Sunday, July 22, 2012

True tales of the wartime escape networks

1. Lt.Cmdr. Pat O'Leary (Dr Albert Guerisse)
Head of the 'PAT' ('PAO') escape line

2. Radio operator Thomas Groome's audacious escape:
A jump through a closed second floor window
3. Sketch of M. Paul Campinchi
Head of the Paris section of 'Shelburn'
4. Escaping airmen, Esplanade de Chaillot, Paris (1944)
(Still from the clandestine film 'Network X')
No 1, courtesy of "La Dernière Heure"
Nos. 2 - 4 courtesy of "L'Agent de Liaison"


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information


Following the German victories against the Allies in the early summer of 1940 they occupied virtually all of N.W. Europe, including the Netherlands, Belgium and most of France. Almost immediately, escape networks were created for escaping soldiers of the B.E.F., escaped POWs and Allied airmen whose aircraft had been shot down.

Once established, these networks managed to look for escaping soldiers or airmen who hid, them, clothed and fed them and where necessary, provided false identity papers. For the civilian members of these networks, this clandestine resistance was dangerous work and not undertaken lightly. If, as happened with many networks, the activities of civilian members became known to the occupying or collaborating powers they were personally liable for imprisonment, deportation to a concentration camp or even execution.

This article looks at some of the true tales of the escape networks, most of which are still not widely known. In fact, some of the true adventures of these escape networks are as remarkable as any of the fictionalised escape stories written for the silver screen.

Sunday, 22 July, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The 'Tartan Pimpernel'

One of the most celebrated and escape lines of WW2, which became known as the 'PAT' or 'PAO' line, was born in 1940 following the fall of France. Its founding father is generally accepted as a British Army captain of the 51st Highland Division, Ian Grant Garrow, D.S.O. (1908 - 1976).

Captain Ian Garrow was the Scotsman who became the 'Tartan Pimpernel' for Allied escapees and evaders. The 'Tartan Pimpernel' and his team managed in real life what Baroness Orczy's fictional character Sir Percy Blakeney, the 'Scarlet Pimpernel', did for French aristocrats during the 1792 'reign of terror'.

Captain Garrow belonged to the 51st Highland Division who fought on after most of the 1940 B.E.F. to France were evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk. Once it was no longer possible to continue operating as an effective fighting force in the field it was every man for himself.

Having failed to evacuate from France via the Channel Islands or Normandy, Captain Garrow and some of his fellow soldiers headed south towards the Spanish frontier. Having reached the French 'Unoccupied' (Vichy) Zone they were interned. Eventually, the Vichy authorities transferred British military internees to Marseille.

Captain Garrow and others managed to gather together patriotic civilians who wished to resist the Nazis and help soldiers, airmen escaping POWs and other patriots to escape and continue the fight against the Nazis. Contact was made with London and the escapes were then co-ordinated through London.

The escape line had civilian couriers, safe house keepers and mountain guides to escort the escapees across the frontier. In addition, radio operators were sent out from Britain to keep the escape line in contact with London. However, not all those who worked for the escape lines were volunteers. In many cases, the mountain guides were paid – sometimes 10 000 to 20 000 francs per man – for a guarantee of safe passage.

During the time that Ian Garrow was the head of the escape line many of the evacuations of the escapees were also arranged from the Mediterranean beaches. Two of the most successful evacuation beaches were at Canet-Plage near Perpignan and St-Pierre-Plage to the south of Narbonne.

Over the course of the war, the ‘Pat’ network can be regarded at the forefront of the escape networks and credited with more than 600 approved escapes. One estimate is that 65 % of these escapees were escaping airmen shot down while on missions over the occupied lands.

The balance was made up by members of the B.E.F. attempting to evade capture, in the early days of the escape line being set up, and escaping British and other Allied POWs escaping from Germany through Switzerland. One of the key crossing points between Switzerland and France for the ‘PAT’ line was therefore near Annemasse in the Alps.

