Sunday, November 30, 2014

The passage to Perpignan and beyond

1. Postcard from Perpignan (showing Le Castillet)
2. Perpignan: 'Le Patio' in the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall)
3. Perpignan: the Place St Jean
4. 1945 newspaper cutting of Lt.-Cmndr. 'Pat O'Leary' 
(Speaking in front of the Porte de Paris, Lille, France)

[Perpignan was a key town for his WW2 escape line]
During the Second World War, for many escapees and evaders a passage to Perpignan was the last stepping stone to escape to freedom where they could join or rejoin the struggle against the Nazi Occupiers of N.W. Europe. It was not by any means an easy matter getting to Perpignan and beyond and most of the escapees and evaders needed the assistance of the Resistance networks to do so. Nor was it always a clear run for home if they were guided over the Pyrenees into Spain, where the Spanish authorities would often arrest them. 

For additional information click on 'Comments' below



Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information


The city of Perpignan in the Pyrénées-Orientales department of south-east France is rich in heritage, history, sport and culture, such as the ones seen above. The modern population of Perpignan is about 120,000. Each year many people visit Perpignan and its environs for business, tourism, history and sport. Above are three modern views of Perpignan, places that a tourist may visit during a visit to the city [Photographs 1 - 3].

Yet, for many people during the Second World War the city was not a tourist destination. Rather, the passage to Perpignan was one of the final stepping stones leading to neutral Spain and ultimately the free world beyond. Metaphorically speaking, Perpignan was within touching distance of freedom. Beyond Spain there was Gibraltar, Britain and the rest of the free world. There was also the opportunity to continue the fight against the Nazi Occupiers of N.W. Europe. In the other direction, coming into Perpignan from the free world, there were other people who wanted to take a more active role in the clandestine struggle against the Nazis.

This article looks at the importance a passage to Perpignan and beyond had in these clandestine activities during the Second World War, especially for the 'PAT' escape and evasion line. The 'PAT' line took its name from the head of the network, Lieutenant-Commander Pat O'Leary, R.N. (the 'nom de guerre' of Dr Albert Guerisse) [Photograph No. 4].

Perpignan: a wartime gateway to freedom

During the Second World War what made Perpignan a special gateway to freedom for escapees, evaders and civilians fleeing from persecution in Occupied Europe? There is a relatively simple answer to this question: its geographical location.

Firstly, Perpignan is close to the Pyrenees and the land frontier with Spain a country which retained a non-belligerent status throughout the war. Beyond the Pyrenees there was a good chance of freedom. Once the Pyrenees had been crossed it was possible to obtain British consular assistance and reach Gibraltar at the southern end of the Iberian peninsula. From Gibraltar the final part of the journey to Britain could be taken: sometimes by sea and sometimes by air.

Secondly, Perpignan is relatively close to a coastline with a number of places British navy vessels could come close in to shore, such as at Argelès-sur-Mer, Canet-Plage, Bayuls-sur-Mer and Cerbère. By this means the escapees, evaders and refugees could reach Gibraltar by a direct sea passage and avoid the risk of being interned by the Spanish.

According to the wartime British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, it was important for the British Government that Spain remained neutral throughout the war:

"All we wanted was the neutrality of Spain. We wanted her ports to be denied to German and Italian submarines. We wanted not only an unmolested Gibraltar, but the use of the anchorage in Algeciras for our ships and the use of ground which joins the Rock to the mainland for our ever-expanding air base."
[Churchill, Winston S. (1949), "The Second World War", Vol. II, pp. 459-460].

In other words, from the British viewpoint a neutral Spain and a relatively safe fortress at Gibraltar was vital to the war effort in Europe and the Mediterranean. Perpignan, close to both the south-eastern land and sea gateways from France to Spain was therefore a key staging post for much clandestine activity. It was a pivotal location in supporting the British and Allied war effort.

