy’s escape from the Nazis who had captured him. Many of Bond’s fictional exploits are similar to the adventures of Yeo-Thomas. His action-packed life was the stuff of boyhood fantasy.

He enlisted in the R.A.F. in 1939, became a sergeant-interpreter with the Advanced Air Striking Force, and was later commissioned. Early in 1943, he dropped by parachute into France to get in touch with the underground movement, and on his return, in April he brought with him a United States Army Air Corps officer who, having no French, was in danger of capture. Later the same year he went back to France to find out what the Maquis needed in the way of weapons and supplies. Six times he was all but captured, but he contrived to keep his liberty and returned to England. In February 1944, he made his last visit to France, and a month later was betrayed and seized by the Gestapo. He was interrogated for four days, was beaten and tortured, the Germans attempting to break his spirit by immersing him head downwards in ice-cold water while his legs and arms were chained. They were unsuccessful. The questioning went on for two months, and he was offered his freedom on the condition that he gave the Gestapo the information they wanted. He all but lost an arm through blood poisoning caused by the chains cutting one of his wrists. After twice attempting to escape Yeo-Thomas was confined in solitude in Fresnes prison for four months; for some weeks he was in a darkened cell and was given little food. Through all he remained steadfast, inspiring his fellow prisoners by his infectious spirits.

After further bold attempts to escape from Compiegne, where he had been transferred with a party of other prisoners, he was sent to Buchenwald, where, in his own words, “I conveniently died of typhus on October 13, 1944, after getting into the ‘guinea pig’ block and changed my identity to that of a Frenchman named Choquet”. The day after an order for his execution arrived.

He was now moved to work commandos at Gleina and Rehmsdorf, whereas a hospital orderly he almost miraculously survived. With 20 others, whom he led, he escaped in April 1945, from the train in which they were being moved once more. On his recapture, he impersonated a dead French officer and succeeded for the last time in escaping and thus regained the allied lines. This period of his life is recorded in Bruce Marshall’s book The White Rabbit, one of his many soubriquets, “Shelley” is the one by which he was most often known.

After the war, he at first returned to Molyneux and in 1950 he joined the Federation of British Industries as their representative in France, which he remained until his death. To his new task, he brought his characteristic qualities of loyalty and service and his under- standing of the French scene, and the special regard in which he was held enabled him to render great assistance to the F.B.I. and many of its members.

Wing Commander Edward Yeo-Thomas, one of Britain’s most famous secret agents, in 1944.

Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas was born in London to John Yeo-Thomas, a coal merchant, and Daisy Ethel Thomas (born Burrows). Early in his life, his family moved to Dieppe, France. He spoke both English and French fluently.

At the age of sixteen, he lied about his age and joined the US Army, and later served in the Polish army against the Soviets.

He saw action in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919–1920, fighting alongside the Poles. He was captured by the Soviet Russian forces and avoided execution by escaping, in the process strangling a Soviet guard and made his escape back to France.

In 1925 he married Lillian Walker, another Parisian with a mixed (English and Danish) background, and worked through a string of banking jobs before stepping into the unlikely role of company secretary for fashion house Molyneux in 1932. Between the wars, Yeo-Thomas worked for Molyneux, a successful fashion house in Paris.

Unfortunately, family life came to end in 1936 when he separated from Lillian (she would not agree to a divorce), but he continued to see his two daughters. After the declaration of war, he was recruited by the RAF but was frustrated when he was refused any active role, being considered too old. However, following the defeat of France in 1940 he was transferred to the RAF Intelligence Branch as an interpreter, and eventually came to the attention of SOE’s RF Section, which worked in collaboration with the BCRA(M), de Gaulle’s Free French intelligence service.

He was quickly prised away from de Gaulle by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), a newly formed intelligence and subversion organisation. He had enlisted in the RAF but was soon made an officer.

Yeo-Thomas joined SOE in February 1942. A year later he undertook his first mission: codenamed SEAHORSE, he was to accompany de Gaulle’s intelligence chief André Dewavrin (known as “Colonel Passy”) and journalist and socialist leader Pierre Brossolette, visiting representatives of various Resistance movements in Paris and northern France. The mission was a success, and all three were safely flown back to England in April 1943, with Yeo-Thomas receiving the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre with Palm for his actions (although bureaucracy delayed their official approval).