Sunday, 22 July, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


In November 1940 Captain Garrow was joined by Harold Cole, to whom he entrusted organising the screening service for British soldiers and airmen in Belgium and northern France. Cole was arrested in 1941, betrayed his mission and entered into the service of the Gestapo where he notoriously distinguished himself under the pseudonym ‘Paul’.

The escape line was almost destroyed in the wake of arrests due to abominable treachery. Ian Garrow was arrested and interned in October 1941. Command of the line was then taken over by Lt. Commander Patrick Albert O'Leary. The escape line then became known as ‘PAT’ (Commander O’Leary’s first name) or ‘PAO’ (the initials of the new network leader).

At the beginning of 1942, the British prisoners held at St Hippolyte were transferred to the Revère fort at La Turbie, near Monaco. In September 1942, the escape network arranged the escape of approximately 50 British soldiers to escape via two manhole covers.

Inevitably, this set off a mass search by the local Vichy police. However, these escapees were able to make it to Canet-Plage near Perpignan and evacuation by sea.

Following the German occupation of the Vichy zone in November 1942 it would increasingly more difficult to effectively operate the escape line. Nevertheless, the escapes continued. When it was heard that Captain Ian Garrow was going to be handed over to the Gestapo, he was finally helped to escape. His escape was made possible by the bribing of a prison warder.

For a time, Ian Garrow went to a safe house in Toulouse looked after by a certain Marie-Louise Dissard, alias ‘Françoise’. From there, Ian Garrow was escorted across the Pyrenees mountain range, into Spain and eventually back to Britain. The formidable 'Françoise' was one of a trusted "inner circle" of 'PAT' line agents. She would later become the head of this escape line for a time.

Once back in Britain Captain Ian Garrow worked for MI9 in London. He was awarded the D.S.O. in May 1943 in recognition of his gallant service whilst in France. Later in the year he married Miss Margaret Denholm Hay, the sister of a former college friend. After the war he served in the T.A., retiring in 1958 with the rank of Honorary Lieutenant Colonel. Ian Garrow passed away on 28 March 1976.

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Pat the ‘Belgian Pimpernel’

At the time of the 1940 debacle, Albert Marie Edmond Guerisse was a Belgian doctor holding the rank of captain with a Belgian cavalry regiment. When Belgium, and France fell Captain Guerisse managed to escape across the Channel and joined the Royal Navy, assuming the name of Patrick Albert O'Leary. he became a Lieutenant Commander and second in command of HMS 'Fidelity' (D57), a 'Special Service Vessel', which had originally been the French vessel 'Le Rhin' until June 1940.

HMS 'Fidelity' was involved in the evacuation of escapees and the landing of special agents into France via the beaches of the Languedoc on the French Mediterranean coast previously mentioned (Canet-Plage and St.Pierre-Plage). On 25 April 1941 Captain Albert Guerisse, now in the guise of Lt. Commander Patrick Albert O'Leary, RNVR, was employed in one such clandestine operation when his skiff overturned while returning to 'Fidelity'. He was therefore forced to swim for the shore and captured by the Vichy police.

Lt. Commander Pat Albert O’Leary, RNVR (Photograph No 1 above), took over the command of the escape network following the arrest and internment of Ian Garrow in October 1941. The escape line then became known as the ‘PAT’ (or ‘PAO’) line, after the first name or initials of its new leader. If Ian Garrow can be regarded as the ‘Tartan Pimpernel’ of the French escape and evasion lines of WW2 his successor, 'Pat O’Leary' - 'Pat the Pimpernel' - was really a ‘Belgian Pimpernel’!

There were occasions when it is seemed that Pat, the 'Belgian Pimpernel', had a guardian angel looking after him. On one important occasion during his escape line career it will be seen that he even had the assistance of a group of nuns.

In July 1941 'Pat O'Leary' was arrested by the Vichy French police during a clandestine operation to evacuate British airmen from a beach on the Mediterranean coast. He was interned in the camp for British prisoners at Saint-Hippolyte du Fort (Gard). But, with the intervention of Ian Garrow, he was able to escape.