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Perpignan and its environs used by the 'PAT' line

In his book "RAF Evaders", Oliver Clutton-Brock of the Escape Lines Memorial Society (E.L.M.S.) relates a number of accounts indicating the strategic importance of Perpignan and its environs to the escape and evasion network, especially for the Garrow / P.A.O. ('PAT') / Françoise lines. For example, in April 1941 H.M.S. Fidelity was assigned to "special services" in the western Mediterranean. The first part of this mission was to land two S.I.S. / S.O.E. agents at Canet-Plage about 12 kms. (c. 7.5 miles) east of Perpignan. One agent was to set up a two-way escape line over the Pyrenees and the second agent was to make his way to Lille in the north. It was also planned that 'Fidelity' should collect twelve escaping Polish Air Force officers at Collioure a little closer to the Spanish border.

While the first part of the operation went more or less as planned, the second part of the plan to collect the Polish Air crew did not. HMS Fidelity was disguised as a Brazilian steamer and a small boat containing four of Fidelity's crew went to the rendez-vous location at Collioure disguised as local fishermen. This small boat was skippered by Fidelity's second-in-command, Lieutenant-Commander Patrick Albert O'Leary, R.N., who in reality was Belgian doctor who had escaped to Britain after Dunkirk: Dr. Albert Guerisse [seen in photograph No. 4 above].

The Polish airmen were not at the agreed rendez-vous. While Pat O'Leary and his men were waiting for the Poles to arrive from a nearby hotel they were challenged by a local customs officer and eventually taken prisoner. However, this was not as disastrous an outcome as it might have been and led to Pat O'Leary staying in France to assist the embryo escape and evasion line being set up by Captain Ian Garrow.

Pat O'Leary managed to escape with the assistance of the Garrow escape line from the prison at St Hipployte-du-Fort. Initially wanting to get back to Britain and hopefully re-join Fidelity Pat O'Leary was persuaded by Garrow of the importance of staying in France to build up the network and an appropriately coded message was sent to London by radio for permission. A few nights later the permission was given and led to one of the greatest escape and evasion organisations of the war. Eventually this organisation would become known as the PAO or 'PAT' line after Pat O'Leary took over as the head of the organisation after Ian Garrow was obliged to escape from France.

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

One of the 'PAT' lines largest seaborne evacuations

One of the largest successful shipments of escapees and evaders of the 'PAT' line took place in the autumn of 1941 ('Operation Rosalind') when they were picked up from Canet-Plage near Perpignan. There were about forty in total taken off the beach in this operation although it did not go quite as smooth as originally planned.

One of the airmen who escaped in this operation was Sergeant Geoffrey Robinson of 149 Squadron from Barnsley, Yorkshire. He had been shot down over Belgium and was helped to the Perpignan area and then Canet-Plage by the PAT line via Lille, Paris, Libourne, Bergerac and Marseille. At Marseille, Geoffrey Robinson was supplied with a false I.D. card made by Pat O'Leary, escorted by train to Perpignan and finally accommodated in a bungalow at Canet-Plage awaiting evacuation by sea to Gibraltar. It turned out to be a long wait.

In 1964 'Pat O'Leary' (Dr Albert Guerisse) was the subject of two episodes of the British version of the BBC television show "This is Your Life". Geoffrey Robinson, who had served in the RAF during the war was one of the special guests on this programme. He related to the programme's anchorman, Eamonn Andrews, the studio audience and millions of television viewers how approximately forty evaders and escapees waited for about a week with Pat O'Leary and another of his helpers, Louis Nouveau. Night after night the party waiting to be evacuated waded into the sea waiting in vain for the flashing light from the boat sent from Gibraltar.

According to Geoffrey Robinson's account, Pat O'Leary and Louis Nouveau returned to their base at Marseille where they could send a radio message to M.I.9 in London about the According to Geoffrey Robinson's account this was the frustrated, and somewhat blunt message sent in French by Pat O'Leary about the no-appearance of the rescue vessel:

"Pas plus de bateau que de beurre au cul!" (sic)

At the insistence of Eamonn Andrews, Geoffrey Robinson also provided an English translation of the message:

"No more sign of a boat than of butter on my backside!"

This rather blunt message produced the desired result. Two nights later the boat arrived off Canet-Plage. Geoffrey Robinson and the others were taken aboard and were finally able to say farewell to Pat O'Leary and his 'boating party'.

