|Restaurant in Paris|
Jimmy Elliott may have ‘missed the boat’ or had a narrow escape, depending on which way events at the studio flat in Paris were interpreted (see last week’s post), but there was no doubting what was on offer to one American evader in France during 1944 when his guide took him to a safe address where he was left with a woman named Louise for the day. She followed him around the room making attempts to ensure his stay would be more than comfortable. Despite the language barrier the airman managed to engineer a course of action where refreshments and broken conversation became the only things on offer. As he reported afterwards - his evasion situation was difficult enough without any further complications.
In 1942 Warrant Officer Herbert Spiller was taken to a
‘ I felt Marguerite’s arm slip behind mine as she endeavoured to make it look as if we were more than passing strollers, and I mentally gave her full marks for her astuteness. She was by no means timorous, and as we looked at each other and smiled, I could see that her face had lost its sadness and had gained a certain air of defiance as if she was enjoying the moment of deception in front of the Germans.’
It is easy to understand how an evader and their helper living together in hiding could find themselves drawn to each other. Spiller sounds a note of caution around this:
‘I remember thinking that she was extremely brave taking me into her flat without a great deal of assurance that I wouldn’t do her any harm or try to force myself upon her. I reflected though on the fact that if I had tried to do so my life would have been a little more at risk than it was at that moment. The thought of being pursued by her friends who had questioned me was chilling to say the least and I made a mental pledge to be a good boy at all times.’
This pledge could have been severely tested one night in the flat during an Allied air raid on
‘The evenings were better, with a good fire going and some happy hours teaching each other our mother tongues. It was cosy and innocent and I came to look forward to her return.’ (at night) In other circumstances it could, I suppose have led to an indiscretion, but the overshadowing presence of propriety and the possible repercussions…prevented me from losing my head. Although it very nearly happened one night hen I was shaken from sleep by the sound of gunfire in the distance, and the reverberation of bombs.
I slipped into the salon and drew the curtains to see several searchlight cones, heavy flak and the distant ground flashes of bombs. The din was deafening and as I watched dumbfounded I felt a touch on my shoulder. It was Marguerite in her dressing gown looking like a startled rabbit and shaking visibly. I naturally pulled her towards me and we clung together during the whole of the raid, until the noise had died down and her trembling had ceased.
I kissed her forehead and said ‘Are you alright? The RAF have no manners.
She gave me a wan smile. Yes I hope they did well’
It was an affectionate moment when things could have got out of hand, but it passed and Marguerite said ‘How about coffee?’ It was so incongruous, we burst out laughing as we let go of each other.’
Sometimes relationships developed further. Flying Officer Gordon Carter was a Canadian operating as a navigator in 35 Squadron. At 18.20 hours on 13 February 1943 his
During his evasion, he took the night train to
‘This she did and was impressed by the fact – as she still is today (I married her in 1945) that I cycled at her speed and repaired her chain while her brother was racing on ahead. Jannine and I spent a happy fortnight or so in Soursin.’
Carter moved on to successfully evade, returning to
Secret Service operator Donald Darling worked from
‘Evaders passing along another Line described being visited by a ‘cabaret artiste’ who called at their hide-out houses and flats, to ‘entertain them.’ Over the months I saw at least eight identical souvenir photographs of this lady wearing a pearl necklace and high heeled shoes, who otherwise had posed in the nude. We called her ‘The Fair Charmer’ and she was decorated after the War by the British Government for ‘Services to the RAF.’
One evasion which could translate to the silver screen is that of RAF Sergeant John Dix who was reported missing from an operational sortie against Nuremburg on the night of 27/28th August 1943. He began his evasion from occupied Luxembourg eventually making it through to Gibraltar via
In the early stage of his evasion his guide had a marked effect on Dix:
‘About eight thirty, footsteps on the stairs, a tap on the door and in walked a dream followed by his host. The girl was beautiful, in her twenties, dark hair and wearing a flowered print dress.
‘Nicole’ was to guide Dix through some of the most dangerous journeys and near misses. Putting her own fear and safety aside, she risked everything to do her job before finally leaving him in Brussels. For Dix he would continue his evasion south. As the pair were both being hunted by the Gestapo, Nicole was unable to return home to
A rare lighter moment between the couple occurred earlier in Dix’s evasion, on his birthday. Ever the gentleman, he behaved appropriately:
‘When Nicole returned she explained that it was too late for her to return to ….it was past curfew hours and she did not have a permit to be out after dark in this area. She would have to leave early in the morning to return to work and in the meantime would be staying the night with him.
She laughed, blew out the candle told him to get undressed and into bed and that she would sleep on top of the sheet and for him to behave himself. When she realised he was hesitating she said ‘Hurry up don’t be foolish, I am very tired, so please hurry and get into bed, so that I can get undressed.’
The temperature that night was between eighty and ninety degrees. Hardly surprising, and Dix slept inside the sheets and Nicole on the outside. He reported that:
‘He did not sleep a wink that night. The heat, small bed, champagne and brandy, the dangerous situation, a beautiful girl lying naked and asleep beside him was very powerful stay awake medicine.’
MI9 and USAAF files
Silent Heroes – Sherri Greene Otis
Ticket To Freedom- Herbert Spiller
Free to Fight Again – Alan Cooper
Secret Sunday – Donald Darling
Come Walk With Me – John Dix Unpublished Memoirs