In September Yeo-Thomas and Brossolette returned to France on a further SOE liaison operation, codenamed MARIE CLAIRE, which collected valuable information on the health of Resistance groups following the arrest of de Gaulle’s emissary Jean Moulin in June. As Yeo-Thomas toured and encouraged maquis desperate for Allied support, tales of “The White Rabbit” – a codename that would soon become legendary – spread quickly across the country. But as much as his visibility raised morale, so they also raised the price on his head. He faced increasing dangers, not least having to make light conversation with Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie on a train to Paris, but he was safely picked up by a Lysander aircraft near Arras in November, while Brossolette stayed behind.

Some days after imploring Winston Churchill to divert more aircraft for SOE’s operations, dropping agents and arms to the resistance, Yeo-Thomas was informed that Brossolette had been captured after attempting to escape by boat from the coast of Brittany.

As RF Section’s second-in-command, Yeo-Thomas would pose a serious security risk if he returned to France – if captured; he could potentially divulge the names of all of the Section’s agents and details of their operations. But he was determined to rescue his friend and hurriedly began arranging a third mission, codenamed Asymptote, a geometry term describing a curve that approaches a line, but never meets it.

Wing Commander Edward Yeo-Thomas trying on a trilby hat at the RAF demobilisation centre in 1946. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

He parachuted back near Montluçon on 24/25 February 1944, spraining an ankle on landing. It didn’t stop him taking the night train to Paris and resuming work immediately, but his plans to free Brossolette would never be carried out. The famous Shelley was now at the top of the Gestapo’s wanted list, and on 21 March he was arrested on the steps of the Passy metro station, given up by a newly recruited sub-agent.

Tragically Brossolette would die just hours later, suffering fatal injuries after falling from the fifth floor of the Gestapo headquarters on Avenue Foch (either the result of an unsuccessful escape attempt, or a suicide bid, to prevent himself talking).

Yeo-Thomas was subjected to repeated beatings and other tortures by his interrogators, but he stubbornly stuck to his cover story of being Kenneth Dodkin, a downed RAF pilot, and gave no other agents away. Moved to Fresnes prison, he spent three weeks in a dungeon cell, then in July, he was transferred to a transit camp at Compiègne. Just a fortnight before the liberation of Paris, he and 36 other captured SOE and French Intelligence agents were deported, first to Saarbrücken transit camp on the German border, then to Buchenwald concentration camp, where they were segregated from the rest of the prisoners.

In September sixteen of the group were called to the main gate and later executed by hanging in the crematorium basement. It was clear that the remainder of the group would soon share the same fate, and Yeo-Thomas hatched an escape plan in collaboration with Dr Ding-Schuler, an SS doctor in charge of carrying out medical experiments on prisoners.

Although the majority of their group would eventually be executed, Yeo-Thomas, SOE Agent Harry Peulevé and French BCRA officer Stéphane Hessel were able to switch identities with three of Ding-Schuler’s subjects who had died from typhus.

In August Harry and thirty-six other British, French and Belgian agents were deported to Saarbrucken camp on the German border, along with a group of women including Violette. After four days the men were sent on to Buchenwald concentration camp, where sixteen of them were executed a few weeks later. It became obvious that the remainder of the group would soon share the same fate.

With the cooperation of an SS doctor, Erwin Ding-Schuler, and two prisoners, Eugen Kogon and Arthur Dietzsch, a plot was hatched to save three of the group by exchanging their identities with dead prisoners from the experimental typhus station, known as Block 46. The leader of the group,  Yeo-Thomas, was the first to be smuggled into the block by Dietzsch, followed by Harry and a French agent, Stéphane Hessel.

Adopting the name of Marcel Seigneur, Harry was transferred to Schoenbeck, a satellite camp on the River Elbe. Put to work in an aircraft factory, his attempts to sabotage the production lines soon condemned him to the punishment kommando, where he was forced to dig trenches in freezing conditions and endure harsh treatment from the SS guards.

In April 1945 the Americans reached nearby Magdeburg and Harry successfully escaped from his working party, but as he approached the American lines he was stopped by two SS officers. Telling them that they would be shot wearing their uniforms, he was able to grab their weapons as they changed clothes and took them, prisoner.