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

A dangerous passage

The passage to Perpignan was not without danger. While escorting Allied escapees and evaders the members of the escape line had to be ready at a moment's notice to take whatever action was necessary to avoid being picked up by the Gestapo or the Milice. One of the PAT line's best known agents in southern France was Mme. Nancy Fiocca (née Wake) who was given the name of the 'White Mouse' by the Germans. Nancy Fiocca had eventually to make her own escape to Britain where she joined the S.O.E. and returned to France.

In Russell Braddon's definitive biography of Nancy Wake (Fiocca) he describes a particular train journey where Nancy, Pat O'Leary and another helper by the name of 'Guy' were escorting some Allied airmen from Toulouse to Perpignan. It was February 1943. Since November 1942 the Germans had occupied this part of southern France which hitherto had been governed from Vichy. With the arrival of the Germans there was less freedom for the escape and evasion lines to operate freely. There was also the Gestapo to deal with.

This is Russell Braddon's description of what happened on the train journey from Toulouse to Perpignan:

"The train sped along smoothly. All seemed to be going well and gradually they relaxed. Perhaps the recent plague of arrests had now ended and there was no need to worry. Nancy slipped off her bag off her shoulder and took out a cigarette. O'Leary lit it for her. At that moment the door of their compartment slid open and a railway official rushed inside.

'The Germans are going to check the train,' he warned urgently and then slipped out again. Throughout the war the employees of the French railways were constantly helpful with warnings such as this and Nancy and O'Leary knew better than to disregard one now."
[Braddon, Russell (1956), "Nancy Wake: SOE's Greatest Heroine", pp.88-89].

Russell Braddon goes on to explain the Germans had set up a checkpoint ahead and the train was already slowing down. Nancy Fiocca, Pat O'Leary, Guy and the airmen opened a window and jumped off the train. Having been spotted, a German machine-gun opened fire. According to Nancy Fiocca's account of this episode the bullets went around and over her as she ran for cover to a nearby vineyard but fortunately missed her. The escape and evasion line had a pre-arranged rendez-vous in the mountains for just this eventuality. After jumping from the train, that was where they were headed.

The first to arrive was 'Guy', then Nancy. Both had travelled alone. The others were being escorted to the emergency hideout by Pat O'Leary. When 'Guy' went to look for the rest of the party he was captured by the Gestapo and eventually but did not give away the hideaway.

Eventually, Pat O'Leary arrived with the men who were to be evacuated. They remained holed up in a remote barn for two days and nights while the search for them died down. It was the middle of February and to keep warm the party huddled closely together. After two days hiding out until the party made their way on foot to Canet-Plage, skirting around Perpignan. This party had finally been delivered safely although the road had been hard and long.

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


After returning to Toulouse by train Nancy Fiocca, Pat O'Leary and other trusted members of the 'PAT' line concluded that this and other recent narrow escapes indicated there was a counter-agent in the network who was giving information to the Germans. In Toulouse Nancy Wake was staying with another trusted 'PAT' line agent - Mlle. Marie-Louise Dissard, alias ‘Françoise’. They agreed that Nancy Fiocca (Wake) should leave France and go to London.

Before Nancy Fiocca (Wake), the 'White Mouse', set off for London the identity of the Judas among them became clear. On 2 March 1943 Pat O'Leary went to a local cafe to meet a relatively recent recruit to the 'PAT' line: 'Roger Le Legionnaire'. In reality, 'Roger' was Gestapo agent No. 47 and his main purpose in wanting to meet Pat O'Leary ('Le Patron') was betrayal. The Gestapo knew of the meeting and were ready to pounce.

Pat O'Leary and another member of the network, 'Paul the Tailor', were arrested due to the betrayal of 'Roger'. Neither Pat nor Paul divulged the names of other members of the network, but the Gestapo were able to pick up many of them from information supplied by 'Roger'.

After Pat O'Leary's arrest, Oliver Clutton-Brock in his study of the RAF escape and evasion lines of WW2 has written that:

"Françoise remained in Bergerac until matters quietened down, for member after member of the PAO organisation (i.e the 'PAT' line) had or were being arrested, among them Jean de la Olla, Jacques Wattebled, Fabien de Cortes and the Martins with others in Marseille, and more elsewhere. Albert Leçuyras (i.e. now the 'de facto' head of the network) himself only escaped capture by the narrowest of margins. Returning to his lodgings at the Martins' house at Endoume, Marseille, he would have fallen into the arms of the waiting Gestapo had it not been for the Martin children shouting a warning to him. Just in time, he was able to escape to Spain."
[Oliver Clutton-Brock (2009), "RAF Evaders", p. 204].

