English Airmen looked after by la Brigade Rac in the Dordogne - May to September 1944

Posted by Alan in Brigade RacLes AlliésRecherche
Being an Englishman passionate about the history of la Brigade Rac / A.S. Dordogne-Nord I have been intrigued for a long time by a photo that I first saw in a book entitled 'La Brigade Rac - Armée Sècrete Dordogne-Nord' written by Capitaine Fred in 1977, a photo which amongst many others was shared with me a few years back by the family of René De la Tousche, who was part of the Jedburgh team Alexander. I was told that on the back of the photo had been written "un anglais R.A.F. avec nous" written by the photographer André Léonard.

The photo was of the Resistance at Thiviers and taken in the woods at Boudeau not far from the town in May 1944 and was one of perhaps 4O photos taken at that location. Late last year I was honoured to have been given by the De la Tousche family the 15O photos of la Brigade Rac, 31 of them having been taken in the maquis camp situated between Saint-Jean-de-Côle and Thiviers. I have put two photo albums together using old unused albums from the 194O's with the intention of showing the collection of photos at ceremonies and to families of la Brigade Rac during my regular visits to the region.

Last year I had the pleasure to meet for the first time Michèle Cézard, Lieutenant-Colonel Rac's daughter. We had been in contact however via emails for more than six years. She kindly gave me some old issues of the Brigade's newsletter - Bulletin de Liaison des Amicales Rac et 5O R.I. from 1979 and 198O. Towards the back of issue no. 6 from October/November 1979 there is an appeal for information by Edouard Verbauwen who had been part of the 6th Cie of la Brigade Rac based at Saint-Saud-Lacoussière / Mialet / La Coquille in the Dordogne. The appeal was for the addresses of the English airmen picked up at Saint-Saud in July 1944. No names given and ofcourse I was intrigued by who the airmen may have been.

At the same time that the De la Tousche family had shared the collection of photos with me they had also sent over in an attachment a booklet written by one of Rene's son's Alain de la Tousche charting the history of the mission Alexander and their time in the South West of France spent mainly with la Brigade Rac. I featured the booklet in an article last year. Recently while finishing off my research on the story of three American airmen that crashed near Jauldes in the Charente on 19th June 1944 I thought I'd re-visit Alain's booklet as it had included all their messages back to London. I was looking to see if they had sent a message to London for the American crew to be picked up.

Sgt. E. Jones
I found nothing but I did find a message dated 24th August 1944 saying : 

"Could you  please let the wives and families of the following know that they are well : Forcevan, S.J. 27154, RCAF ; Sgt E. Jonel, 999682, RAF ; Sgt H. Blackett, RAF They have been with the Maquis since 9th May"

I made some research but found nothing on the first two airmen, turns out they their names had been mispelt but their military numbers were correct so their families would have received the message. They were actually F/O R. C. Evans and Sgt E. Jones.

My research on Sgt. H. Blackett was more fruitful and I found an old press article from 2OO4 published in the Ipswich Star, a local Suffolk newspaper. The story was about a French lady who lived in Ipswich whose family had looked after some English airmen in 1944 at their home in the hamlet of La Bucherie not far from Saint-Saud. The lady was Françoise Ribieriex and was 7 years of age in 1944. Two of the airmen were Sgt. Harold Blackett "Harry" and Sgt. Edward Jones "Eddie" or "Ted", who had parachuted at Saint-Laurent-sur-Gorre with five of their crew from their Halifax (on loan from the 161th squadron) after two of its engines had failed just south of Rochecouart in the Haute-Vienne on their return from dropping supplies to the Maquis near Brive during the night of 9th / 1Oth May 1944 (Operation Percy 3). The press article had been about how Sgt Blackett's son David had been trying to find out more on his Dad's and the crew's story and had been contacted by the daughter of the family aged 7 at the time who had information on the airmen.
Sgt. H. Blackett

A little bit of digging and with the help of Robert Body, author of Runways to Freedom, I was able to track down Sgt Blackett's son David and I sent him a copy of the photo taken in the woods near Thiviers of the maquis in May 1944. He immediately came back with the news that his Dad was in the photo and could be seen sitting on the right just after the guy wearing the vest and beret. He was also able to confirm that sitting on the left raising his glass was Sgt. E. Jones. In fact the two airmen are in five of the photos I have.