Aside from Harry, Yeo-Thomas and Hessel, only three others from the original group of thirty-seven survived.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas undertook a second mission on the 17th September 1943. Soon after his arrival in France many patriots were arrested. Undeterred, he continued his enquiries and obtained information which enabled the desperate situation to be rectified. On six occasions he narrowly escaped arrest. He returned to England on the 15th November 1943, bringing British intelligence archives which he had secured from a house watched by the Gestapo.

To maximise their chances of survival they were each sent out to satellite camps: Hessel and Peulevé were transferred to Schönebeck near Magdeburg, while Yeo-Thomas, now masquerading as ‘Maurice Choquet’, went alone to Gleina in November 1944. Shortly afterwards he was moved again, to Rehmsdorf, south of Leipzig, where he worked as a medical orderly in horrific conditions.

In April 1945 the camp’s prisoners were evacuated east towards Czechoslovakia by train, and during a stop to bury dead prisoners Yeo-Thomas and a small group took their chance to escape into the woods. After sleeping rough for several days he was recaptured just a few hundred yards short of the Allied lines and placed in a French POW camp at Grünhainichen north of the Czech border, but two days later he escaped yet again with a group of ten. Despite being completely exhausted by dysentery and the cumulative effects of his ordeals, two of his comrades helped him to cross a minefield to reach the Americans. He arrived in Paris on 8 May.

Yeo-Thomas had barely begun to recover before he launched a new mission codenamed Outhaul, seeking out concentration camp guards laying low in Germany. That he managed to persuade SOE to approve it is yet another example of his extraordinary force of character, but his request for silenced Sten submachine guns and Welrods – SOE-designed assassination pistols – revealed Outhaul’s true intentions, as well as his brutalised psychological state: privately he had referred to the operation as ‘Mission Thug’, which was clearly motivated by a hunger to exact his own fierce retribution against his former captors.

With fears that the mission might ‘degenerate into a romp which may have unpleasant repercussions’, SOE instead returned Yeo-Thomas to France to tie up loose ends and close down his old network.

The London Gazette: 15th February 1946

Citation: “The KING has been graciously pleased to award the GEORGE CROSS to:-

Acting Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward YEO-THOMAS, M.C. (89215), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

This officer was parachuted into France on 25th February 1943. He showed much courage and initiative during his mission, particularly when he enabled a French officer who was being followed by a Gestapo agent in Paris to reach safety and resume clandestine work in another area. He also took charge of a U.S. Army Air Corps officer who had been shot down and, speaking no French, was in danger of capture. This officer returned to England on the 15th April 1943, in the aircraft which picked up Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas undertook a second mission on the 17th September 1943. Soon after his arrival in France many patriots were arrested. Undeterred, he continued his enquiries and obtained information which enabled the desperate situation being rectified. On six occasions he narrowly escaped arrest. He returned to England on the 15th November 1943, bringing British intelligence archives which he had secured from a house watched by the Gestapo.

This officer was again parachuted into France in February 1944. Despite every security precaution, he was betrayed to the Gestapo in Paris on the 21st March. While being taken by car to Headquarters he was badly “beaten up”. He then underwent 4 days continuous interrogation, interspersed with beatings and torture, including immersions, head downwards, in ice-cold water, with legs and arms chained. Interrogations later continued for 2 months and Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was offered his freedom in return for information concerning the Head of a Resistance Secretariat. Owing to his wrist being cut by chains, he contracted blood-poisoning and nearly lost his left arm. He made two daring but unsuccessful attempts to escape. He was then confined in solitude in Fresnes prison for 4 months, including 3 weeks in a darkened cell with very little food. Throughout these months of almost continuous torture, he steadfastly refused to disclose any information.

