Saturday, September 22, 2012

"A Border Man in Normandy"

1.Sgt. John Dugdale Vallely display
[KORBR & Border Regiment Museum, Carlisle]
2. Border Regiment badge, Cumbria Military Museum 
3. Carlisle Castle through the morning mist 

4. Front cover: "A Border Man in Normandy"
A French peasant (Sgt Vallely) gives directions: 
"Five kilometres sir, I believe". 

For additional information click on 'Comments' below. 


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information


In the first months of the Second World War the Border Regiment soldier John Dugdale Vallely from Carlisle, Cumberland went to France with the B.E.F. At the time of the German breakthrough on the Western Front in May 1940 his battalion - 4th Border (T.A.) - was part of the 51st Highland Division that engaged the enemy on the Somme before withdrawing towards Le Havre.

During the withdrawal Sergeant John D. Vallely became separated from the others of his unit and when almost everyone else who was able to do so disembarked from France he was left behind. It had not been a good start to the war.

Yet, for Sergeant Vallely this was only the beginning of a series of wartime experiences in which led to the decorations seen above. His medal display and the book he wrote about his wartime experiences can be seen in the KORBR & Border Regiment Museum (also known as Cumbria's Military Museum).

The photographs seen above are as follows:

Photograph No. 1 -
shows the cabinet displaying Sergeant Vallely's medals
(Cumbria's Military Museum);

Photograph No. 2 -
shows the Border Regiment badge;

Photograph No. 3 -
shows Carlisle Castle (the Border Regiment depot), it is now the home of the Regimental Museum;

Photograph No. 4 -
shows the front cover of the paperback version of Sgt. Vallely's book (sketch by M. Roy Beuzle).

Sergeant Vallely's war

The following summary of Sergeant Vallely's war is by the KORBR & Border Regiment Museum. It is reproduced here with permission.

"3599548 Sgt. John Dugdale Vallely, 4th Battalion T.A.

John Vallely, a Carlisle man, enlisted into the Regiment on 26th April 1939 and served in the Carlisle company of the Battalion when it was mobilised in September 1939 and proceeded to France to join the British Expeditionary Force in November. The Battalion was engaged in heavy fighting on the Somme with 51st Highland Division, especially around the town of Incheville.

As the unit retreated towards Le Havre, he became separated from his unit as he attempted to reach the coast and was sheltered by the local French populace. He was eventually taken in and lived with a French family in the village of Verneusses in Normandy.

During the period of the German Occupation of France he worked with local resistance groups. This included aiding American aircrew shot down over France, for which he received the American Medal of Freedom. After the Liberation he married Marie-Thérèse, who he had met in her mother's shop in Morlaix and who had visited him during the war. He subsequently published a book of his experiences in 1987 - "A Border Man in Normandy".

On display are his medals - five British service medals and another group of four - Croix du combattant volontaire (France), Croix du combattant volontaire de la Résistance (France), Medal of Freedom (USA), Normandy Liberation Medal (France).

Also shown are: the Medal for the Freedom of Lille, presented to John Vallely on 27th November 1988, Border Regiment cap badge, a T.A. lapel badge and a paperweight incorporating a Border badge and a German WW2 Iron Cross 1st Class.

Gift of his widow, Mrs. Marie-Thérèse Vallely in 2002".

Ref: 4099/1-13

Sunday, 07 October, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Posted to M.I.9 in Paris

Having spent much of the war in France and helped escaping Allied airmen, towards the end of the war Sergeant Vallely was posted to I.S.9 (the Intelligence Section) office based in Paris. Having returned to the UK following the Liberation of France, Sergeant Vallely arrived at the Gare du Nord, Paris on 15 April 1945, reporting to the Paris office of M.I.9 at the Hôtel du Palais-Royal (Paris 1er) the following day. Head of the British section at the Palais-Royal was Major Donald Darling. The American equivalent of M.I.9 also had its base at the Palais-Royal.

During this Parisian interlude John Vallely married his fiancée, Marie-Thérèse. Having obtained permission from the army to marry, the wedding ceremony took place on 22 May 1945 at the Town Hall (Mairie) of Paris XVI arrondissement. The newly-weds then had a wedding breakfast with friends at a hotel followed by a drinks reception at the Palais-Royal. Events had certainly turned round completely for John Vallely from the situation he faced in May and June 1940.

While based in Paris, Sergeant Vallely met and worked with many of the people who had been involved with the escape and evasion lines. Among those who John Vallely met while working at the M.I.9 office in Paris were Nancy Wake ("The White Mouse), Pat O'Leary ("The Belgian Pimpernel") and Andrée ("Dédée") de Jongh, the Belgian head of the 'Comet' escape line. Sergeant Vallely also discovered many of the features of 'Paris by night', which is explained in his own words below.

