Yeo-Thomas, GC

Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas was born on 17 June 1901 at 45 Balcombe Street, Marylebone, London. His Father was John Yeo-Thomas (a coal merchant) and his Mother was Daisy Ethel Thomas (formerly Burrows).

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas, who spoke perfect French, parachuted into France on 23 February 1943 on his first mission which he completed successfully. He brought back with him to the UK a US Army Air Corps Officer whom he had rescued after being shot down, and, speaking no French, was in danger of capture. He also completed a second mission successfully, the information he returned helping to rectify a previously unsuccessful mission.

In February 1944 he was again parachuted into France. While walking down some steps in an attempt to meet a contact at Passy Metro Station, he was arrested by the Gestapo and was taken to their Headquarters in the Avenue Foch in Paris.

He underwent four days’ continuous interrogation, interspersed with beatings and torture, including immersions, head downwards, in ice-cold water, with his legs and arms chained. He was offered his freedom in return for information concerning the head of a Resistance Section, but he remained silent. Owing to his wrist being cut by chains, he contracted blood poisoning and nearly lost his left arm, but in spite of this, he made two daring unsuccessful attempts to escape.

On 17 July 1944 he was sent to Compiegne Prison and then, with 36 other prisoners to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas had already started to organise resistance within the camp and remained undaunted by the imminent threat of execution. He accepted the opportunity to change his identity with that of a dead French prisoner, on condition that other officers would also be able to do so, and in this way he was instrumental in saving the lives of Hessel and Peuleve.

Later Yeo-Thomas was transferred to a work Kommando for Jews, tried to escape but was re-captured and, claiming French nationality, was transferred to a camp near Marienburg. From this camp he led yet another escape party, in broad daylight, and was recaptured when only 800 yards from the American lines. A few days later he finally managed to escape with a party of 10 prisoners whom he led through German patrols to the American lines.

Yeo-Thomas’ award of The George Cross was published in the London Gazette on 15 February 1946.

Following his departure from SOE in January 1946, Yeo-Thomas resumed his pre-war position with Molyneux in the rue Royale. However, Yeo-Thomas continued to suffer from the mental and physical effects of his capture and imprisonment.

On 15 April 1947, Yeo-Thomas was called to give evidence for the prosecution in the US Military Tribunal, which was established to try the local SS Commander and 30 members of the Buchenwald Camp staff; Buchenwald Camp had been liberated by US Troops on 11 April 1945. Under the steady questioning of the prosecutor, William D. Denson, Yeo-Thomas delivered a restrained and dispassionate account of his time in Buchenwald. He also identified Pister (the Camp Commandant) and other members of the camp staff.

In November 1949, the battered body of Edward de Murault, the Paris representative of the Federation of British Industry, was found in the Champs Elysées. Yeo-Thomas was offered the job to replace him. Although now living in his Father’s old apartment, in Rue des Eaux, with his common-law wife Barbara, Yeo-Thomas was still suffering mental torment resulting from his wartime experiences.

After discussions with his doctors, Barbara persuaded Yeo-Thomas to write an account of his wartime service. It was anticipated that this book writing would help Yeo-Thomas to finally draw a line under his wartime experiences and concentrate on settling down to his peacetime life in Paris. On 30 April 1952, the book “The White Rabbit” appeared. Written by Bruce Marshall, after numerous meetings with Yeo-Thomas, the book was an immediate success.

In part due to his wartime experiences, Yeo-Thomas felt a growing disenchantment and disillusionment at what he felt were the failings of post-war society. In the 1950s, Yeo-Thomas wrote about his sadness at the defeat of Churchill in the 1945 General Election. He also started to doubt the purpose and reason for his and others wartime sacrifices:

Well it’s over now. I have my memories, something no one can take away from me. I am a bitter man now, but I have known real happiness as well as real sorrow and excruciating suffering. Knowing men like the many I counted as my friends in those hectic and dangerous days has made me richer than the vieriest Croesus. Often, though I envy them, for they gave their lives willingly, gladly, and they died happy. For they died with an ideal, with the feeling that they had sacrificed everything for something good, something enduring. They did not live to see the sham that it all was, to see the wasting of all their efforts, the shameless scramble for personal satisfactions.

In 1960, Yeo-Thomas begun to suffer recurring headaches and the loss of his manual coordination. After medical tests, Yeo-Thomas was diagnosed as having a serious kidney complaint. He had suffered from kidney stones during his wartime imprisonment, and in the absence of any treatment, his kidneys had been badly damaged. After admittance to London’s King Edward VII Hospital, he was also found to have high blood pressure. Although Yeo-Thomas’ medication was to reach a level of 18 tablets a day, his condition continue to worsen and became bed-ridden and barely lucid.

In July 1963, Yeo-Thomas was presented with the Insignia of the Commandeur of the Légion d’Honneur. The presentation took place in Yeo-Thomas’ apartment due to his deteriorating medical condition.

Following a massive haemorrhage, Yeo-Thomas died in his Paris apartment at 3 Rue des Eaux on 26 February 1964. His death was notified to the British Consul-General in Paris by M. B.J. Lane, an undertaker at 2 Rue des Dardanelles.

Yeo-Thomas’ ashes were returned to the UK and are buried in The Glades of Remembrance at Brookwood Cemetery.

Yeo-Thomas’ George Cross and other medals, together with personal items such as Hubble’s Chess Set, can be seen at The Imperial War Museum, in the Lord Ashcroft gallery.

“Hubble’s Chess Set” is a pocket chess set that was given to Yeo-Thomas by Captain Desmond Ellis Hubble (Intelligence Corps attached to SOE) while they were both prisoners in Buchenwald Concentration Camp. This was just prior to Hubble being selected for what was to prove his eventual execution.

Demond Hubble was born on 29 January 1910 in the Richmond area of London, the son of Reginald and Agnes Hubble. On 17 June 1931, Desmond Hubble married Margaret Elsie Sielow at Pinner (St. John the Baptist) Church, and settled to live in nearby Northwood.

On 2 September 1939, Desmond Hubble volunteered for service in the Royal Artillery. After transferring to the Intelligence Corps, Hubble saw service in the Congo for which he was awarded the Belgian Croix de Chevalier de L’Ordre Royal du Lion avec Palme and Croix de Guerre avec Palme.

Following his return to the UK, Hubble was interviewed by Yeo-Thomas for selection as part of the Jedburgh teams. During his interview, Yeo-Thomas attempted to persuade Hubble not to volunteer for a Jedburgh team; as Hubble was married and had four children. However, Hubble insisted on volunteering and the two remained firm friends.

Demond Hubble was killed on 11 September 1944, aged 34 years’ old. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Chevalier de L’Ordre Royal du Lion avec Palme and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme.

Desmond Hubble has no known grave and is commemorated on the Bayeux Memorial (Panel 19, Column 1).