One of my favourite pastimes as I drive around London, is looking up at the Blue Plaques that adorn various buildings around the capital. So many familiar names are celebrated by these blue plaques and it’s fun to imagine these famous people going about their everyday business at these places.
However, this particular Blue Plaque located just off Russell Square, is of a less well-known figure and has constantly intrigued me, as I have always been fascinated by secret agents.
Wing Commander Yeo Thomas’s story is even more dramatic than James Bond himself and apparently helped form the inspiration for the writer Ian Fleming, who recreated many of Thomas’s real life experiences in the Bond novels.
Yeo Thomas was a British agent in the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War and while the British codename for him was ‘Seahorse’, the Gestapo’s code name for him was ‘THE WHITE RABBIT’.
He was parachuted into occupied France in 1943 and for the next eighteen months he was responsible for organising all the separate factions of the French Resistance into one combined ‘secret army’. On three separate missions into occupied France he met with the heads of Resistance movements all over the country and was granted a private meeting with Winston Churchill, who apparently was fascinated by the daring Thomas, in order to ensure the French resistance were properly supplied. He was sent again to France in 1944 but was betrayed and captured by the Germans in Paris. His capture by the dreaded Gestapo in March 1944 was a terrible blow for the Resistance movement. For months he was submitted to the most horrific torture in an attempt to get him to spill his unparalleled knowledge of the Resistance, but he refused to crack. While he was being held he made two unsuccesful attempts to escape. Finally he was sentenced to death, and sent to Buchenwald, one of the most infamous German concentration camps. but still managed to escape. He was recaptured, sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp but managed to escape again. He was caught, but passing himself of as a French national, was sent to a Prisoner of War Camp instead, where he eventually succeeded in escaping, making it back to allied lines in 1945
‘The White Rabbit’ was a dashing secret agent and a constant thorn in the Germans side, who surrounded himself with beautiful women while ruthlessly despatching his enemies in a series of swashbuckling adventures. In one daring mission and under one of his many disguises, he even managed to dine with top Nazis in order to glean information from them. After the war he settled in Paris and his extraordinary exploits were made into a book by Bruce Marshall in 1952.