The airmen's Escape and Evasion report made on their return to England on 9th September 1944 confirms that they had spent more than three months with the Resistance at Saint-Saud-Lacoussière in the Dordogne. They had taken part in a parachute drop, sabotage of railway lines and a bridge, combat against the Germans and gave training in the use of weapons parachuted to the group they were with, la Brigade Rac.

I am now working with Sgt. H Blackett's family along with André Berland - author and historian who lives near the crash site at Pressignac who with Richard Rose has made a fair bit of research already. Together we are researching the whole story of the seven man crew (LL183) made up of three Englishmen and four Canadians. Three of the crew, Sgt. Harold Blackett, Sgt. Edward Jones and F/O Richard Charles Evans "Dick", had been looked after by the Resistance in the North Dordogne and returned to England in September 1944, two crew members, F/O A. Alfred Stanley Coldridge "Stan" and F/O Harry Delbert Medland, met the Resistance near Pressignac and managed to get back to England via Paris and then over the Pyrenees through Spain down to Gibraltar. One of the crew, F/O Donald Alexander Lennie "Don", had managed to be picked up by the Resistance, but while with them he had been caught by the Germans in an ambush. He ended up in a prison at Toulouse where he was subjected to torture. A few days before his execution the Resistance liberated the town and he was freed. A final crew member, Sgt. Robert Clarke, who was injured on landing was picked up by the local Gendarmerie and handed over to the Germans and made a Prisoner of War. He survived the camps and returned home at the end of the war.

Sgt H. Blackett and Sgt. E. Jones were lucky to come across a Maquis HQ after three nights of walking South from Rochechouart. Sgt. Blackett had injured his hip on landing so going was slow. That third night, around 13th/14th May, they came across three farmhouses positioned as a triangle which shared a well. They had not eaten for three days so were contemplating which house to go to for help when a young girl in her late teens came out to the well. Her name was Janine or Jeannine. She saw the airmen and they explained they were English, she told them to stay there. She returned with her Father and the airmen were taken into the farmhouse. The airmen were interrogated by the Maquis at the house as they were suspected to have been a trap set by the Germans. On finding a recent bus ticket in Sgt Blackett's pocket, they checked with London via radio who confirmed it was real.

It's hard to know the exact location of this Maquis HQ but I believe it is on the outskirts of Châlus in the Haute-Vienne, possibly the farmhouse of the Legay family. Augustin "Max" Legay and his two sons Pierre and Jean were all part of the local maquis. The airmen stayed there the night and were taken to a Maquis camp the following day close to Cussac where some of Augustin Legay's men were camped. Three days later they were with the maquis at Châlus. Sgt. Blackett considers the girl who found them at the well as their saviour, so much so that after the war he named his first daughter after her. Any information on this part of our research would be gratefully received. 

On 26th August the airmen were in contact with Jacques Poirier "Captain Jack" and Jedburgh team Ian who organised their return (by Lysander it is believed) from the airfield at Feytiat near Limoges arriving back at Tempsford.

After the war Sgt. Harold Blackett kept in contact with Albert Giry who had been in Haute-Vienne Maquis situated in the forêt de Dournazac - Cussac to the east of Châlus.

(Source : Wikimedia)

If you have any info on the crew of the Halifax MA-W, who were part of the 138th squadron based at Tempsford or their time with the Resistance in the Dordogne and the Haute-Vienne in the summer of 1944 please contact me at resistance.sudouest@gmail.com I look forward to hearing from you and will be posting their stories in the months to come. I will be at Saint-Saud again on 7th, 8th and 9th October 2O18 and looking forward to meet again some of the families of members of the Brigade Rac who were based at Saint-Saud.