While being hotly pursued by the Vichy police, 'Pat O'Leary' was on the verge of being recaptured when he sought refuge at a hospice run by nuns. He introduced himself to the Mother Superior. On this day at least, 'Mother' and the other nuns of the convent running this hospice became Pat O'Leary's guardian angels.

When the police knocked at the door of the convent they were refused entry by the Mother Superior. This formidable lady told the police they did not have a search warrant to conduct such a search. So the police then went away to obtain the search warrant during which time the nuns managed to hide Pat O'Leary, the 'Belgian Pimpernel' in a large trunk that contained the old clothes, vestments and religious objects belonging to the convent.

By such subterfuge, Pat O'Leary was able to evade recapture, regain his freedom and continue the struggle. One may speculate what Mother Superior and the other nuns said in the confessional to their priest-confessor about hiding a wanted man and misleading the Vichy police!

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

A remarkable escape attempt

One of the most vital roles in the escape network was that of the radio operator. The radio operator was sent over to the occupied countries by London to help the escape networks and co-ordinate the evacuation of the escapees.

The radio operator was continually at risk of being detected by the authorities. Yet, the selection of the radio operators was such that they tended to be individuals of the highest personal qualities. One such individual was Thomas (Tom) Groome, a radio operator for the 'PAT' line in WW2.

By 11 January 1943, Lieutenant Thomas Groome was the last radio operator for the 'PAT' escape line. Five other radio operators had previously been arrested by the authorities. Thomas Groome, alias ‘Georges de Milleville’, was arrested by the Gestapo in Montauban' as well as another 'PAT' line agent, Mlle. Danielle Reddé, alias ‘Eddy’.

'Georges' and 'Eddy' were taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Toulouse for questioning. This was the well-known Hotel de l'Ours Blanc. 'Georges' was laid out on a table in a second floor room for interrogation by the Gestapo. Suddenly, to the complete surprise of the Gestapo, 'Georges' seized the initiative and made an audacious escape attempt by jumping through the closed second floor window and then attempted to run away. A sketch of this scene was later made for one of the French post-war 'liberation' newspapers, "L'Agent de Liaison" (Photograph No. 2 above).

Having been injured in jumping from the second floor, the Gestapo were able to recapture 'Georges'. He was later sent to the concentration camps at Natzweiler, Mauthausen and Dachau.

However, Thomas Groome's dashing escape attempt was not entirely in vain. In the sudden confusion following his escape attempt, the Gestapo ran out of the building in pursuit and left the doors open and unguarded. This meant 'Eddy' simply walked out of the hotel to freedom. She later reported what had happened to Pat O'Leary, who was still at the head of the escape line at the time.

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Paul Campinchi and the ‘Shelburn’ escape line

Many successful evacuations of escapees and evaders took place by sea. In fact, from the earliest days of the German Occupation of France in 1940 some evacuations were provided by local fisherman from the Brittany or Normandy fishing ports.

These boats would depart from the French port as though on a fishing trip and then land on the south coast of England. Originally, many of these were arranged on a personal level and not co-ordinated by the resistance and MI9 in London. Also, a number of evacuations of this nature in the first part of the Occupation were of patriotic Frenchmen wanting to join the Free French Forces or other Allied fighting units rather than escaping soldiers or airmen.

However, from early 1943 the successful ‘Shelburn’ escape line, with evacuations by sea from the Brittany coast, came into its own. Much of the credit for this success can be attributed to the head of its Paris section, M. Paul Campinchi (Photograph No. 3 above). M. Campinchi had previously worked in intelligence and believed escape by sea from the Breton coast was efficient as well as one of the quickest methods of returning escapees to their units.

