LEST WE FORGET

During World War II the majority of RAF Evaders made their escape or passed through France on their way from Germany and Occupied countries, heading for the coasts in an attempt to return to England.

Many did so via the escape routes of the Pyrenees and Spain. All over France thousands of French men and women were actively involved assisting the RAF forces, often operating singly but usually as members of a resistance group.

Many such clandestine organisations flourished and the Union Nationale des Evades de Guerre (UNEG) is an association of French men and French women who risked their lives to give assistance to escaping prisoners or evaders of any Allied nationality, or who themselves evaded the occupation forces to join the Allied Fighting Forces.

The Comet Line was one such escape route which took allied prisoners from France and Belgium to Bayonne and then across the Pyrenees into Spain.

The Comet Line rescued 770 aircrew and in doing so lost 216 of their members who were shot or died in concentration camps. At least another 700 were arrested and held in prison camps until Liberation.

Wing Commander Basil EmbryOne of the first great RAF evaders of World War II was Wing Commander Basil Embry who was shot down during a bombing raid on advancing German forces in 1940.

Taken prisoner he escaped from a POW column, rolling into a ditch when he saw a road sign for Embry as a good omen.

From then on his efforts to escape are legendary.

He walked or cycled the length and breadth of France keeping just ahead of the advancing Germans.

Eventually arriving in the Pyrenees Orientales he first tried unsuccessfully to escape from Port Vendres. He was later smuggled across the frontier checkpoint at  Le Perthus in the boot of a car.

During his escape he killed four German soldiers who had picked him up wearing civilian clothes and threatened to shoot him as a spy.

On  returning to England he had to fly under the assumed name of Wing Commander Smith as, under the terms of the Geneva Convention, had he been shot down again and his true identity discovered he would have been executed for the murder of the German soldiers.

He went on to organise the Mosquito Raid on the prison at Amiens where hundreds of French resistance fighters were imprisoned, tortured and shot.

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