Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas
Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas, G.C., Croix de Guerre (with palms), Insignia of the Commandeur of the Légion d'Honneur, (June 17 1901 - February 26 1964) was the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent codenamed "The White Rabbit" during World War II. His particular sphere of operations was Occupied and Vichy France.
He saw action at first hand in the Russian-Polish War of 1919 - 1920, fighting alongside the Poles. Despite capture by the Soviet Russian forces, he managed to escape and thus avoid execution.
He worked initially as an interpreter for de Gaulle's Free French forces. His talents were quickly prised away from de Gaulle by SOE, who used him as a liaison officer between SOE and Bureau Central de Renseignement et d'Action (BCRA), the Free French intelligence agency.
He quickly forged links with Major Pierre Brossolette and Andre Dewavrin (who went under the pseudonymous codename of Colonel Passy ), and between them they set in train a strategy for thwarting and obstructing the German occupation of France.
He surreptitiously visited France on a number of occasions. He was appalled at the paucity of logistical and material support which the French resistance movements such as the maquis were receiving, to the extent that he begged five minutes with Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister. Churchill reluctantly agreed, but was fascinated by what Yeo-Thomas told him and agreed to help him obtain resources, which were forthcoming.
In February 1944 Yeo-Thomas was parachuted into France, but was betrayed and captured at the Passy metro station in Paris. He was taken by the Gestapo to the HQ in Avenue Foch, and was subjected to brutal torture as a part of his interrogation. Held in Fresnes prison, he made two failed attempts to escape and was eventually transferred to Compiègne prison and from there to Buchenwald concentration camp. Within the camp, he began to organise resistance, and again made an escape attempt. On his recapture, he passed himself off as a French national and was returned to a camp near Marienburg.
After the war Yeo-Thomas was to be an important witness at the Nuremberg War Trials in the identification of Buchenwald officials and on the behalf of the defence for the German commando Otto Skorzeny.
He died 62 years old in his Paris apartment following a massive hemorrhage.
George Cross 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 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.
For a good book on the WWII exploits of Yeo-Thomas, see "The White Rabbit" by Bruce Marshall.
Yeo-Thomas also figures in Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks.
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