Paul Campinchi and ‘Shelburn’ also dealt only with those airmen who had been shot down on a mission over occupied territory. In addition, the escape line also designated the order of priority for repatriation:

1. Fighter pilots
2. Bomber pilots
3. Air gunners / other aircrew

The prioritisation of fighter pilots and bomber pilots was encouraged by the London based British staff based in London. Fighter pilots were the most difficult to replace, then bomber pilots. Other aircrew, such as the air gunners or wireless operators, were easier to replace.

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The ‘Shelburn’ line and the "House of Alphonse"

For the escape line to work the first part was to find the airmen who had been shot down and then gather them together in safe houses, often in the Paris region. Once a sufficient number were ready to be evacuated the radio operator requested a date for the evacuation.

The airmen were provided with false identity documents, usually given Breton-sounding names and a certificate declaring they came from a bilingual community. This was a cover that could partly explain away that French was not the escaping airman’s first language.

Next, the airmen were conveyed from Paris to the Saint-Brieuc district, usually by train. It took several days for the transport. Perhaps for four or five consecutive nights, a number of airmen were booked on the train from the Gare de Montparnasse, Paris to Saint-Brieuc. Injured airmen were booked on sleeping cars.

Where possible, the airmen were booked into a reserved compartment to limit their contact outside of those involved with the escape line. The bookings were generally made by a member of the escape line employed by the SNCF (the national railway company). The Allied airmen were also accompanied by a courier from the escape line.

Upon arrival at Saint-Brieuc, the courier took their ‘passengers’ to the head of the local sector, then taken to the nearest railway station to the rendezvous beach in Saint-Brieuc bay.

Once there, the "Beach officer", the one in charge of the evacuation, took over and took the airmen to lodgings in a nearby coastal village. Often, every inhabitant of a village knew of the operation and assisted in some way.

The evacuations used to take place on moonlit nights, usually once a month, sometimes two. On one occasion a ‘hat trick’ of evacuations was possible – that is to say on three consecutive moonlit nights.

If the operation was still on, the “Beach Officer” was alerted by a coded message transmitted by the BBC at 19:30 h and 21:15 h. The British Admiralty allocated 18 evacuation beaches along the Breton coastline, each one with a specific code name and personal message.

One of these beaches, which proved to be particularly suitable for clandestine activity of this nature, was code-named ‘Shelburn’. This was the codename that provided the name for the whole escape line, and by which it is still usually referred to. The radio call sign for 'Shelburn' was:

"Rendez-vous ce soir à la maison d’Alphonse.”

(i.e. "Rendezvous tonight at the house of Alphonse.”)

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Within the sight and sound of the Germans

When it was known the operation was on for a particular night, the escapees and evaders were driven from the village safe houses to the beach about 23:30h. The beach was, in effect, a small creek encircled by a high bank and rocky shepherd’s bothy. It had several features that assisted with the nocturnal clandestine activity. For example, in the higher part of the rocky beach was a hollow which members called the "House of Alphonse". From here, it was possible for the team to hide along with twenty or more escaping airmen awaiting the arrival of the corvette.

When the Royal Navy corvette arrived offshore, it signalled to the shore by means of a light. Agents from the escape team replied by lighting a small bonfire. With this reply, the corvette launched a small boat towards the beach carrying items the resistance required to operate the network and other resistance, such as weapons, fuel, tyres, clothing, food, tobacco, radio transmitters and agents. The escaping airmen returned to the corvette by the small boat, crossed the Channel and returned to their units.

By such means, French patriots continued to play an active part in the fight against the German Occupiers. What is especially remarkable about these operations is that they took place almost within the sight and sound of the German occupying forces. Nearby along the coastline were look-out posts while German patrol boats searched offshore.

Once again, the jagged nature of the Breton coast proved helpful to the escape line. German patrol boats were unable to easily 'sweep' the shoreline. So the beach could be used in relative safety. Also, if the corvette was spotted by a patrol boat it was adequately equipped to defend itself.