On the 17th July, Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was sent with a party to Compiegne prison, from which he twice attempted to escape. He and 36 others were transferred to Buchenwald. On the way, they stopped at Saarbrucken, where they were beaten and kept in a tiny hut. They arrived at Buchenwald on the 16th August and 16 of them were executed and cremated on the 10th September. Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas had already commenced to organise resistance within the camp and remained undaunted by the prospect of a similar fate. He accepted an opportunity of changing his identity with that of a dead French prisoner, on condition that other officers would also be enabled to do so. In this way, he was instrumental in saving the lives of two officers.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was later transferred to a work kommando for Jews. In attempting to escape he was picked up by a German patrol and, claiming French nationality, was transferred to a camp near Marienburg for French prisoners of war. On the 16th April 1945, he led a party of 20 in a most gallant attempt to escape in broad daylight. 10 were killed by fire from the guards. Those who reached cover split up into small groups. Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas became separated from his companions after 3 days without food. He continued alone for a week and was recaptured when only 800 yards from the American lines. A few days later he escaped with a party of 10 French prisoners of war, whom he led through German patrols to the American lines.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas thus turned his final mission into a success by his determined opposition to the enemy, his strenuous efforts to maintain the morale of his fellow prisoners and his brilliant escape activities. He endured brutal treatment and torture without flinching and showed the most amazing fortitude and devotion to duty throughout his service abroad, during which he was under the constant threat of death.”

In addition to receiving a Bar to his Military Cross, in 1946 Yeo-Thomas became one of just six SOE agents to be awarded the George Cross. He and Odette Sansom were the only ones to survive, the rest being given posthumously. The following year he testified at the war crimes trials at Dachau, and in 1952 the publication of Bruce Marshall’s biography The White Rabbit made Yeo-Thomas a public figure. In 1967 the BBC adapted Marshall’s book for television, with Kenneth More playing the lead in a four-part mini-series; the reviews were positive but sadly all protests against some particularly stringent copyright restrictions, which demanded that all copies of the programmes be destroyed after the broadcast, were ignored.

Despite returning to work for Molyneux in Paris and later taking a post with the Federation of British Industries, the physical and psychological scars of his captivity began to take their toll on his health, and he increasingly relied on the support of his partner Barbara. In 1963 Yeo-Thomas received a final award, being made a Commandeur of the Légion d’honneur.

In 1972 a street in Paris’s 13th arrondissement was renamed rue Yeo-Thomas, and in 2001 a bust was installed in the Mairie of the 16th, the district in which he’d lived after the war. In 2010 an English Heritage blue plaque was erected outside Yeo-Thomas’s London home in Guilford Street, Bloomsbury. A second biography, Bravest of the Brave by Mark Seaman, written with Barbara’s help, was published by Michael O’Mara Books in 1997.

Guilford Street, Camden, Central London. The blue plaques offer the historically inclined London wanderer a useful means of navigating the sprawling city and its layered history. F. E. Yeo-Thomas spent the Second World War behind enemy lines and was captured and tortured by the Nazis, in the First World War the RAF fighter command officer was captured by the Russians and only managed to escape by strangling his guard. On a secret mission in France during the Second World War he evaded capture by the Nazis by hiding in a hearse. In 1944 he was captured by the Gestapo and tortured before being held at the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. He is the first secret agent to be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque which was unveiled at Queen Court, Guildford Street, in Camden, London, where he lived with his wife Barbara.

Sophie Jackson’s Churchill’s White Rabbit: The True Story of a Real Life James Bond published in 2012 claimed that Yeo-Thomas may have been the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s fictional secret agent 007. In May 1945, Fleming did receive a copy of Yeo-Thomas’s poignant farewell letter written in Buchenwald, which had just been discovered in Germany (it had been smuggled out of the camp but was never transmitted to London), and in August some of Fleming’s colleagues at the Admiralty were so moved by it that they asked the Director of Naval Intelligence to encourage SOE to publicise the story. Yeo-Thomas’s letter was featured in the War Office Intelligence Review, but his secret work was considered too sensitive for general release and his identity only became public five months later, when the award of a George Cross was announced.

(Fleming was among a select few to read it in May 1945, after hearing about it over lunch with SOE’s deputy head, Harry Sporborg).

After being captured in March 1944, Yeo-Thomas was deported to Buchenwald concentration camp with 36 other agents. Shortly after their arrival, sixteen of the group were hanged. Knowing that he and the remainder would be next, and thinking that a letter might possibly be smuggled out of the camp after his death, he wrote the following farewell to his commanding officer in London, Colonel Dismore (“Dizzy”):

14 September 1944

My Dear Dizzy,

These are “famous last words” I am afraid, but one has to face death one day or another so I will not moan and get down to brass tacks.