Parisian nightlife

In many respects Parisian nightlife in the immediate postwar period continued much as it always has. Hence, as Sergeant Vallely and his new bride were living in Paris at this time they were able to take the opportunity to visit some of the places of entertainment. This is how Sergeant Vallely writes about visiting firstly the Follies Bergères and secondly the Bal Tabarin with his wife and some of their friends.:

"Allowing for the effect of the fairly low temperature, the performance did send the blood coursing through the veins. I was, at that time able to follow the repartee and the rapid fire jokes which formed the auditory part of the show. The considered opinion was that most of the scenes were inoffensive but some of the jokes, and particularly the tailor and zip fastener scene, were very near the knuckle.

I mention the Follies Bergères as an introduction to our visit to the Bal Tabarin. It was upper class. It cost five francs to go downstairs to the 'gents' where an old girl kept an eye on everything except the gentlemen and only those as inexperienced as I were inhibited by the thought that she was having a quiet peep at me! This was no theatre with banks of seats facing the stage. This had the 'club' look with round tables each seating four persons dotted around the auditorium.

We were lucky. We were ushered to a centre table within pea-shooter distance of the beautifully undressed artistes. In addition to paying a nominal price for admission, the charge was levied on drinks, £5 for one bottle of champagne, which at that price, we made last all evening. The show was professional and in impeccable taste. The ladies wore their feathery head-dresses and strings of beads to perfection and the memory of that perfect evening lingers on".

Sunday, 07 October, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Venuses of the Paris Metro

Another feature of Paris in the immediate post-war period was that almost everyone travelled by the Paris Metro. At that time those serving in the military travelled on the Metro for free. There were other advantages - and disadvantages - for a young soldier travelling on the Metro.

Sergeant Vallely explains:

"In those days the food we ate was garlic free. In the early evening the elegant, sophisticated and very desirable ladies were travelling to their trysting locations. The Metro at that time was packed even to the point that bodily contact was unavoidable.

To alight, therefore, meant that one had to prise one's way towards the exit passing in front of veritable Venuses wearing model dresses and wide brimmed flamboyant hats. The ardour kindled within one's soul was immediately extinguished as the garlic laden breath wafted into one's nostrils".

Sunday, 07 October, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Heroes and heroines of the escape lines

In the Paris office of M.I.9 Sergeant John Dugdale Vallely met and worked with a number of the men and women who had helped operate the escape and evasion lines of the war. Below, is his description of some of the better known wartime heroes and heroines involved in this work: including Nancy Wake, "Pat O'Leary", Donald Darling, Andrée de Jongh and François Le Cornic.

“During the nine months I spent in Paris I met several famous agents who were ‘heavily’ decorated by the British and American governments, as well as the French. Perhaps the best known, of those who have written books about their experiences, is Nancy Fiocca (Nancy Wake) a well built blonde with peach complexion who could drink any man under the table and be up the next morning at seven o’clock still looking like a peach. She went around the hotel in bare feet.

She had been a freelance journalist arriving in France in 1939, she married Henry Fiocca, a wealthy man older than she. After the Armistice they assisted with the ‘Pat’ line in every way. Henry was denounced and arrested and then tortured by the Gestapo who executed him in 1943. After the Harold (Paul) Cole infiltration into the line Marseille became unsafe and in any case she was going to lose her French nationality being Australian by birth. She footed it over the Pyrenees in three night marches and when she arrived in England she trained with S.O.E. and was parachuted back to France and became known as the Terror of the Germans in the former unoccupied zone. She was at home with hand grenades and machine guns, a real trooper.

Then, there was Pat O’Leary, now Major-General Sir Albert-Marie Guérisse. Pat, a doctor and Captain in the Belgian Army, sailed from Dunkirk on the 31st May 1940, landing at Margate. With other Belgian officers he was sent back to France in early June, he moved to the south, reached Gibraltar and joined the crew of the famous H.M.S. Fidelity. She became an armed trawler secretly operating for S.O.E. picking up evaders from Collioure, Canet Plage and Port Miou on the south coast of France. Pat then ranked Lt. Commander R.N. A motor launch accident which nearly cost him his life resulted in his internment at St. Hipployte du Fort near Nîmes. Through the efforts of Donald Caskie and Ian Garrow he escaped and eventually set up his remarkable escape line in Marseille.

Donald Darling of M.I.9 had been sent to Spain and Portugal to organise underground links with France after escaping to England from France in June 1940. Spain became too neutral so he settled in Lisbon and in 1942 arrived in Gibraltar. He set up the Awards Bureau in Paris and it was my privilege to work for him for several months.