A solemn undertaking

Collecting together escaping airmen or POWs was one matter and hiding them away in a 'safe house' was another. Next, there was the logistical problem of getting them away to safety. For the escapees being evacuated across the border into Spain, how could relatively large groups be moved close to the frontier as unobtrusively as possible?

There was one way that large groups of people could come together and move through the countryside with relatively little interference by the German occupiers or the Vichy authorities. There are always people dying and there will always be funerals. Here was an opportunity that could be used by the escape organisation ‘Ceux de la Libération’ (‘Those of the Liberation’), the ‘Rom’ network of the Landes region.

Escaping airmen could be collected together by the network and taken close to the Spanish border either in hearses or by dressing them up as undertakers or mourners. The hearses came from funeral directors from Bayonne. One can see this was a serious but solemn undertaking - and a successful one at that! In February 1944, this network also arranged the passage to Spain of Mrs. Madeleine de Gaulle, the sister-in-law of General Charles de Gaulle, along with her children.

Not only was this work a perilous undertaking for those involved but it was also hard daily toil. Inevitably, unforeseen difficulties arose. These difficulties had somehow to be overcome to make the escape line work.

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

'Network X': the Burgundy escape line

Another escape line that proved successful was the 'Burgundy' (Bourgogne) network. In 1944 the 'Burgundy' line even made a film documenting its activities: 'Network X' ('Réseau X' in French).

A still from this film can be seen above (Photograph No. 4) . It shows a group of escaping airmen and their courier walking across the Chaillot Esplanade, Paris in the spring of 1944. Also in the photograph are armed German soldiers oblivious that escaping Allied airmen, dressed in civilian suits, are casually strolling across the esplanade. According to the caption in the 1946 liberation newspaper from which this photograph is taken the escapees are, left to right, Captain Stewart, R.A.F, Captain Richter, U.S.A.A.F, another unknown American pilot and their courier, M. Albert Mahuzier an agent of the 'Burgundy' network.

Airmen whose aircraft had been shot down and managed to evade capture were sought out by the network's agents in the north and hidden away in 'safe houses' until the Allied staff in London indicated an escape would be arranged. Once again, the Allied airmen were fitted out in civilian clothing, housed and fed and provided with false identity papers. Examples of these are shown in the wartime escape line documentary film 'Network X' made by M. Robert Gudin and M. Madru.

At the agreed time, the Allied airmen were escorted to Paris where they were 'handed over' to a courier, usually in open public places including, as can be seen in Photograph No. 4 (above), at the Chaillot Esplanade. Other places where these 'exchanges' took place included the public parks such as the Jardin des Plantes or the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Once the airmen had been collected together in Paris their departure towards the south to cross the Spanish frontier. Again, the departure of these groups from Paris would usually be by train, with an escape line courier to escorting them. But the couriers always seemed to hit their target. Generally speaking, as the airmen tended not to know any French, they posed as deaf and dumb, the feeble-minded or sometimes even to be saying their prayers as they were being watched over.

If all went well after a long and arduous journey the escaping airmen would make it to Spain and be handed over to a representative from the British consulate. They would then be taken to Gibraltar and flown back to Britain and rejoin their unit.

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

'Pat the Pimpernel' reunited with his radio operator

Like Captain Ian Garrow before him, Lt. Commander Pat O'Leary was also betrayed by the treachery of one of his aides who was actually working for the French Gestapo. On 2 May 1943, Pat the Pimpernel was denounced by Roger Le Neveu (alias Roger ‘Le Legionnaire’).

After being captured, Pat O'Leary was tortured in an attempt to make him reveal the details of the other members of the escape line. He revealed nothing so he was deported under the 'Nacht und Nabel' ('Nuit et brouillard' / 'Night and fog') procedure and spent time in a series of notorious concentration camps: Natzweiler, Neu Bremm, Mauthausen and Dachau.

Pat O'Leary was transported from the south of France to Fresnes prison in Paris by train along with another member of the escape line, Fabien de Cortes. During the journey, Pat helped his comrade to jump from the train and make his way to Geneva to report the situation. Around the same time Marie-Louise Dissard from Toulouse, alias ‘Françoise’also made her way to Geneva and took over as head of the escape line.

