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Forest Frederick Edward YEO-THOMAS, GC, MC & Bar

No. & Rank at the Time of Action: 89215, Acting Wing Commander

Unit/Occupation: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

Date and Place of Birth: 17th June 1901, Holborn, London

Family: Son of Mr John and Mrs Daisy Ethel Yeo-Thomas (nee Burrows). Married to Barbara Joan Dean

Early Life:

Date and Place of GC Action:

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 enquires 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 spilt 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."

Account of Deed:

Remarks: YEO-THOMAS, Wing Comdr. Forest Frederick Edward, G.C. 1946; M.C. and Bar 1944; Representative in France, Federation of British Industries, since 1950; Manager for Molyneux in France until War of 1939-45. Joined R.A.F. during the War and became secret agent ("The White Rabbit"). He was betrayed, arrested, tortured to no avail and, eventually sent to a camp near Marienburg, Germany from where he escaped in April 1945. A book was written about his exploits by Bruce Marshall, 1952. Returned to Molyneux after the War but left in 1948 for reasons of health. Legion d'Honneur, Croix de Guerre, Polish Cross of Merit. [Died 26 Feb. 1964] (WHO WAS WHO 1961-1970, p1238)

Additional Information: Yeo-Thomas' promotions and awards were announced in the London Gazette as follows:

504896 Sgt FFE Yeo Thomas commissioned Pilot Officer (89215) 28.11.40 (seniority 24.10.40) (LG 14.1.41, p.283)

FFE Yeo-Thomas confirmed as Pilot Officer and promoted F/O (war subs) 28.11.41 (seniority 24.10.41) (LG 23.12.41, p.7255)

F/O FFE Yeo-Thomas promoted T/Flight Lieut. 1.1.43 (LG 2.4.43, p.1522)

F/Lieut FFE Yeo-Thomas (89215) RAFVR Awarded MC "for gallant and distinguished service" (LG 14.3.44, p.1225)

F/Lieut FFE Yeo-Thomas MC (89215) RAFVR Awarded a Bar to the MC "for gallant and distinguished service" (LG 16.5.44, p.242)

FFE Yeo-Thomas granted rank of F/Lieut 27.8.44 (LG 27.10.44, p.4920)

F/Lt (A/Wing Cdr) FFE Yeo-Thomas GC MC (89215) resigns his commission retaining the rank of W/Cdr 28.6.46 (LG 2.7.46, p.3357)

Additional Information (2):Forest Frederick Edward YEO-THOMAS, French resistance organizer, was born in London 17 June 1902 (sic), the eldest son of John Yeo-Thomas and his wife, Daisy Ethel Burrows. The Yeo-Thomas family, which had connections with the Welsh coal-mining industry, had established itself in Dieppe in the middle of the nineteenth century. 'Tommy' was sent to the Dieppe Naval College where he early learned to defend his British nationality. Later he went to the Lycee Condorcet in Paris until war broke out in 1914. In spite of all his father's efforts to prevent it, he was determined to take part in the war and was accepted as a dispatch rider when the United States joined in. In 1920 he joined the Poles against the Bolsheviks; was captured and sentenced to death; but managed to escape by strangling his guard the night before his execution was due.

Returning to France, Yeo-Thomas eventually settled down to study accountancy. There followed a variety of employments until in 1932 he became secretary to the fashion house of Molyneux. When war broke out in 1939 he at once tried to enlist, but the two years he had added to his age in the first war now told against him. Eventually he managed to join the Royal Air Force with the rank of sergeant. He completed radar training and was in one of the last boats to leave France when that country fell. In October 1941 he was commissioned and sent as intelligence officer to the 308 Polish Squadron at Baginton. But he was determined to return to occupied France and eventually, in February 1942, with the help of a well-known newspaper and a member of Parliament, he was taken into Special Operations Executive. Here he became responsible for planning in the RF French section which worked in close association with General de Gaulle's Bureau Central de Renseignements et d' Action. It was at this time that he was given the nom de guerre 'the White Rabbit'.

