The Return To
England Of The Downed Aviators
Why The Forest Of Freteval
The Escorting Of The
Creation Of Camp No.
1 And The Life In It
The present booklet has for its purpose to make known to the nation one of the most extraordinary adventures of the last war. The modesty of the numerous members of the Resistance of Loir-et-Cher and of Eure-et-Loir who have participated in it has alone impeded, until the present time, the publication of this military exploit unique in the annals of the war.
Unique it is in many ways. More than one hundred and fifty allied aviators – American, English, Canadian, Australian, South African, New Zealanders and Belgians – lived in camps, perfectly organized and in the middle of occupied France in the Forest of
Freteval, between Vendome and Cloyes during several months under the nose and the beard of enemy troops.
These aviators, whose planes had been shot down over occupied territory, represented the equivalent of fourteen squadrons of pursuit. They took their places again, after their liberation, in the fighting units. This was without doubt a precious contribution to the final victory.
Unique again, the fact that this operation, which necessitated the cooperation of large numbers of members of the Resistance, remained absolutely secret to the point that inhabitants of the villages surrounding the forest did not know about, until the last days, the presence of this truly allied army near them.
Unique finally and how comforting for the people in charge to know that in the course of the months which elapsed until the successful ending of the mission, the loss of not a single human life was to be deplored among the ranks of the Resistance as well as among those of the allied aviators.
It is the succinct and factual story of this heroic adventure that we propose to you in the following pages. All the persons who participated are cited under their true names in order that they may witness to it.
Return To England Of The Downed Aviators
For the whole duration of the war, from 1941 when allied raids above occupied territories and over Germany intensified, the big worry of the staff was to be able to get back these indispensable specialists, the allied aviators whose equipment was downed in the course of the mission, and who succeeded in escaping.
A special service called “M.I.9” (Military Information 9) was created within the “Intelligence Service” and received for its mission to organize in conjunction with the local Resistance of different countries and by the intermediary of agents sent from England, channels of escape and return to the British Isles.
One of these channels, whose members were all French and Belgian, had the name “Comete” and was the most important and had succeeded in leading hundreds of aviators back to combat.
The process of the return of the aviators was the following: the inhabitants of the region, who, by their actions took enormous risks, first welcomed them. Thanks to the network of information created by the line “Comete” these persons were soon known. “Comete” took charge of the package or packages (the name used to designate the aviators found) and led them toward centres such as Liege, Brussels, Lille or
They were then regrouped in the Parisian region before being conducted to the Spanish border where specialized guides helped them cross. They thus reached Gibraltar or Lisbon. Transport planes of the RAF then took them to Britain.
All of these moves, so dangerous, were done almost all by railroad and under the guidance of dedicated French and Belgian escorts, many of whom paid with their liberty and often with their lives for the precious aid they gave to the aviators.
In January 1944 however, when the date and place of the “debarkation” (the landing place of the allies in Normandy) was known by a certain select group, M.I.9 had to face numerous problems. It was evident in fact that the attacks which were going to concentrate on means of communication in occupied France would completely disorganize the railroads, thus stopping the transportation of aviators towards the Spanish border. No one knew what the behaviour of the German authorities at the time of the landing would be, but it was feared that there would be an intensified surveillance by the police and even perhaps the incarceration of able-bodied men. In addition, the members of the Resistance who in great part formed the nucleus of the escorts would have other vital tasks to accomplish.
It was thus decided to place the recovered aviators in a place fairly close to the Norman coast, where losses in sailing personnel would be heavy. The region determined by a triangle formed by the cities of
Vendome, Le Mans and Chartres must serve as a terminal for different organized escape lines. The nearness of the landing beaches allowed hope that the Liberation would take place in the shortest time thus reducing the risks.
In order to lead this very delicate mission to a successful conclusion, a Belgian officer and aviator Lucian Boussa alias “Cousin Lucienne”, serving in the ranks of the RAF since the beginning of the war, was sounded out by the M.I.9. This choice had been dictated to the authorities of the Intelligence Service by the fact that this French speaking officer was perfectly up to date on matters concerning the RAF and had thus the possibility of revealing doubtful recruits who may infiltrate the escape lines and cause the entire foreseen plan to fail.
After three months of special training, Lucien Boussa, with his assistant, a radio operator Francois
Toussaint, left England by air and after several different episodes, arrived in Paris on the 13th May 1944. The invasion was near. There was no time to lose.