At this point in time it looked as though this was the end of the escape and evasion line. Furthermore, it looked like there would be no more escapes via Perpignan.

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Françoise takes over

The escape and evasion network did not come to a complete end with the arrest of Pat O'Leary and a large part of his trusted team. Waiting in the wings was a petite, grey-haired and seemingly eccentric French spinster in her 63rd year: Marie-Louise Dissard, alias ‘Françoise’. Despite the arrests of so many key members of the 'PAT' / PAO escape and evasion line in early 1943 some of them remained at liberty and were determined to continue with their clandestine resistance.

Foremost among the remaining members of the 'PAT' line was ‘Françoise’. She reportedly smoked cigarettes all day long with a cigarette holder in her mouth, permanently dressed in black and owned an aged cat called 'Mifouf' that used to scratch everybody else! Her beloved nephew was a P.O.W. in Germany and to say that Françoise disliked the Germans would be an understatement.

Airey Neave, who made the first successful 'home-run' from the infamous Colditz Castle P.O.W. camp went on to join the small team of M.I.9 in London, the secret organisation masterminding the underground escape lines in N.W. Europe. He was referred to by the code name 'Saturday'. In his personal account of his time with M.I.9 during the war ("Saturday at M.I.9") Airey Neave explains that after Pat O'Leary's arrest, Françoise went to the St. Pierre prison where he was being held and made a scene on the street outside:

"When O'Leary was lying on a straw mattress in the dungeons of St. Pierre at Toulouse, he heard Mademoiselle Dissart's (sic) strange wailing voice calling outside.

'Mon Pat, où es tu ? Mon cher Pat! Pat! Pat!'
(N.B. This can be translated into English as: 'My Pat, where are you? My dear Pat! Pat! Pat!).

He was horrified. He knew that without regard for her safety, the old lady outside the walls was trying to make him hear.

By some miracle, she was not arrested. It may be that the guards thought her an eccentric who imagined that someone was falsely imprisoned in the horror-chambers of the prison."
[Airey Neave (1969), 'Saturday at M.I.9', pp. 123 -124]

In the history of espionage has there ever been such an unlikely 'spy queen' as Françoise? Yet, it was this brave Frenchwoman who took the lead role in keeping what remained of the 'PAT line' together. Oliver Clutton-Brock of the Escape Lines Memorial Society explained what happened next:

‘‘Françoise, meanwhile, appreciating that the organisation was for the moment all but finished, decided to continue running affairs and arranged for the last of the members and evaders to be gathered up from Bergerac, Marseille and Nice. She also helped the last party, including Albert Leçuyras and Georges Zarifi, to leave Marseille on 22 April 1943. Having crossed the Spanish frontier early on the morning of 28 April they were immediately deserted by their guide. Arrested and imprisoned in the usual dirty and disgusting prisons and ending up in Mirando del Ebro camp, they were released on 16 August 1943.’’
[Oliver Clutton-Brock (2009), "RAF Evaders", p. 204].

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

A daring escape and a message from captivitity

It was about the same time that Pat O'Leary and some of the other members of the network who had been arrested were being transported by train from Marseille to Paris. During this journey, on 29 April 1943, Pat spoke to the youngest in their party, Fabien de Cortes (19 years old) about two matters. Firstly, Pat had decided that Fabien should escape and how and where it would be done. Secondly, Pat told Fabien all the secrets of the escape and evasion line - everything that the Gestapo had been unable to extract from him by torture.

Fabien de Cortes was another guest invited to take part in the BBC TV programme "This is Your Life" about Pat O'Leary referred to earlier. This is what he told the programme's presenter, Eamonn Andrews, about the train journey to Paris with Pat O'Leary in April 1943:

"He knew how important it was that everyone still free was warned about the traitors who had given us away. I think he could have (escaped himself) but he was not a man like that. He felt that as he was the head of the organisation it was he who should suffer, but all the same he did what he could to see that none of the others were captured too."