After the fall of France small groups of resisters had sprung up all over the country, but they were uncoordinated, ignorant of each other's identities, purposes, or often, whereabouts. It was essential that these efforts should in some way be knit together to work towards the same end. In February 1943 Yeo-Thomas and Andre Dewavrin, known as Colonel Passy, the head of BCRA, were parachuted into France to join Pierre Brossolette to investigate the potential of resistance groups in the occupied zone. They succeeded in uniting the various groups in allegiance to de Gaulle, pooling their resources to organize a secret army which would spring into action on D-Day. From this mission the three men safely returned in April. But in June the leader and a number of other members of the Conseil National de la Resistance were arrested and its work seriously disrupted. To help restore the situation Yeo-Thomas and Brossolette in September returned to France where movement and meeting together had become much more difficult. In November Yeo- Thomas, concealed inside a hearse, slipped through the controls, and was picked up by Lysander. Brossolette remained behind. In England Yeo-Thomas's urgent demands for supplies for his organization took him finally to the prime minister, Winston Churchill. This interview produced a considerable increase in aircraft for RF section and consequently in weapons and supplies for the resisters in France.

When in February 1944 Yeo-Thomas heard of Brossolette's capture, he arranged to be parachuted into France yet again in order to replace him and also to try to organize his escape. Another visit by one so well known to the Germans as 'Shelley' was courting disaster, which did indeed befall Yeo-Thomas. He was arrested in Paris and his long period of torture and imprisonment began: in Fresnes, Compiegnes, Buchenwald, and Rehmsdorf. Throughout his appalling tortures he said nothing of any value to the enemy. Despite several bold but unsuccessful attempts, he maintained his resolution to escape. At Buchenwald, in September 1944, when Allied agents were being liquidated, he persuaded the head of the typhus experimental station to allow three agents to exchange identity with three Frenchmen who were already dying. Yeo-Thomas, Harry Peuleve [q.v.], and a Frenchman were selected, Yeo-Thomas, in his new identity, was transferred to Rehmsdorf as a hospital orderly. When the camp was evacuated in April 1945 before the advancing Allies he organized an escape from the train when men were engaged in burying those who had died on the journey. Yeo-Thomas was among the ten who succeeded in getting away. Starving, desperately weak from dysentery and other illnesses, he was captured by German troops, posed as an escaping French Air Force prisoner of war, and was sent to the Grunhainigen Stalag. He again organized an escape with ten others who refused to leave him when he collapsed and finally helped him to reach the advancing American forces.

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 exactlv 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.

[Bruce Marshall, The White Rabbit, 1952; M. R. D. Foot, S.O.E. in France, 2nd impression, with amendments, 1968; private information; personal knowledge.] JAMES HUTCHISON (Dictionary of National Biography 1961-1970, p1120-21)

Final Rank: Wing Commander

Other Decorations/Medals: MC & Bar (LGs, 14 Mar 1944 & 16 May 1944); Legion d'Honneur and Croix de Guerre (France); Cross of Merit (Poland)

GC Location/Sale History: Wing-Commander Yeo-Thomas' medals which include his George Cross, MC & Bar, 1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal, 1953 Coronation Medal, Croix de Guerre (Fr), Croix de Combattent Voluntaire (Fr), Medaille de la Deportation (Fr), Gold cross of Merit (Poland), Victory Medal 1917-19 (USA), Commander of the Legion d'Honneur (Fr) are on display in the Victoria Cross & George Cross Gallery, located in the Imperial War Museum, London. They were donated by his widow in 1970.

Date and Place of Death: 26th February 1964, Paris, France

Cause of Death:

Burial/Cremation:

Obituary: (The Times, 27th February 1964).

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.

Yeo-Thomas was born on June 17,1902, (sic) of an English family which had lived in France since 1855. He was educated in France and in England. Although under age, he served with the Allied armies in the latter part of the 1914-18 War and subsequently fought with the Poles against the Russians during 1919 and 1920. He was captured by the Bolsheviks and sentenced to death but escaped the night before he was due to be shot-an experience that was to be repeated two decades later. Between the wars he worked in Paris, from 1932 as a director of the fashion house of Molyneux.

SEIZED BY GESTAPO

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, where as 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" being 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. (OBITS from The Times, 1961-1970, p860)

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