I will not attempt to make a report on my journey except to say that up to the very moment of my arrest it had been a success and I had got things cracking and woken up a number of slumberers. I was quite pleased with things – I took every precaution and neglected nothing – my capture was due to one of those incidents one cannot provide for – I had so much work that I was overwhelmed so I asked PIC to provide me with a sure dependable agent de liaison, and he gave me a young chap called Guy, whom I renamed Antonin. He worked for me for a week, and then got caught; how I do not know, but in any case, he had an appointment with me at 11 a.m. on Tuesday 21st March at the Metro Passy and brought the Gestapo with him. He was obviously unable to withstand bullying and very quickly gave in to questioning. I was caught coming round a corner and had not an earthly chance, being collared and handcuffed before I could say “knife”. I was badly beaten up in the car on the way to Gestapo H.Q., arriving there with a twisted nose and a head about twice its normal size.

I was then subjected to four days continuous grilling, being beaten up and also being put into a bath of icy cold water, legs and arms chained, and held head downwards under water until almost drowned, then pulled out and asked if I had anything to say. This I underwent six times but I managed to hold out and gave nothing away. Not a single arrest was made as a sequel to my capture. The only trouble was that the party who was lodging me got arrested and will have to be compensated for losing liberty and home. The name is Mlle. Sandoe, 11 rue Claude Chahu, Paris, 16eme. Further information you can get from Mlle. Jose Dupuis, 39, rue de la Felicite, Paris, also Mme. Peyronnet, 102 Avenue des Ternes, Paris. They will be able to clear up much, in addition Paul and Raoul Simon, 32 rue Pierre Demours, Paris, can help a lot.

I was interrogated for about 2 months but dodged everything. I was offered freedom if I would hand over [Jacques] Bingen – some hopes – I nearly lost my left arm as a result of the tortures, as I got blood poisoning through my wrist being cut to the bone by chains and remaining unattended with handcuffs biting into them for about 6 days. Apart from that I was kept in solitary confinement for 4 months at Fresnes [prison]. I was very unpopular as a Britisher, and one of the German N.C.O.’s, a Feldwebel, was particularly glad at every opportunity of punching me or slapping my face. He gave me 3 weeks of glass-house in a darkened cell, without mattress, blankets, deprived of all means of washing, and with about a ½ pound of bread per day as sole food. I was pretty weak when I came out, had lost about 2½ stone in weight. I was sent to Compiègne [a transit camp for prisoners bound for Germany] on July 17th, whilst there recuperated a bit and had arranged an escape together with a chap well known to Passy and the BCRA  [Free French secret service], whose name is Roberty, and got sent to Weimar on the eve of escaping. Roberty succeeded. Bad luck for me.

The journey here was an eventful one, it took 8 days. The first man I ran into when being entrained was [Stéphane] Hessel of the BCRA and the second was [fellow SOE agent Desmond] Hubble. We had various adventures, all were handcuffed the whole time, 19 men in one compartment and 18 in another. We could not move being packed in like sardines. The gates of the compartments were padlocked and we had very little air, no food had been provided for. We were given 1 day’s rations which had to last 5 days, luckily some had Red Cross parcels or we would have starved. The train was bombed and machine-gunned on the way and we had a very narrow shave. Our escorts ran and left us helpless, had the train caught fire we would have burned like trapped rats. We had to stop at Saarbrücken for 3 days in a punishment and reprisals camp, and were beaten up on arrival. As usual I seemed to attract particular attention and got well and truly slapped and cuffed. We were confined for three days and nights, 37 of us in a hut 9 feet by 7 feet by 7 feet. It was Hell.

