Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas
Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas first joined Polish forces during the Russian civil war of 1920 and later SOE (Special Operations Executive). During World War II he often risked his life assisting resistance efforts.
Six times, he narrowly escaped arrest until finally being apprehended at a Metro station in Paris and taken directly to Gestapo headquarters, where they subjected him to harsh treatment.
Early Life and Education
Yeo-Thomas was too young to join the British Army at the outbreak of World War One; however, by lying he managed to become a dispatch rider on the Western Front. Following this war he joined Polish army during Russian Civil War; upon capture by Bolsheviks but managed to avoid execution by strangling one of their guards.
Yeo-Thomas parachuted into France in February 1944 and, despite suffering a sprained ankle, made it safely to Paris. From there he set about unifying France’s disparate resistance groups into one unified army which he reported back to Churchill to ensure received increased weapons and supplies.
He was captured three times while operating behind enemy lines, passing himself off as French to avoid being sent to a work kommando but eventually transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp where he endured multiple torture sessions including daily immersions into freezing cold water.
Yeo-Thomas’ career between the wars took many unexpected turns. Beginning as an apprentice engineer at Rolls-Royce, he eventually found work as an accountant at a travel agency before ultimately landing at Molyneux Paris Fashion House as an accountant, eventually rising to become director.
Following France’s fall in 1940, he joined the RAF Intelligence Branch and quickly came to SOE’s attention. Parachuted into France for the first time in February 1943, he quickly made contacts with Pierre Brossolette and Andre Dewavrin (known by their code name Colonel Passy).
Few months later he assisted in the rescue of 168 Allied airmen from Buchenwald by providing false information to Gestapo agents that led them to surrender, receiving in return a Bar to his Military Cross. For his efforts he received another Bar as recognition.
Achievement and Honors
Yeo-Thomas initially found employment after his evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940 in a Paris fashion house; however, shortly thereafter was recruited into active service with British intelligence agency Special Operations Executive (SOE). Due to his natural ability as an organizer and coordinator he earned himself the rank of wing commander by the completion of his first mission.
On his second mission, Churchill agreed to redirect more planes away from German targets in order to drop arms and other supplies for French resistance forces, better known as Marquis movement fighters. Through this intervention, morale among French fighters was revived allowing the fight back on to go forward successfully.
After his capture in February 1944, he endured lengthy torture sessions before being sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. His ability to remain peaceful under such intense duress earned him the George Cross.
Yeo-Thomas began his career at Molyneux, an esteemed fashion house in Paris, during the interwar years. On the outbreak of World War II he was evacuated from Dunkirk and joined General de Gaulle’s Free French forces; soon thereafter he switched over to join Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Yeo-Thomas made his move in February 1943 when he parachuted into France, forging links with General de Gaulle’s intelligence agency Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action, and using these connections to form one secret army from several resistance groups scattered around France. Unfortunately he was captured and betrayed by Gestapo at Passy Metro station; but despite long periods of torture and imprisonment both here in France as well as Buchenwald concentration camp without divulging any useful intelligence to his enemy.
As recognition for his extraordinary bravery he received both the George Cross and Military Cross. Following the war he returned home and settled in Bloomsbury at 5 Queen Court where he lived with Barbara Dean (his partner whom he would marry after).
Yeo-Thomas had dabbled with more traditional careers between wars, before joining the Royal Air Force (RAF). At its inception he was recruited, but because of his age was assigned as an intelligence officer in France instead. He played an instrumental role in helping to establish French resistance groups and convincing Churchill of their worth; when captured in 1942 he endured torture but refused to divulge information on other agents or give up. Deported to Buchenwald concentration camp, but survived and made his way back to Paris as the war ended. Awarded a bar for his Military Cross and Commander of the Legion of Honor respectively; now his service and gallantry medals can be seen displayed at Imperial War Museum.