On the outskirts of Paris Pat O'Leary signalled to the other prisoners to stand up and form a screen which and give Fabien the chance to make his escape attempt. While the German guards were looking the other way the train window was pulled down and Fabien jumped out. He then made his way to Lyon, now in possession of the innermost secrets of the escape and evasion line and instructions from Pat about what to do next.

After reaching Lyon, Fabien sent a message to Françoise in Toulouse to make her way to Lyon and meet with him. The two of them then made their way to Switzerland to meet the British Vice-Consul, Victor Farrell ('Tonton François’), who was the British Secret Services contact in Geneva providing funds to the escape and evasion lines to maintain their activities. It was agreed that Françoise would take over from Pat O'Leary as head of what was left of his organisation. To this end, 'Tonton François’ arranged that Françoise would receive regular weekly payments to fund the organisation.

Thus the ‘Françoise line’ came into being and the escape routes to Spain via Perpignan, Canet-Plage and elsewhere could continue, at least for the time being. It would not be plain sailing and there were many setbacks yet to come.

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Françoise line

Françoise returned to Toulouse and the evacuations continued. The first group included, among others, Fabien de Cortes. It was another disaster - the group was picked up by the Gestapo at Le Boulou, about halfway between Perpignan and the Spanish frontier. Fabien was sent to the prison at Fresnes near Paris where he met up with Pat O'Leary again.

Despite this latest setback Françoise was by no means ready to give up. With the money made available from Switzerland by 'Tonton François', Françoise settled the outstanding debts of the Pat line at Perpignan, Canet-Plage and remunerated the remaining helpers of the line still at liberty.

Returning to Toulouse, with the help of another woman living in Toulouse, Rolande Ullman, on 15 July 1943 Françoise set up a new safe house in the city at the Villa Pamplemousse (sometimes referred to as the 'Villa Pam'), Croix-Daurade (27, Chemin Cazal). Initially the 'Villa Pam' was mainly looked after by Rolande and another trusted lieutenant of the 'Pat line', Sister Olga Baudot de Rouville better known in the Resistance by her 'nom de guerre': "Thérèse Martin". Thérèse had begun her clandestine activities with the Resistance in Lille and northern France and had later moved to Marseille. It was after Françoise visited Thérèse in Marseille that Thérèse moved to Toulouse.

It was not long before Rolande Ullman left Toulouse for the Occupied Zone where she was arrested. That effectively left Thérèse in charge of looking after what she called 'the home for stranded pilots' at the 'Villa Pam'. That allowed Françoise to travel the countryside to rebuild the network, travel to the Swiss border and even escort some of the evaders to Perpignan and beyond.

In her personal memoirs of the war years, Olga Baudot de Rouville (Thérèse Martin) wrote that while at Marseille:
"... it was also also necessary to convey the men to Perpignan for their departure. Exhaustion aside, it was only a game in comparison with what we had done in the North, so we knew to keep quiet and not get noticed."

By comparison, after her move to Toulouse, Thérèse states that:

"... the work began again, with the difference that Françoise 'took all the sport and left me all the drudgery'. It was real slavery where I did all the tasks. .... Because nobody else wanted to take on this mind-numbing but essential task, I had to engage myself in this and ignore the more important work I could have been doing elsewhere."

It was not just 'stranded pilots' who were taken to the 'Villa Pam' before being escorted to Perpignan and beyond. Among those looked after was Michel Caillau, a nephew of the Free French leader General Charles de Gaulle.

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Hard and dangerous work

Keeping the escape and evasion line going was hard and dangerous work. The grave responsibility took a heavy toll on the remaining members of the 'Françoise line', including the organisation's head, Françoise. Not only was Françoise travelling to Switzerland via Annemasse in the French Alps she was still personally escorting many of the Allied airmen and escapees to Perpignan where they would link up with the guides who would take the airmen across the Pyreneees. Eventually, things started to go wrong as explained by Thérèse Martin (Olga Baudot de Rouville):

"Philippe Bergasai agreed to share the movements with Françoise. As for me, with my hands frequently scratched because of a cat, I continued to cook, wash the dishes, the men's laundry, their bags and re-accommodation. I made new from old, dirty and badly torn clothing so that my men were dressed warmly and looked distinguished.
In mid-December (1943), Françoise returned from Annemasse with pneumonia. I had five men at the villa: three American pilots, a British pilot and a Belgian from the secret service. I could not drop the other work and on top of this I had to care for Françoise night and day. A doctor from Toulouse came to visit her in confidence. Nevertheless, I tried to give a nice Christmas to my men, who were very touched ...