Upon his arrival in Paris and as his instructions envisioned, the Belgian officer was put in contact with one of the leaders of the “Comete” line, the Baron Jean de
Blomaert, who entered into secrecy in 1940. Still not caught, he operated under several borrowed names, which earned him the nickname of “Renard” (Fox), from the Germans. In April 1944, de Blomaert went to London where he finalized the escape network with the leaders of MI9. Finally he returned to France, having for his mission, to assemble the aviators in the areas dominated by the hilly, wooded landscape from which the fugitives could be led little by little towards Brittany and from there to England by boat. When Lucien and arrived in Paris, he received an urgent counter order from the British Secret Service: “The invasion is near; no longer evacuate aviators. Hide them on site.”
Forest Of Freteval
By the intermediary of the leaders of the line “Comete”, Lucien made contact with the departmental head of the French Forces for the Interior of
Eure-et-Loir, “Sinclair” (Maurice Clavel). The latter had just taken command and was not aware of the possibilities offered by the resistance grouping placed under his orders. He asked for the advice of a leader of the office of “Air Operations”, Andre Gagnon alias Legrand (elected Mayor of Chartres at the liberation) and of two heads of “Liberation Movement”, Pierre Poitevan called “Bichat” and R. Dufour alias “Duvivier. These two men advised Sinclair to speak to “Andre” (Omer
Jubault), military leader of “Libe Nord” for the region of
Chateaudun. This man was going to become known as the head of the organization created of all the groups as well as a loyal and devoted collaborator. Gendarme at Cloyes for 8 years, on the verge of being arrested for his clandestine actions against the occupying group, he had left his brigade on the 10th January 1944 with one of his colleagues, Robert
Hakspille, called “Raoul”. Both had been warned of their upcoming arrest by Jean-Felix Paulsen of
Chateaudun, who was able to continue sending them their monthly checks until the Liberation. These military men, hunted for deserting, had succeeded in several months to group together numerous members of the resistance. They knew the region perfectly and the degree of patriotism of all inhabitants. Changing their hiding place each day, they were lodged by numerous patriots.
Foreseeing the operations that their groups would be asked to perform at the time of liberation, they had contacted all of the landowners and the guards of the Forest of
Freteval, located different sites in the woods, including places for water, hiding places for arms, which would be able to serve to organize the woody, hilly land, and asked the help of farmers, millers and bakers of the area for provisions.
Also when Jubault was called to the position of command of “Sinclair” at Boisville
(Eure-et-Loir) and was informed of what was expected of him, he accepted the mission entrusted to him. On the 18th May 1944, Lucien and his radio operator, Francois
Toussaint, accompanied by “Sinclair” and Sylvia Montfort, took the train to
At the station a group of resistance members – Omer Jubault, Maurice
Serein, Lucien Bezault and Robert Poupard - waited for them. The wait was long for the train was bombed during the trip and was three hours late. The four travellers descended from the train.
It was around two p.m., under a sun of leaden hue, that the little group, furnished with bicycles, left in the direction of the forest of
Freteval, twenty kilometers away. A stop had been planned in the woods of
Montigny-le-Gannelon, where Joseph Neillier, restaurant owner in that area, would bring lunch.
The meal finished, the little group gradually set out again. They arrived without problems at the home of
Hallouin, gamekeeper of the Marquis de Levis-de-Mirepoix, at the place called “Bellande”, township of Villebout
(Loir-et-Cher). The lodge of the gamekeeper, hidden behind a little wood, was an ideal place to shelter a secret agent. Lucien Boussa set himself up there.
By reason of security, Jubault led the radio operator 10 kilometers from there, to the home of Doctor
Chaveau, at Moulineuf, township of Romilly-sur-Aigre.
The liaison was to be assured by Ginette Jubault and her brother Jean, child of the troop at the school of Tulle, that he had abandoned in order to aid his parents. Mme Jubault served as a relay in the clandestine organization of her husband.
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In the course of the week that followed the arrival of Colonel Boussa, thirty recovered aviators were entrusted to the new organization. Lodged in Paris at the homes of patriots who could no longer nourish them, it was necessary to evacuate them immediately to the country where with money, it was possible to procure milk, butter, eggs, meat, flour and vegetables from the farmers.
It is difficult to imagine for those who have not known that period of time, what life was like in France under German occupation. Everything was rationed in quantities clearly insufficient to feed oneself, to warm oneself, to dress oneself, to travel. In a word each of the elements of daily life posed at every instant an insoluble problem. One no longer had coffee, rice or chocolate. Wine was distributed only to
labourers. No fuel, no gasoline.
