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Elisabeth Barbier and the Oaktree Line
This story was prompted by a request in May 2011 for information about Elisabeth Barbier from her son Sean Campbell after he'd read my article about the OAKTREE line. I have concentrated on Elisabeth's contribution to the OAKTREE organisation but it should be noted that Elisabeth started her escape line work with COMETE and that following her arrest and the demise of OAKTREE in June 1943, most of the remaining OAKTREE evaders (and Ray Labrosse) were brought out of France by Georges Broussine's newly established BOURGOGNE organisation. The information comes from various sources including escaper reports and the Val Williams file held at NARA.
This page updated 21 Aug 2013
In 1943, Elisabeth Barbier was a thirty-one year divorcée living with her mother Camille at 72 rue Vaneau in Paris. She had been involved with resistance activities earlier in the war and in 1940, through Yvonne de Rossignal, had met Val Williams. She worked with Natacha Boeg, Jean Albert-Sorel and Tiphaine de Boisbussel collecting intelligence for the MITHRIDATE organisation to be sent to the BCRA in London but a visit from the German police in 1941 had curbed her activities.
In August 1942 Elisabeth met Robert Aylé (who lived nearby on rue Babylone) who introduced her to Frederick De Jongh and she became involved with the COMETE organisation, sheltering various evaders at her apartment and with friends like Natacha Boeg at rue de Saussure until the chaos of infiltrations and multiple arrests in early 1943.
When Val Williams arrived in Paris in March 1943 to establish contacts for the new OAKTREE escape line, he found that the Leveque family home at 19 Avenue d'Orleans (now Avenue du General Leclerc) had Gestapo seals on the door. He went to Yvonne de Rossignal who introduced him to Daniel de Thomas of MITHRIDATE who took him to Elisabeth's apartment.
The Leveque family had been the Paris connection for Georges Jouanjean and the PAT line in Brittany until their home had been raided on 4 March. Mme Marcelle Leveque and RAF evader Sgt Daniel C Young (Halifax W7885) were arrested but Armand Leveque and his daughter Andrée escaped. Andrée went to Etables-sur-Mer in Brittany where she later worked with Williams and radio operator Ray Labrosse on the OAKTREE line.
Val Williams says he appointed Elisabeth as his 'responsable' in Paris and it was through "her innumerable contacts" that he met (amongst others) Paul Maury, who had previously worked with Louis Nouveau, and Jean Albert Sorel, both of whom were sheltering evaders. It was through Jean Sorel (who also had connections with the PAT line) that Williams was able to send messages to London. Elisabeth also introduced Williams to Frederick de Jongh and Robert Aylé.
The first mention I have for Elisabeth actively working with the OAKTREE organisation is when she and Olga Pontremoli arrived in Crèvecoeur-le-Grand (Oise) on 2 May 1943 to collect F/O David E James (1317) Sgt W George Grove (1318) F/Sgt James A Smith (1319) Sgt James Hall (1320) and Sgt Reginald W Adams (1321) (all from Stirling BK653) from Dr Pezé and take them back to her apartment in Paris. After meeting Val Williams there, the five evaders were sent out to other hébergeurs (Comtesse Helene de Suzannet, Mme Lescure and Gaston Maillard) in the city. Four days later Williams, Elisabeth and Jacques Bonneron took the five men to St Brieuc and Etables in anticipation of them being evacuated by sea.
It was shortly after this that (on 7 May) the radio message "Denise ta soeur est morte" was heard over the BBC signifying that plans for evacuations from Brittany by MGB had been postponed indefinitely. This left Williams with the problem of how to get the evaders that he'd collected in Brittany, out of the country the only option being to move them out across the Pyrenees to Spain. The situation at Etables had become too crowded and dangerous so many of the evaders were moved to stay with one of Georges Jouanjean's contacts, the Comtesse Betty de Mauduit at the Chateau Bourblanc at Plourivo near Paimpol.
At about this time, two more important links were made : one of Elisabeth's friends, Mme Beatrice Bréauté (who had a shop at 26 rue Paradis) introduced Val Williams to M Bourgoin, a trafiquant who could arrange for the evaders' passage across the mountains from Pau at a cost of 20,000 francs per man, and Helene de Suzannet introduced Elisabeth to Gabrielle Wiame (aka Mme Marie at 46 rue Poliveau) who, in addition to sheltering evaders, had the contacts (via Marguerite Bohn Nageotte, who also sheltered evaders at 116 Boulevard Raspail) to arrange a parachute drop of money to her brother's farm for Williams to cover the organisation's expenses.
In Brittany, while many of the OAKTREE evaders were moved to the Chateau Bourblanc, two groups (including the five airmen from BK653) were brought to Paris on 12 and 13 May and sheltered by Elisabeth and her friends.
On 28 May, the first party of eleven OAKTREE evaders F/Lt Brian D Barker (1298) Sgt J H Barry (1299) S/Ldr Peter W LeFevre (1301) Sgt E R Turenne (1314) Sgt Richard Martin (1315) Sgt C E McDonald (1316) Sgt Reginald W Adams (1321) P/O B C Dennison (1325) F/Sgt Elmar L Bulman (1326) Sgt Douglas M Cox (1328) and Sgt George R Howard (1329) - left Paris for Pau and the Pyrenees.
