Wednesday, 31 March 2010

'The White Rabbit' - Wing Commander F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas (1901 - 1964) - a British hero in France and Germany during the Second World War

One of my most-treasured and much-read books is called 'The White Rabbit.' It is a biography of Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas, G.C., M.C., who was born in 1901 and died in 1964. The book was written by Bruce Marshall and first published in 1952. Mine is an early edition.

The book's 'blurb' reads as follows:

"The White Rabbit was one of the code names arranged to indicate the movements of Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas, G.C., M.C., during his perilous missions to occupied France. When the plain language broadcasts of the B.B.C. stated that the White Rabbit had gone back to his hutch, it meant that not only the French Resistance but later the Gestapo knew that Tommy had returned safely to Britain. Yeo-Thomas himself discovered this when the Germans captured him. In fact, he made such good use of it that everyone who reads his amazing story will agree that it could not have been published under any other title.

When Yeo-Thomas received his last briefing from the Prime Minister, Mr Churchill said: 'You have chosen an unorthodox way of doing things and you have short-circuited official channels; it might mean trouble for you, but I shall see that no such thing happens ... I am going to increase substantially the number of aircraft doing parachuting operations to the Resistance, and greater supplies and more armaments are going to be sent.'

Not long after the personal triumph of hearing Mr Churchill use these words Yeo-Thomas was in the hands of the Gestapo.

It may be too soon to judge whether the War produced great literature, but it has certainly thrown up some amazing tales of individual adventure and courage - and there can surely be few to equal that of Yeo-Thomas, who started and ended the war as manager of the famous Molyneux dress salon in Paris. How Tommy spent the 'phoney' war in the ranks of the R.A.F., was commissioned after the fall of France and thereafter became a specialist in organizing Resistance, is told in these pages. How he was captured and treated by the Gestapo, and how the long story of his suffering ended in his becoming one of the few British survivors of Buchenwald would be distressing were it not so triumphantly fortified by this man's enduring courage. His qualities were recognized by His late Majesty King George VI in the award of the George Cross and by the French Government in the award of the Legion of Honour."

Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas was a British hero whose heroism in France and Germany during the Second World War was rightly acknowledged in his life-time. I was pleased to hear on the B.B.C.'s 'Today' programme that he is again to be acknowledged as a British hero by the unveiling today of a blue plaque at his former home in Camden, London.

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