Edward Yeo-Thomas

Edward Yeo-Thomas

Edward Yeo-Thomas was born in London on 17th June 1902. The family moved to Dieppe in France and at the age of sixteen he lied about his age in order to participate in the First World War and in 1918 served as a dispatch rider.

Yeo-Thomas fought with the White Army in Poland during the Russian Civil War in 1919. Captured by the Red Army he only escaped execution by strangling a guard. After returning to France he did a variety of jobs before finding work in a fashion house in 1932.

In 1939 Yeo-Thomas joined the Royal Air Force. He was considered to be too old for flying duties was was instead recruited as intelligence officer. In 1942 he was transferred to the French Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) where he became responsible for military planning.

Yeo-Thomas was parachuted into France on 26th February 1943. He joined up with Pierre Brossolette, the leader of the Comité d'Action Socialiste, and attempted to help unify the various resistance groups in France. They paved the way for Jean Moulin to be able to persuade the eight major resistance groups to form the Conseil National de la Resistance (CNR) in May 1943.

On 7th June 1943, René Hardy, an important member of the resistance in France, was arrested and tortured by Klaus Barbie and the Gestapo. They eventually obtained enough information to arrest Jean Moulin and Charles Delestraint. Moulin died while being tortured and Delestraint was sent to Dachau where he was killed near the end of the war.

Yeo-Thomas and Pierre Brossolette were in London at the time of these arrests and in September 1943 they returned to France to reorganize the French Resistance.

Back in England he met Winston Churchill who he eventually convinced to provide more financial and logistical support for the resistance. When he heard that Pierre Brossolette had been arrested he went back to France in an attempt to rescue him. This ended in failure and Yeo-Thomas was himself arrested by the French police while Brossolette committed suicide while being tortured by the Gestapo.

Yeo-Thomas was tortured in Fresnes Prison. He noticed that his German interrogators made a practice, whenever he was about to faint with pain, plunged him in cold water in order to revive him. He therefore carefully observed his own symptoms as he was about to faint and then simulated them in order to reduce the period of torture.

After failing to obtain any information from Yeo-Thomas the Gestapo sent him to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Just before he was due to be executed Yeo-Thomas, with the help of a German guard, exchanged identities with a prisoner who had died of typhus. He then managed to escape and eventually reached the Allied troops advancing through Nazi Germany.

In 1946 Yeo-Thomas gave evidence that helped to send 22 members of staff at Buchenwald to the gallows. He was awarded the George Cross and the Military Cross by the British government and after returning to France he became the Paris representative of the Federation of British Industries. Edward Yeo-Thomas died on 26th February, 1964.

Primary Sources

(1) Patrick Howarth worked for the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War and afterwards wrote about his experiences in the book, Undercover (1980)

After the arrests of General Delestraint and Jean Moulin it was decided to send Brossolette, who had also been brought back to England, on another visit to France. Once again he was accompanied by Yeo-Thomas. This time their tasks were even more demanding, for they discovered that copies of incoming and outgoing radio messages which, contrary to instructions, had not been destroyed had been captured by the Germans together with a list of the names of prominent resistance figures.

During an eight-week stay Brossolette and Yeo-Thomas did much to achieve the decentralization of command within the resistance forces which was so clearly necessary. They also learnt how disastrously

ill-armed most of the maquis groups were and how difficult it was to convince French resistance leaders that their efforts were given serious attention in London when so few supply drops were made.

When he heard that Brossolette had been arrested Yeo-Thomas, who had formed a close friendship with him, decided he must return and rescue him. Yeo-Thomas's plan was to rescue Brossolette with the help of some perfect German-speakers who would wear German uniform. The plan never materialized and Brossolette was never rescued. Instead he committed suicide by jumping through a window. The reason for the failure was that Yeo-Thomas was betrayed and arrested at a prearranged rendezvous.

(2) Edward Yeo-Thomas, report to Special Operations Executive (1943)

On four occasions I was trailed but threw off my followers. The first time was on the occasion of an appointment with Oyster (code name for fellow agent Georges Pichard) in front of the Madeleine. Neither of us was followed prior to meeting and as we walked off together we noticed a man who had been standing nearby, seemingly with nothing to do, fall in about twenty yards behind us. We ascertained that he was really following us by making a few detours, and having made sure that he was definitely interested, we made tracks back to the Madeleine Metro station arranging to part very suddenly; Oyster was to dive into the Metro and I was to cross rapidly over to the rue Royale, thus forcing our follower to choose between us. Our manoeuvre was carried out and the follower tacked on to me.

As I had an hour to kill, I took him for a fast, long walk - he was wearing a heavy grey overcoat and I am sure he must have lost some weight. Having given him a good run for his money, I dashed in the Printemps and I went down to the basement while he was being slightly held up by a group of shoppers, and having gained a lead, took one of the service passages reserved for employees, thus getting rid of my persistent follower.

On two other occasions I was picked up after contacts, but both times threw off my men very quickly, one by using the old trick of taking the Underground, getting out at a station, walking along the platform and suddenly jumping back into the train at the last minute.

On another occasion Brossolette (fellow agent Pierre Brossolette) and I had an appointment on the Boulevard Haussman with Necker (code name for agent Jacques Bingen). We met him and noticed that he was being tailed by no less than three men. He had not realised it and would not believe us so we proved it by walking fast, turning down the rue d'Argenson and again into the rue de la Boetie and waiting just round the corner in a big arched doorway; one by one our three followers came tearing round the corner and left us in no doubt as to their intentions. We then doubled on our tracks and made rapid plans to dodge our unwelcome friends.

We sent Necker off on his own into the rue Laborde before the three sleuths could come back on us. Brossolette and I then walked briskly towards Place St Augustin and agreed to separate and meet an hour later at the corner of Avenue de Villiers and Boulevard de Courcelles. As we arrived at Place St Augustin, we saw two velo-taxis and each jumped into one, thus leaving our followers with no means of catching us up.

(3) After the war Andre Dewavrin commented on the achievements of Edward Yeo-Thomas.

Edward Yeo-Thomas was one of the most magnificent heroes of the war, a valued comrade, a dear friend, with intelligence and quiet and determined courage.