Meanwhile, Pat O'Leary met up once more with the former radio operator of his escape line, Thomas (Tom) Groome. Eventually, they were sent to the infamous Dachau concentration camp. By 1944 there were about many thousands of prisoners at Dachau of every race, nationality and of many different persuasions. Daily, many of them were whipped by the SS guards and many were executed. Additionally, many suffered from illness and died of typhus.

Yet, despite all this suffering and torture, a spirit of hope and resistance developed. The flame of resistance was kindled by none other than the mysterious 'Pat the Pimpernel' - Pat O'Leary, who most people still believed was an Irish Canadian Naval officer. Pat O'Leary would seem to have been one of those exemplary characters of WW2 who could inspire the best of human virtues when it might otherwise have appeared all hope was lost.

Another member of the Dachau resistance group was Mr Arthur Haulot, a Belgian. Yet, even Mr Haulot did not know that Pat O'Leary was really a fellow Belgian until November 1946. He was told by a Belgian newspaper reporter after "Pat O'Leary" had been awarded the George Cross. By this time he was President of the International Committee of the Political Prisoners of Dachau.

The American army arrived to liberate the camp on 29 April 1945. Pat O'Leary, as president of the Dachau prisoners, refused to leave until everything possible had been done to relieve the suffering of all the inmates.

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Pat O'Leary in Dachau
(By a fellow inmate)

Below is a translation of Arthur Haulot's description of his time in Dachau with Pat O'Leary. It has been adapted from an interview given to the French language newspaper "La Dernière Heure" in November 1946.

"He is the most amazing, most courageous sort that I have ever met. He was arrested in France, because of his activities for the Intelligence Service and sent to Germany, where he worked as a nurse at the Nordweiler (Natzweiler) camp, after working, like everyone else, with a pick and shovel.

Assigned to the care of tuberculosis patients, he obstinately refused the favours that we had been able to obtain for him: to be reinstated into a less dangerous service.
'To abandon the least fortunate', Pat exclaimed, “.... but my skin is worth no more than any of theirs!'

Inside the camp, Patrick founded the Committee of Resistance and Liberation. Driven by his dynamism, courage and fireproof entrepreneurial spirit, he rallied around him faithful 45 souls. Imagine - 45 men to save 32,000! Without hesitation, I became his assistant because he inspired total confidence. We operated in the greatest secrecy and took all necessary measures to sabotage plans for the evacuation of the SS camp at the time of the Liberation.

On April 29th 1945, the 42nd American Division, under the command of General Linden, entered the camp. It found the Committee had succeeded in preventing the SS taking away most of the prisoners. I think this is what had prevented a large scale massacre. But it was not without difficulty.

During the final days of captivity, the SS had got wind of our clandestine activity. Considering that we listened to the radio from London and Patrick, assisted by an Australian Lieutenant, Thomas Groome, engaged in the work of the Secret Service under the very eyes and noses of the Hun.

From the beginning of April the SS had identified about fifty of the ‘Nacht and Nabel’ prisoners. These two German words have the literal meaning of "Night and Fog." They refer to the political prisoners suspected of clandestine activity. In the minds of the Hun, it was already in the night and fog, since their execution had already been decided upon. Every morning from the 23rd, the SS proceeded to massacre some of the ‘NN’ In total there were 15. Fortunately, General Linden then arrived.

Never did Patrick take me into his confidence about his true identity. Like the true servant of the British plans, he stubbornly remained silent.

After the Liberation, he was repatriated to England and we heard no news about him. But for all those who were at Dachau, all those thousands of captive people are aware that they owe their lives to him, and their devotion to him will only disappear with their last breath. As a fellow Belgian, I am proud of Patrick who, during the most desperate of times, not only behaved as a leader but as a friend, sharing his last crust with one of the least fortunate regardless of his own personal safety.”