Early on the morning of 31 May, Jean Camard and other helpers brought more evaders from Brittany including F/Sgt G L Spencer (1345) Sgt Harry Riley (1359) Abraham Kononenko (1455) T/Sgt Jack O Luehrs (#40) 1/Lt Robert E Biggs (#41) 2/Lt Robert E Kylius (#45) T/Sgt Claiborne W Wilson (#46) and S/Sgt Frank W Greene (#51). They were met at the station by Val Williams, Georges Jouanjean and Elisabeth and joined other OAKTREE evaders still in Paris including James (1317) Grove (1318) Smith (1319) and Hall (1320). They were taken by Jacques Bonneron and Jean Tremelin (who was travelling as an American named Gilbert Wright) on the train via Bordeaux and Dax to Pau and the Pyrenees.
Williams says that he wanted Ray Labrosse to accompany the next group of evaders taken to Pau but when B-17 42-29878 Lady Godiva crashed in the sea near their house in St Quay-Portieux on 29 May, Labrosse decided the priority was getting these latest airmen to safety. Consequently Williams himself took a group of four evaders south but was arrested on a train near Dax on 4 June. The news reached Paris next day ...
Following the news of Williams' arrest, Jacques Bonneron and Jean Camard were sent to Pau to see how much of the organisation had survived and whether they could still send evaders on that route.
Williams says that he had left instructions with Elisabeth in the event of him being caught because she was the only one in the group who knew where he had been staying in an apartment provided by Olga Pontremoli. Consequently it was Elisabeth and Olga who took charge of his affairs, including disposing of any incriminating evidence and dispersing funds to the other helpers.
On 5 June, Georges Jouanjean and Ray Labrosse arrived in Paris with a group of evaders brought from the Chateau Bourblanc. 1/Lt Edward J Spevak (#59) Sgt Allen M Fitzgerald (#60) 2/Lt Donald L Nichols (#75) S/Sgt Allen N Robinson (#103) (who had stayed seven weeks with Elisabeth earlier in the year) S/Sgt Marcus K Davis and S/Sgt Donald C Parks were taken to Elisabeth's apartment. Robinson was soon moved to stay with Lucien Demongodin at 18 rue Victor Hugo. Nichols stayed with Elisabeth for two days before he was moved to stay with Gabrielle Wiame. Spevak and Fitzgerald went to stay with Tiphaine Macdonald Lucas (Comtesse de Boisbussel) at 4 Avenue de Nancy, St Cloud for a week and then moved to 4 rue Nicolas Roret with Kitty (Hina Zipine) until their departure for the Pyrenees on 15 July. Davis and Parks remained with Elisabeth until 11 June when they moved to stay with Marguerite Bohn.
On 6 June, Jean Camard brought 1/Lt Theodore M Peterson (#69) T/Sgt John M Scott (#70) and Sgt William T Ayres to Paris. The three evaders from the Lady Godiva had been sheltered with Ray Labrosse and Andrée Leveque in St Quay Portrieux. They were met in Paris by Labrosse and Elisabeth and taken to Elisabeth's now crowded apartment. The evaders stayed overnight in a hotel, returning next day to be moved to stay at Henri Fiquemont's country house at Draveil. They stayed at Draveil until Elisabeth's arrest when they were moved to a sanatorium at nearby Champrosy whose address was not connected to Elisabeth.
This last address was abandoned on 4 July after Ayres left for no known reason and it was feared had been arrested. Peterson and Scott (and others) were taken across the Pyrenees to Andorra later that month by the BOURGOGNE organisation.
On 7 June, Frederick De Jongh, Robert Aylé and his wife Germaine were arrested whilst meeting a group of COMETE evaders at the Gare du Nord (brought from Lille to Paris by their new courier Jean Masson actually the Belgian traitor Jacques Désoubrie) and one of them had a list that included Elisabeth's name.
On 18 June, Elisabeth, her mother Camille and Natacha Boeg were arrested at Elisabeth's apartment.
Later that same day, Ray Labrosse and Georges Jouanjean came looking for Elisabeth. They telephoned in advance and were answered by a man saying that Elisabeth was ill but that they should come up anyway. Labrosse suspected a trap and refused to go but Jouanjean, who had escaped a similar situation at the Leveque apartment in March, went ahead and was the first to be caught in the souricière (mouse-trap) at 76 rue Vaneau.
Following Elisabeth's arrest, Helene de Suzannet moved Robinson (#103) to various addresses in Paris until the end of August when Lucienne Christine Bodin took him to Tarbes and Bagnères-de-Luchon to cross the Pyrenees.
On 20 June, Doctors André and Marguerite Bohn were arrested - along with USAAF evaders Marcus Davis and Donald Parks who had been moved from Elisabeth's apartment to 116 Boulevard Raspail just nine days earlier.
On their return from Pau on 20 June, Jacques Bonneron and Jean Camard were also caught in the souricière at Elisabeth's apartment and (I believe) there were others ...
La Comtesse Helene de Suzannet was arrested on 23 June and sent to Fresnes but released after six months on health grounds and kept under police surveillance until the Liberation.
Natasha Boeg, who was Danish by marriage, was released through lack of evidence, re-arrested and then released again on condition that she went to Denmark - a condition which she ignored ...
Elisabeth and her mother Camille were sent to Fresnes prison. In January 1944, Elisabeth was deported to Ravensbrück where she remained until liberated in April 1945.