Forest Frederick Edward “Tommy” Yeo-Thomas GC

Forest Frederick Edward “Tommy” Yeo-Thomas (17/06/1902 – 26/02/1964) was a British Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent in the Second World War and was awarded the George Cross for his clandestine work behind enemy lines.  Yeo-Thomas was known by the Gestapo as “The White Rabbit”. 

The Citation, recorded in the London Gazette of Supplement: 37468, Page: 961 reads: 

“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 25 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 15 April 1943, in the aircraft which picked up Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas.

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas undertook a second mission on 17 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 15 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 21 March. While being taken by car to Gestapo 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 17 July, Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was sent with a party to Compiègne prison, from which he twice attempted to escape. He and 36 others were transferred to Buchenwald. On the way, they stopped at Saarbrücken, where they were beaten and kept in a tiny hut. They arrived at Buchenwald on 16 August and 16 of them were executed and cremated on 10 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 16 April 1945, he led a party of 20 in a most gallant attempt to escape in broad daylight. Ten of them were killed by gunfire 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.”

He survived the war and died in 1964 at the age of 61 in his Paris apartment following a massive haemorrhage. He was cremated in Paris and then subsequently repatriated to be interred in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey, where his grave may be found in the Pine Glade Garden of Remembrance. 

DRW © 2018. Created 21/08/2018. Image courtesy of Mark Green

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