We then came on to this place Buchenwald. On the way our escorts plundered and stole practically all our effects. Never believe about German honesty, they are the biggest thieves, liars, bullies and cowards I have ever met. In addition, they delight in torturing people and gloat over it. Upon arrival which took place about midnight, we were locked up in the disinfection quarters and next morning we were nearly hanged summarily, but temporarily reprieved. We were stripped, completely shorn and dressed in prison rags, losing our few remaining belongings, and 16 of us, including Hubble, were told to report to a certain place. We never saw them again and found out that they were being hung without trial on the night of 11/12 September. They have been cremated so no trace remains of them. We are now awaiting our turn. There are 170 airmen (British and American) brought down and captured in France, but they are being treated as Terror Fliers and sleeping in the open, living under appalling conditions in violation of all conventions. They ought to be treated as POW. Men die like flies here. I sent a message to you through Geneva. I hope you received it, but have no means of telling. The bearer of this letter will give you all details so I will not say more – whatever he tells you is Gospel truth. He is no romancer, and he will never be able to really do justice to the horrors perpetrated here. Dizzy, see to it that our people never let ourselves be softened to the German people, or there will be another war in 15 years’ time and all our lives will have been sacrificed in vain. I leave it to you and others to see that retribution is fierce. It will never be fierce enough.

AWARDED THE GEORGE CROSS, MILITARY CROSS & BAR.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was later transferred to a work kommando for Jews. In attempting to escape he was picked up by a German patrol and, claiming French nationality, was transferred to a camp near Marienburg for French prisoners of war. On the 16th April 1945, he led a party of 20 in a most gallant attempt to escape in broad daylight. 10 were killed by fire from the guards. Those who reached cover split up into small groups. Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas became separated from his companions after 3 days without food. He continued alone for a week and was recaptured when only a few yards from the American lines. A few days later he escaped with a party of 10 French prisoners of war, whom he led through German patrols to the American lines.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas thus turned his final mission into a success by his determined opposition to the enemy, his strenuous efforts to maintain the morale of his fellow prisoners and his brilliant escape activities. He endured brutal treatment and torture without flinching and showed the most amazing fortitude and devotion to duty throughout his service abroad, during which he was under the constant threat of death.

Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas, G.C., M.C., who died on February 26, 1964, in Paris at the age of 61, three times parachuted into France during the war of 1939-45 to organise and work with the French resistance movement. Betrayed eventually to the Gestapo, who shamefully used him, he spent some time in Buchenwald and in a Jewish extermination camp. Finally, after some further heartbreaking adventures, he reached the American lines. The citation which accompanied the award of his George Cross in 1946 stated he endured brutal treatment and torture without flinching and showed the most amazing fortitude and devotion to duty throughout his service abroad during which he was under the constant threat of death “. In addition to the G.C., he was awarded the M.C. and Bar and the Croix de Guerre. In July 1963, he was promoted Commander of the Legion of Honour.

After the war, Yeo-Thomas was to be an important witness at the Nuremberg War Trials in the identification of Buchenwald officials. He was a key prosecution witness at the Buchenwald Trial held at Dachau Concentration Camp between April and August 1947. At this trial, 31 members of the Buchenwald staff were convicted of war crimes. He was also a surprise defence witness in the war crimes trial of Otto Skorzeny, particularly on the charge of Skorzeny’s use of American uniforms in infiltrating American lines. Yeo-Thomas testified that he and his operatives wore German uniforms behind enemy lines while working for the SOE.

Yeo-Thomas was among the most outstanding workers behind enemy lines whom Britain produced. He was stocky, well built, athletic (he had boxed in his youth), and his blue eyes had a direct and fearless look. His sense of humour revealed itself in a ready smile which, on occasions, broke into open laughter. His character was exactly suited to his task. He was fearless, quick-witted, and resourceful, and his endurance under hardship was supreme. He received the George Cross, the Military Cross and bar, the Polish Cross of Merit, the Croix de Guerre, and was a commander of the Legion of Honour.

Battered and permanently injured in health, he returned to Britain to be cared for devotedly by his wife Barbara. A previous marriage had ended before war broke out, two children remaining in France with their mother.

After helping to bring to trial several Nazi war criminals Yeo-Thomas returned to Molyneux in 1946 but in 1948 ill-health forced him to resign. After a period of recuperation, he was appointed in 1950 as representative in Paris of the Federation of British Industries. There, in its different way, he still worked for Anglo-French rapprochement. But his sufferings had taken their toll and he died in Paris 26 February 1964.

He died at the age of 61 in his Paris apartment following a massive haemorrhage. He was cremated in Paris and then subsequently repatriated to be interred in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey. His grave can be found in the Pine Glades Garden of Remembrance.

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