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

"That damned, elusive Pimpernel"

"We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? — Is he in hell?
That damned, elusive Pimpernel"

Baroness Emma Orczy,
'The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel'

In 1942 Lt. Commander Pat O'Leary, RNVR was awarded the D.S.O. After he was released from Dachau Pat O'Leary, the real-life 'Belgian Pimpernel' continued to play the part of a Royal Navy officer until the end of June 1946. Part of the time he was based in Paris and part of the time in London, mainly investigating the liquidation of his 'PAT' organisation.

On 25 June 1946 Pat O'Leary received demobilisation leave of 153 days, left London for his family home in Brussels and once more became Dr Albert Guerisse, a Belgian doctor. Effectively, Pat O'Leary had ceased to exist. On 1 October 1946 Dr Guerisse started work at the Military Hospital in Brussels. At this time his wartime identity and adventures were still unknown to all but his close family and a few trusted lieutenants from the 'PAT' line.

Then, on 5 November 1946 the 'London Gazette' announced the George Cross had been awarded to Lieutenant-Commander Patrick Albert O'Leary, D.S.O., R.N. Suddenly, Pat O'Leary's wartime exploits filled the British and European newspaper columns. Where could Lt.Commander Pat O'Leary be found so he could be interviewed? Throughout Britain, France, Germany and Belgium newspaper correspondents sought out this latter-day Pimpernel. Once again, he had disappeared without trace.

On the evening of 7 November 1946, the proud father of Dr Albert Guerisse telephoned Mr Louis Quiévereux of the Brussels newspaper "La Dernière Heure". He revealed to the newspaper the true identity and nationality of 'Pat O'Leary', G.C., D.S.O.

While the world's press was looking for him, Dr Guerisse had continued to work as an assistant in the radiology department at the Military Hospital. It was only because of his father's insistence that Dr Guerisse agreed to talk publicly about his wartime identity and his role at the head of an Allied escape line.

Dr Albert Guerisse, alias Pat O'Leary, returned to London on 19 November 1946 to receive the George Cross from King George VI. He subsequently married Miss Sylvia Cooper-Smith in London in 1947. When their son was born he was given the name Patrick, after Dr Guerisse's wartime 'nom de guerre'.

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


This article is dedicated to the agents of the wartime escape lines. Many of their names and deeds are, as yet, still unknown. Further, given the clandestine nature of the escape lines where agents have later written about their activities there are sometimes slight discrepancies between accounts. To some extent, these discrepancies can sometimes be due to the security measures adopted by the escape lines.

Some agents only knew a small number of their fellow agents. In the event that these agents were captured there was a limit to what they could reveal. Radio operators and the network leaders had a wider knowledge about the network and other agents. Where people in these key positions were captured by the Germans, such as Tom Groome and Pat O'Leary, they were tortured and then sent to concentration camps.

On the whole those who were involved in the escape lines of WW2 were exceptional individuals and loyal team members who did what was necessary to achieve their goal. Their like may never be seen again.

Further reading

1. To read an article about the award of the George Cross to Pat O'Leary click on the following link:
An Escape Line George Cross

2. To read the BBC "People's War" article about the Pat O'Leary escape line click on the following link:
Pat O'Leary escape line stories (Keith Janes)

3. To access the 'Conscript Heroes' website dedicated to the escape lines by Keith Janes click on the following link:
Conscript Heroes (Keith Janes)

4. To access a website dedicated to the 'PAT' line in WW2 by Christopher Long click on the following link:
Christopher Long escape line website

5. To access a website about Baroness Emma Orczy's fictional character "The Scarlet Pimpernel" click on the following link:
The Scarlet Pimpernel


Cumbria County Archives & Library Service

Private & personal papers of a 'PAT' line agent

"La Dernière Heure" (French language Belgian newspaper, 1946)

"L'Agent de Liaison" (French 'liberation' newspaper, 1946)

Thursday, 02 August, 2012  

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