Imagine thus the difficulties of welcoming an escaped stranger who is unable to speak French. An aviator, without the least notion of the network of the Resistance, falling by chance into the hands of an individual.
From the moment a patriot took in an allied aviator, the first job was to get rid of his military uniform and to dress him in civilian clothes, a fairly complicated job at that time. It was very difficult to get clothing. It was only given with tokens. The patriot was obliged to dress his protege himself. The aviator and his rescuer were often of very different sizes. It was not unusual to see a big guy wearing a pair of pants coming to mid-calf and a short jacket of which the sleeves scarcely passed the elbows. The problem of shoes was even more difficult. Some aviators were wearing boots and it was necessary to take them off immediately in order to avoid being spotted. Others who had walked long distances were wearing shoes very worn out. In order to remedy this inconvenience, Daniel Lance, tanner at
Vendome, secretly furnished the leather necessary to a shoemaker at d’Amboise. The finished shoes were distributed to the aviators in the shortest possible time.
Escorting Of The Aviators
In the beginning, the aviators got off the train at Chateaudun, escorted mostly by courage escorts. From a relay set up in a little grocery store owned by M. and Mme
Coeuret, it was necessary to then direct them by indirect roads to the area around
Daniel Cogneau, of Chateaudun, accepted the responsibility of the escorting. He accomplished this mission, without interruption, for three months with members of his family. He was helped in his job by Maurice
Serein, Lucien Bezault, Robert Poupard, Abel Meret, Solange and Jean
Meret, Lucien Thibault, Maurice Gaillard, Jean Gagnebien, Renee Paulsen and Louis Bellier of
Chateaudun; Pierre Dauphin, Marcel Hard, Jacques Gousy, Paul Roger and Charlette
Marolles, of Bonneval; M.Penot of Saint-Martin; the veterinarians Doctors Dufour of
Chartres, and Renaudon of La Loupe; Joseph Neillier, Andre Saillard and Eugene Legeay of
Montigny-le-Gannelon; Ginette and Jean Jubault, Robert Hakspille and Marius Villedieu of
Cloyes; Pierre Van Bever of Saint-Hilaire-sur-Yerre; Emile Demouliere and Jules Gallet of
Saint-Jean-Froidmentel; Gustave Barbier of Moree; Kleber Olivier of
Danze; Henri Roger of Courtalain and also the inhabitants of Combres and of Chassant where M. and Mme Bacchi assured temporary lodging.
In order to baffle the surveillance of the enemy, it was necessary to constantly change escort, itinerary and means of locomotion. All means were used, foot most often, bicycle, automobile and horse drawn carriage, especially after the destruction of the railroad. From that time the aviators were led on foot from Dourdan
(Seine-et-Oise). A relay was installed at Montboissier (Eure-et-Loir) at the home of Gaston
Duneau, who went to get them at the farm of Leroy at Sazeray, near
Voves. He led them in little groups, often across fields, furnished with pitchforks and hoes in order to give the impression that they were farm workers. This patriot evacuated thus a large number of escapees.
From Montboissier, Pierre Dauphin and Marcel Huard led them to a new relay located at
Chenelong, near Gohory, at the home of Fougereux. The escorts of Chateaudun intervened then with their means of transportation in order to cover as painlessly as possible the last fifteen kilometers by these exhausted men.
Jubault led the first aviators to the homes of patriots who agreed to lodge them. Five of them were placed at the homes of Armand
Guet, farmer at Audrieres, township of Cloyes, five others were lodged in an isolated house lived in by Pierre Van Bever and the widow
Tessier, at the place called “Le Rouilly”, township of
Saint-Hilaire-sur-Yerre. Doubouchage, bricklayer at Rameau, township of
Langey, as well took five, and two were lodged at the home of Chesneau at
Chanteloup; two at the home of Rene Jacques, at the level crossing 103; two at the home of Jeanne
Demouliere, head of the train station at Saint-Jean-Froidmentel, while nine others were taken care of by Gustave
Barbier, Mmes Guerineau and Martinnez Pedro, living at
Corbonniere, township of Moree, and finally five at the home of
Fouchard, farmer at Bellande.
These aviators stayed about fifteen days at the homes of these brave people. The latter knew however to what they exposed themselves since on the 20th February 1944, ten patriots of Vendome had been deported for having welcomed a crew of an allied plane shot down.