Unfortunately, my four poor pilots were captured on a train from Perpignan a few days later. As the result of a clumsy involvement by Françoise, who was accompanying them, she was also caught with them. After this adventure, surveillance on the trains by the Jerries became draconian, especially close to the Pyrenees."

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Gestapo close in on the Françoise line

With the Gestapo closing in, especially on the routes to and from Perpignan, December 1943 and January 1944 was not a good time for the escape and evasion line. Nor, as has already been mentioned, was it a good time for Françoise personally.

At the end of January 1944 events proved to be even worse for the Françoise line and effectively the end of the line. On 27 January 1944 a Gestapo agent managed to infiltrate the line at Perpignan by claiming to be an escaping American pilot. The Gestapo were able to arrest 'André', one of Françoise's remaining guides, and 'Sherry', his second in command who had entered Perpignan in advance of the party of escapees and evaders they were escorting. Worse still was that the Gestapo also got their hands on Sherry's notebook containing the names and addresses of other members of the Françoise line, including references to Françoise and Thérèse.

Françoise and Thérèse had to go into hiding themselves to evade the Germans. Nevertheless, both of them managed to stay free until the end of the German Occupation and, in their own ways, remained active in the Resistance for the rest of the war.

This is how Thérèse explained this disastrous episode in her personal memoirs:

"Françoise was panicky and on edge after the Perpignan incident and wanted to shelter more of them. She acknowledged that the workload was too heavy for her. There was one departure where, on the same day, a guide who had been sent from our house was arrested at Perpignan by a false pilot.

We had to return to Georges (Gabriel Nahas) for the subsequent departures."

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The last passage to Perpignan

If there was one good thing about this last passage to Perpignan of the Françoise line in January 1944 it was that the men being escorted by André and Sherry were not arrested. They made a successful escape. The party was made up of one British airman, three Americans and two Frenchmen. The three Americans in the party were Captain Raymond Sarrant (U.S. Tank Corps), 2nd Lieutenant William M. Foley and 2nd Lieutenant Larry E. Grauerholtz (both U.S.A.A.F).

The British airman was Flight Sergeant Joseph Henry ('Harry') McWilliams, R.A.F.V.R., 617 Squadron, from Whitehaven, Cumberland (now Cumbria) who related the story of his successful escape immediately after returning to Britain. Below is an extract from his interview by M.I.9 from his arrival in Toulouse on 13 January 1944 until his party's arrival in Barcelona on 2 February 1944:

"On arrival in Toulouse on the morning of 13 January François took me to a house on the outskirts of the town. About 13:00 hrs that day I received a note in English and in English handwriting apologising for keeping me waiting and saying that I would be moved at 15:00 hrs. At 14:30 hrs an elderly lady took me to another house not far away. I remained here a fortnight - till 27 January. The house was owned by two elderly ladies - Mme. Thérèse (who is half Irish and speaks good English) - and Mme. Françoise.

These two ladies got in touch with a young man named André who in turn got in touch with the Spanish guides at Perpignan. .... Staying with the two ladies were also a Captain Raymond Sarrant, American Tank Corps (from Germany), 2nd Lieutenant William Foley, U.S.A.A.F., and Foley's navigator, also a 2nd Lieutenant (i.e. Larry E. Grauerholtz).

I left Toulouse on 27 January with the Americans and two Frenchmen who were also going to Spain. André and two of his agents went with us to Quillan (France), where we spent the night of 27 - 28 January in a hotel.

We left by car at 08:00 hrs on 28 January for Perpignan. Here we found that André, who had preceded to make the arrangements, had been arrested by the Gestapo. A Gestapo agent had approached him in the guise of an American officer escaper. André had been dubious about him, and had proposed that Sarrant, who was at Quillan with me and the others, should interview this man in Perpignan. On the night of 27 January, however, the man had denounced André to the Gestapo. André had been arrested with his second-in-command.