I was thrilled to meet Mlle. Andrée (Dédée) de Jongh who ran the Comète line from Belgium. What an unassuming and delightful person she was! Then, in the same office, there were Tony Friend, Raymond M. Labrosse, Robert Vanier, Alex Watteblec, Gilles Lefort and François Le Cornic. These were Belgian, French, Canadian and American agents, wireless operators and 'underground' staff who contributed so much to the defeat of the invader.

Capitaine François Le Cornic organised the Plouha beach embarkations. This short stretch of beach in Brittany was the only stretch not patrolled by the Germans. They found out and burnt down his house, but he survived! One or two agents were unable to settle down to a quiet life and their exuberance was not appreciated by the Officers' Club from which they were ejected. But, I understood them, I was experiencing the same withdrawal symptoms myself. After months or years of fear, danger, excitement and mental stress, it is difficult to turn it all off like throwing a switch".

Sunday, 07 October, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Nazi concentration camps

It was around the time of Sergeant Vallely's posting to the Paris office of M.I.9 that the Nazi concentration camps in the east were finally liberated. The full, terrible truth of what Nazi doctrine stood for was finally revealed to the world.

This is how Sergeant Vallely explains the news about the concentration camps became known in Paris:

"When the war in Germany was drawing to a close a notice was pinned to the wall of the common room at the Palais Royal Hotel. It was a report from an American general and it consisted of three closely typed foolscap pages. I was half way down the first page when I realised I was simply not talking it all in.

The report was an eye witness account of the liberation of one of the concentration camps. There were no euphemisms, just the stark, hard facts of what was seen. The appalling conditions are now common knowledge but in those days it was a shock to learn the truth.

The Grand Palais is in constant use as an exhibition centre. During the autumn of 1945 it was showing life size photographs of people and locations inside the camp, also displaying their implements and relics and the Gestapo torture chambers.

I am not going to take the reader on a conducted tour except to describe one exhibit consisting of two huge photographs. The one on the left was of a happy, well proportioned young woman wearing a two-piece bathing costume. It would have been a good advert for a holiday in the sun. On the right, supported by a nurse on either side of what remained of that wholesome creature. She was wearing no clothes. Her bosoms were empty and shrivelled and dangled over a rib cage from which all flesh had completely disappeared. In fact, not to prolong this ordeal, she was a living skeleton with only skin and sinew to cover the bones and reveal the protruding joints.

The image of those two photographs is as vivid to me as it was then. This is the dark side to the '39 - 45 conflict".

Sunday, 04 November, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Further reading

In the mid-1980s, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the end of the war, Sergeant John Dugdale Vallely also contributed an account of his wartime experiences to a detailed study about the history of the Resistance in Normandy. This important work was written by the writer and journalist, M. Claude Masson, who was on the staff of the French language daily newspaper, 'Ouest France'. An English language translation of Claude Masson's book can be found in the research library of the Imperial War Museum in London.

Click on the following link to access the website of the WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society (ELMS, a registered charity):
WW2 ELMS website

Click on the following link to read an additional article on this website about the wartime escape lines in Occupied Europe:
True tales of the wartime escape networks

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

To read the Wikipedia article about Nancy Fiocca (Nancy Wake) click on the following link:
Nancy Wake (1912 - 2011)

Sunday, 04 November, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


At the beginning of his personal account of his wartime experiences, Sergeant John Dugdale Vallely quotes the following lines from Scripture:

"Verily I say unto you,
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,
ye have done it unto me".
(Matthew 25 : 40)

These are well chosen words of Scripture. In the summer of 1940, John Vallely was one of the B.E.F. on the run from the Germans advancing through the French countryside. He was able to avoid being captured by the Germans largely due to the help given by several French civilians, even though it put them in great peril from German reprisals. For a time, John Vallely found a new home in the village of Verneusses in the Eure department (Haute-Normandie). Later, he was able to use this experience and knowledge to assist other escapees make a successful return to Britain, many of them being airmen who had been shot down over occupied territory.

Sergeant Vallely's war did not get off to a good start: stranded, lost and alone in France. Yet, eventually, John Dugdale Vallely was able to overcome the hardships and separation and take upon himself a key role that helped the overall victory. He even managed to find himself a bride!

The spelling of the "Follies Bergères" nightspot has been used in the above text, as this is what has been used by Sgt. Vallely in his original text. The correct (French) spelling should be "Folies Bergères" (i.e. one 'l'). Sgt. Vallely's thoughts were evidently on matters other than how to spell the name of this famous nightspot!


1. Border Regiment & KORBR Museum,
Carlisle, Cumbria

2. Workington Library & Local Studies Centre,
Workington, Cumbria,

3. Source of quotations:
VALLELY, John Dugdale (1987), "A Border Man in Normandy",
Printed by Howe of Brampton Ltd, Cumbria.
Cumbria County Library & Archives Ref.: C 920 VAL

Sunday, 04 November, 2012  

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