Forest Frederic Edward Yeo-Thomas (1902–1964) is to be commemorated today (Wednesday 31 March at 12 noon) with an English Heritage blue plaque at Queen Court, Guilford Street, Camden, WC1, the home that he shared with Barbara Yeo-Thomas. Speaking at the unveiling will be Dr Celina Fox, Vice-Chair of the English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel and Mark Seaman, writer and historian. Aircrew from No. 47 Squadron based at RAF Lyneham will be in attendance and Squadron Leader Lee Roberts will speak on behalf of the RAF. Yeo-Thomas's niece, Carol Green, will unveil the plaque.
Recognised by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as 'among the most outstanding workers behind enemy lines whom Britain produced', Yeo-Thomas, notably the first secret agent of the Second World War to receive the George Cross, is the first secret agent to be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque.
After completing his education, which was undertaken in France, where he grew up, and in England, Yeo-Thomas joined the Allied armies in the First World War. While fighting with the Poles against the Russians in 1920, he was captured for the first time, only escaping execution by strangling a guard.
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 service in the RAF, including work as an intelligence officer in Fighter Command, Yeo-Thomas was eager to take a more active part in the war and help in the liberation of 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, and then 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, thereby ensuring a considerable increase in weapons and supplies for the resisters in France.
In February 1944, Yeo-Thomas left Queen Court on his third mission to France. This mission was to be his toughest yet, as one month later Yeo-Thomas 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 concentration camp. By a complex and dangerous scheme he avoided execution and survived a number of other Nazi camps before finally escaping and reaching the US lines as the war ended. Following these extraordinary events and his outstanding demonstration of bravery, Yeo-Thomas's dream of returning home to Barbara was realised in May 1945.
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 Légion d'honneur. After helping to bring to trial several Nazi war criminals, he returned to work in a Paris fashion house in 1946 and in 1950 joined the Federation of British Industries as their representative in France, a position he held until his death in 1964.
Yeo-Thomas is widely respected and remembered as a war hero for his bravery, military achievements and for carrying a remarkable total of three missions into occupied France. As his biographer, Mark Seaman 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'."