Another of André's agents (no name) now took charge of the party. We stayed the afternoon in the hotel and left Perpignan on the night of 28 January with two Catalan guides for Vince (Spain). We started walking the same night. For three days we walked by night and slept by day, crossing the Spanish frontier on the third night. On the third day we were joined by a young brother of one of the guides, who wanted to join the French Army in Algiers.

After crossing the frontier we spent the night in a tumble-down barn. The guides left us after being paid by a Spanish who was at the barn when we arrived. On the night of 1-2 February we continued a short way and slept the remainder of the night on a hillside, where we lay low all the next day. At night on 2 February we were picked up by car and taken to Barcelona."

The party boarded a ship at Huelva (Spain) on 17 February and arrived in Gibraltar three days later on 20 February. Flight Sergeant Harry McWilliams flew from Gibraltar on 23 February and arrived at Whitchurch the following day. He later rejoined his squadron (617 Squadron) and took part in many more missions before the end of the war.

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


Effectively, the party of Flight Sergeant Harry McWilliams, Captain Raymond Sarrant, and 2nd Lieutenants William Foley and Larry Grauerholtz had been the last passage to Perpignan and beyond of the Garrow / PAT / Françoise lines of the war. Perpignan had been an important staging post for escapees and evaders from 1940 until early 1944. Escapes and evasions still continued until the Allied invasions of France in the summer of 1944 but mainly taking routes that went elsewhere.

The modern city of Perpignan is still a key location for connections to other parts of France, Spain and beyond. The main railway station has direct connections to Toulouse, and Paris in France and Barcelona in Spain. The main A9 Autoroute connects Perpignan to Montpellier and Barcelona and there is an international airport nearby with flights to places such as Dublin (Ireland), Birmingham (U.K.) and Amsterdam (Netherlands).

Travel to and from Perpignan is much easier than it was during the war years and people are able to visit the area for business, tourism and recreation without hindrance. In the 21st Century the city can be enjoyed in a way that escapees and evaders were unable to do during WW2. Long may its peaceful development continue.

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


(i) Photograph credits
Photographs 1, 2 and 3: Frank and Mona Howarth of Whitehaven, Cumbria.
Photograph 4: Olga Baudot de Rouville collection (Ref. YDX 207)
Cumbria County Archives and Local Studies Centre,
Whitehaven Records Office.

(ii) Further reading

The following works provide further information about WW2 escape and evasion lines:

(a) Neave, Airey (1969),
"Saturday at M.I.9, The Classic Account of the WW2 Allied Escape Organisation",
(Reprinted 2010),
Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, UK
Paperback, 328 pages
ISBN: 9781848843110

(b) Clutton-Brock, Oliver (2009),
"RAF Evaders: The Comprehensive Story of Thousands of Escapers and Their Escape Lines, Western Europe, 1940-1945",
Grub Street Publishing, London, U.K.
Hardback, 494 pages
ISBN-13: 9781906502171

(c) Braddon, Russell (1956),
"Nancy Wake: SOE's Greatest Heroine",
(Reprinted 2005),
Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, Glos.,
Paperback, 223 pages
ISBN: 0 7509 4099 9

(iii) Archive references

The following archive documents were consulted during the research of this article:

(a) Olga Baudot de Rouville Collection (Ref. YDX 207)
Cumbria County Archives and Local Studies Centre
Scotch Street,
Cumbria. CA28 7NL

(b) "This is Your Life: Albert Guerisse (Pat O'Leary)"
BBC Archives (Ref. TE4 / D421 / 471 / 14308)
Two part episode: broadcast 28/11/1963 and 05/12/1963
(Recorded Monday 04/11/1963)
Technology Division, BBC
BBC Written Archives Centre,
Caversham Park,
Reading. RG4 8TZ.

(c) Escape and Evasion Report:
F/Sgt J.H. McWilliams, 617 Squadron,
[Ref. M.I.9 / S / P.G. (-) 1788],
The National Archives,
Surrey. TW9 4DU

Sunday, 30 November, 2014  

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