This fact known in the entire region encouraged the resistance members to act with a very great carefulness and it was certainly an important factor in the success of the undertaking.
Of Camp No 1 And The Life In It
Because of the magnitude of the operation Lucien Boussa, who was obligated to daily visit the aviators scattered in the region in order to assure himself of their conditions of lodging, and risked being arrested in the course of his continual trips, appealed to the directors of the network “Comete”.
Two days later, Jean de Blomaert accompanied by Philippe d’Albert Lake, arrived at Bellande to assist him.
In agreement with Jubault and the forester Hallouin, it was decided to group the “lodgers” in a camp in order to facilitate the surveillance and supplying of food. The interest parties went to a site situated eight hundred meters from the lodge. The location appeared to be perfectly suitable for the creation of a camp. The relatively thick woods would hide all activity that would take place under its foliage. A spring of pure water gushed up at scarcely one hundred meters. The slight slope leading up to the border of the woods would allow an easy surveillance of the immediate approaches.
Moreover, the farm of Bellande situated near the home of
Hallouin, cultivated by the Fouchards and their daughters
Micheline, Simone and Jacqueline, would be the point of convergence and would serve as a centre for slaughtering animals and a warehouse for the food supplies.
Each one set to work. While Lucien, his two friends and the five aviators of the Fouchard farm, furnished the future camp, Jubault visited the farmers to obtain tarpaulins in order to construct tents.
For their part, Jean-Felix Paulsen and Doctor Dufour who had the possibility of travelling by car because of their profession brought utensils for cooking, provisions and tobacco to the campsite on several occasions.
By 10th June 1944 all the aviators up to this time lodged at the homes of patriots, had come to the camp. Around fifteen tents were already pitched and the inhabitants of this special type of village organized life. Three sentinels posted at the edge of the woods watched surroundings and warned of the approach of unidentified people by a rudimentary system of warning.
The food supply of the aviator camps was an ever-increasing nightmare for the patriots. One will see however that the network set up on foot by Jubault for the underground forces was important. It must function effectively until the Liberation.
Some formers, members of the Resistance, brought living animals, fresh meat, vegetables, butter and eggs to the farm of
Bellande, especially the following: - Armand Guet, farmer at
Audrieres; Maurice Tessier, farmer at Durandiere; Cornuau, farmer at
Autheuil; Duroc, manager at Convertiere; Laubry, meat merchant at
Moree; Andre Barrault, farmer at Saint-Calais; Croissant, farmer at la
Flocherie; Robert Guerineau, baker at Romilly-sur-Aigre; Maxime Plateau, farmer at la Touche (in the farm where Emile Zola wrote his novel La Terre), Henry
Oudeyer, farmer at Cloyes and Henri Beaujouan at Douy.
Thanks to the flour furnished by the flour dealers Etienne
Viron, bread was made by Theophile Trecul de Fontaine-Raoul, and brought to the camp Micheline
Fouchard. With her horse cart, this young girl each day covered four kilometers across the forest where she was once shot at by allied planes.
In order to vary the menu, night fishing parties were organized in the Loir by Andre Saillard and Eugene Legeay of
Montigny-le-Gannelon. Cooks improvised and very quickly became true ‘chefs’.
To avoid all revealing smoke, the stoves were supplied with charcoal made in the forest by Henri Lefevre of l’Estriverds and brought to Bellande by his wife.
The different duties inherent to all military life in common were organized and accepted with good
humour. These duties included wakeup at six o’clock, starting the fires for the first service of breakfast, water duty, cleaning up and putting the tents and their surroundings in order. If the camp was difficult to detect from the road, it was however visible by planes flying over the region and in this case allied planes became as dangerous as the enemy. It was thus absolutely vital that every morning the tents be recovered with fresh branches. The tables and seats were made of trunks and branches. The beds were made with trelliswork spread out between four posts and the mattresses were of dry grasses.
Each one according to his interests used free time. Some improved the comfort of their tents, others worked on wood sculptures, at sewing and others found a sunny spot in order to dream of their liberation that they believed to be very near.
In order to assure a certain comfort to the inhabitants of the camp, Albert
Barillet, barber at Cloyes, came each week to exercise his art.
Extraordinary cases of regrouping took place. It is thus that equipment would be almost completely re-divided at the time of arrivals. Such moments were always celebrated joyfully.