British Military & Criminal History:
1900 to 1999.
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This page is concerned with the George Cross awarded to Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas.
As stated on his Birth Certificate, Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas was born on 17 June 1901 at 45 Balcombe Street, Marylebone, London. His Father was John Yeo-Thomas (a coal merchant) and his Mother was Daisy Ethel Thomas (formerly Burrows).
Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas, who spoke perfect French, parachuted into France on 23 February 1943 on his first mission which he completed successfully. He brought back with him to the UK a US Army Air Corps Officer whom he had rescued after being shot down, and, speaking no French, was in danger of capture. He also completed a second mission successfully, the information he returned helping to rectify a previously unsuccessful mission.
In February 1944 he was again parachuted into France. While walking down some steps in an attempt to meet a contact at Passy Metro Station, he was arrested by the Gestapo and was taken to their Headquarters in the Avenue Foch in Paris.
The staircase at Passy Metro Station where Yeo-Thomas was arrested. (Stephen Stratford 1999)
The Avenue Foch in Paris. (Stephen Stratford 1999)
He underwent four days' continuous interrogation, interspersed with beatings and torture, including immersions, head downwards, in ice-cold water, with his legs and arms chained. He was offered his freedom in return for information concerning the head of a Resistance Section, but he remained silent. Owing to his wrist being cut by chains, he contracted blood poisoning and nearly lost his left arm, but in spite of this, he made two daring unsuccessful attempts to escape.
On 17 July 1944 he was sent to Compeigne Prison and then, with 36 other prisoners to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
The publication "The Bravest of the Brave" by Mark Seamen listed Yeo-Thomas' companions. When combined with information from Joe Saward's publication "Grand Prix Saboteurs", Nigel Perrin's publication "Spirit of Resistance", "Unearthing Churchill's Secret Army: The official list of SOE casualties and their stories" by John Grehan & Martin Mace and the Commonweath War Graves Commission, has provided the following table.
F Section: SOE department responsible for operations in France.
RF Section: SOE's Free French Section.
BCRA: Bureau Central des Renseignements et d'Action - De Gaulle's Free French intelligence & resistance department.
TR: Travaux Ruraux - French military counter-intelligence section working under cover against the Germans.
Those agents who died in captivity are also listed on the Valençay SOE Memorial. The memorial, located at Valençay in France, displays the names of the 91 men and 13 women members of the SOE who gave their lives for France's freedom.
Lieutenant Allard on the Brookwood Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2010).
Flight Lieutenant D.J. Barrett's name on the Air Forces Memorial, Runnymede (Stephen Stratford 2010).
Lieutenant-Colonel Frager & Captain Benoist on the Brookwood Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2010).
Lieutenants Defendini, Detal & Garry on the Brookwood Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2010).
Captain Keun on the Brookwood Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2010).
Captain Macalister on the Brookwood Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2010).
Lieutenant Mayer on Brookwood Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2010).
Captains Mulsant, Rechenmann and Steele on the Brookwood Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2010).
Captain Wilkinson on the Brookwood Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2010).
Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas had already started to organise resistance within the camp and remained undaunted by the threat of a similar fate. He accepted the opportunity to change his identity with that of a dead French prisoner, on condition that other officers would also be able to do so, and in this way he was instrumental in saving the lives of Hessel and Peuleve.
Later Yeo-Thomas was transferred to a work Kommando for Jews, tried to escape but was re-captured and, claiming French nationality, was transferred to a camp near Marienburg. From this camp he led yet another escape party, in broad daylight, and was recaptured when only 800 yards from the American lines. A few days later he finally managed to escape with a party of 10 prisoners whom he led through German patrols to the American lines.
Yeo-Thomas' award of The George Cross was published in the London Gazette on 15 February 1946:
The KING has been graciously pleased to award the GEORGE CROSS to:
Acting Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward YEO-THOMAS, M.C. (39215), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
This officer was parachuted into France on the 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 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.
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 1944, Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was sent with a party to Compiegne prison, from which he twice attempted to escape. He and 36 others were then transferred to Buchenwald. On the way, they stopped for 3 days at Saarbrucken, where they were beaten and kept in a tiny hut.
They arrived at Buchenwald on the 16th August 1944 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 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.
Following his departure from SOE in January 1946, Yeo-Thomas resumed his pre-war position with Molyneux in the rue Royale. However, Yeo-Thomas continued to suffer from the mental and physical effects of his capture and imprisonment.
On 15 April 1947, Yeo-Thomas was called to give evidence for the prosecution in the US Military Tribunal, which was established to try the local SS Commander and 30 members of the Buchenwald Camp staff; Buchenwald Camp had been liberated by US Troops on 11 April 1945. Under the steady questioning of the prosecutor, William D. Denson, Yeo-Thomas delivered a restrained and dispassionate account of his time in Buchenwald. He also identified Pister (the Camp Commandant) and other members of the camp staff.
