Blue plaque honour for wartime spy Forest Frederic Edward Yeo-Thomas

The life of a spy whose achievements are the stuff of fiction is to be celebrated today.

Forest Frederic Edward Yeo-Thomas, 62, was the first secret agent of the Second World War to receive the George Cross.

In 1920 he was captured by the Russians while fighting for the Poles and only managed to escape by strangling his guard.

On a secret mission in France during the Second World War he evaded capture by the Nazis by hiding in a hearse.

In 1944 the RAF fighter command officer, codenamed The White Rabbit, was captured by the Gestapo and tortured before being held at the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp.

Today an English Heritage blue plaque will be unveiled at Queen Court, Guildford Street, in Camden, London, where he lived with his wife Barbara.

Speaking at the mid-day unveiling will be Dr Celina Fox, vice chairman of the English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel and Mark Seaman, historian and writer of Yeo Thomas's biography, The Bravest Of The Brave.

Squadron Leader Lee Roberts will speak on behalf of the RAF and Yeo-Thomas's niece, Carol Green, will unveil the plaque.

The spy is recognised by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as 'among the most outstanding workers behind enemy lines whom Britain produced'.

He is the first secret agent to be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque.

After completing his education, undertaken in France, where he grew up, and in England, Yeo-Thomas joined the Allied armies in the First World War.

It was during this time he was captured by the Russians but killed his guard and fled.

In 1939, Yeo-Thomas joined the RAF.

This was also the year that he met Barbara Dean, with whom he would come to share the flat at Queen Court, from the date she acquired it in 1941 and then throughout the rest of the war years.

After completing more than two years in the RAF, including work as an intelligence officer in Fighter Command, Yeo-Thomas wanted a more active part in the war and wanted to help liberate France.

In 1942 he joined the ranks of the Special Operations Executive, acting as a liaison officer between SOE and General de Gaulle's Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action.

In 1943 he dropped by parachute into France.

A second mission to France later that year saw Yeo-Thomas organising and planning strategy with underground group leaders, investigating the Maquis's urgent need for supplies and avoiding capture concealed inside a hearse.

He reported back directly to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, on his return to London, and ensured an increase in weapons and supplies for the resistance in France.

In February 1944, Yeo-Thomas left Queen Court on his third mission to France - his hardest.

One month later he was betrayed and captured by the Gestapo.

He was subjected to long periods of interrogation, torture and imprisonment in France before being deported to Buchenwald.

He avoided execution and survived other Nazi camps before finally escaping and reaching the US lines as the war ended.

In 1945 his dream of returning home to his wife was realised.

For his exceptional courage, Yeo-Thomas was awarded the George Cross, the Military Cross and bar, the Croix de Guerre, the Polish cross of merit, and was made a commander of the Legion d'honneur.

After helping to bring to trial several Nazi war criminals, he returned to work - of all things - in a Paris fashion house in 1946 and in 1950 joined the Federation of British Industries as its representative in France, a position he held until his death in 1964.

His biographer said: "His story is more extraordinary than any fiction dreamed up by a novelist or filmed by Hollywood. As the title of his biography states, he was the 'Bravest of the Brave'."

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