In November 1949, the battered body of Edward de Murault, the Paris representative of the Federation of British Industry, was found in the Champs Elysées. Yeo-Thomas was offered the job to replace him. Although now living in his Father's old apartment, in Rue des Eaux, with his common-law wife Barbara, Yeo-Thomas was still suffering mental torment resulting from his wartime experiences.
After discussions with his doctors, Barbara persuaded Yeo-Thomas to write an account of his wartime service. It was anticipated that this book writing would help Yeo-Thomas to finally draw a line under his wartime experiences and concentrate on settling down to his peacetime life in Paris. On 30 April 1952, the book "The White Rabbit" appeared. Written by Bruce Marshall, after numerous meetings with Yeo-Thomas, the book was an immediate success.
In part due to his wartime experiences, Yeo-Thomas felt a growing disenchantment and disillusionment at what he felt were the failings of post-war society. In the 1950s, Yeo-Thomas wrote about his sadness at the defeat of Churchill in the 1945 General Election. He also started to doubt the purpose and reason for his and others wartime sacrifices:
Well it's over now. I have my memories, something no one can take away from me. I am a bitter man now, but I have known real happiness as well as real sorrow and excruciating suffering. Knowing men like the many I counted as my friends in those hectic and dangerous days has made me richer than the vieriest Croesus. Often, though I envy them, for they gave their lives willingly, gladly, and they died happy. For they died with an ideal, with the feeling that they had sacrificed everything for something good, something enduring. They did not live to see the sham that it all was, to see the wasting of all their efforts, the shameless scramble for personal satisfactions.
In 1960, Yeo-Thomas begun to suffer recurring headaches and the loss of his manual coordination. After medical tests, Yeo-Thomas was diagnosed as having a serious kidney complaint. He had suffered from kidney stones during his wartime imprisonment, and in the absence of any treatment, his kidneys had been badly damaged. After admittance to London's King Edward VII Hospital, he was also found to have high blood pressure. Although Yeo-Thomas' medication was to reach a level of 18 tablets a day, his condition continue to worsen and became bed-ridden and barely lucid.
In July 1963, Yeo-Thomas was presented with the Insignia of the Commandeur of the Légion d'Honneur. The presentation took place in Yeo-Thomas' apartment due to his deteriorating medical condition.
Following a massive haemorrhage, Yeo-Thomas died in his Paris apartment at 3 Rue des Eaux on 26 February 1964. His death was notified to the British Consul-General in Paris by M. B.J. Lane, an undertaker at 2 Rue des Dardanelles. Yeo-Thomas' ashes were returned to the UK and were buried in The Glades of Remeberance at Brookwood Cemetery.
Grave marker in Brookwood Cemetery (Peter Seabrook-Harris 2013).
Directions to find marker at Brookwood Cemetery
Thank you to Peter Seabrook-Harris who provided both the above photo and the directions.
From the main entrance to The Glades of Remembrance, with the main road behind you you'll find the cemetery office to your right.
Go ahead slightly the follow the main track to the right and about the second turning left up a sort of secondary track amongst some tall pines it's about 30-40 feet on the right
These are just slabs set in the ground so you have to keep your eyes peeled.
The Chess Set
Yeo-Thomas' medals with Hubble's Chess Set. (Stephen Stratford 2005)
His George Cross together with his other medals, and other personal items such as Hubble's Chess Set, can be seen at The Imperial War Museum, in the Lord Ashcroft gallery.
"Hubble's Chess Set" is a pocket chess set that was given to Yeo-Thomas by Captain Desmond Ellis Hubble (Intelligence Corps attached to SOE) while they were both prisoners in Buchenwald Concentration Camp. This was just prior to Hubble being selected for what was to prove his eventual execution.
Demond Hubble was born on 29 January 1910 in the Richmond area of London, the son of Reginald and Agnes Hubble.
On 17 June 1931, Desmond Hubble married Margaret Elsie Sielow at Pinner (St. John the Baptist) Church, and settled to live in nearby Northwood.
On 2 September 1939, Desmond Hubble volunteered for service in the Royal Artillery. After transferring to the Intelligence Corps, Hubble saw service in the Congo for which he was awarded the Belgian Croix de Chevalier de L'Ordre Royal du Lion avec Palme and Croix de Guerre avec Palme.
Following his return to the UK, Hubble was interviewed by Yeo-Thomas for selection as part of the Jedburgh teams. During his interview, Yeo-Thomas attempted to persuade Hubble not to volunteer for a Jedburgh team; as Hubble was married and had four children. However, Hubble insisted on volunteering and the two remained firm friends.
Demond Hubble was killed on 11 September 1944, aged 34 years' old. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Chevalier de L'Ordre Royal du Lion avec Palme and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme.
Captain Hubble's name on the Bayeux Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2009).
Desmond Hubble has no known grave and is commemorated on the Bayeux Memorial (Panel 19, Column 1).