The best books about escaping from occupied France during WW2

Anne-Marie Walters Author Of Moondrop to Gascony
By Anne-Marie Walters

The Books I Picked & Why

Cruel Crossing: Escaping Hitler Across the Pyrenees

By Edward Stourton

Cruel Crossing: Escaping Hitler Across the Pyrenees

Why this book?

During WW2 members of the Resistance guided Allied service personnel -- and others, including compromised agents, resisters, and Jews -- escaping from occupied France along what were known as escape or evasion lines, the majority leading over the Pyrenees to safety. In this book, BBC broadcaster Edward Stourton walks one of those ‘cruel crossings’, the Chemin de la Liberté, while at the same time telling the stories of those escaping and the courageous men and women who helped them, drawing on interviews with some of the last remaining survivors. It makes for compelling reading.


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They Came from Burgundy: A study of the Bourgogne Escape Line

By Keith Janes

They Came from Burgundy: A study of the Bourgogne Escape Line

Why this book?

Keith Janes’ book is 480 pages of solid fact! He sheds light on one of the less well-known -- but most successful -- of the escape and evasion lines running through France to Spain. More than 300 Allied service personnel (including over 150 American aircrew) were seen safely south to freedom, and Janes records them all, alongside details of the hundreds of people who helped them and what happened to them. Meticulously researched, following his discovery of an account of his own father’s escape from France after Dunkerque, the book provides an invaluable historical record containing much hitherto unpublished material.


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Ticket to Freedom

By H. J. Spiller

Ticket to Freedom

Why this book?

A gripping personal account of an airman’s adventurous escape through France and over the Pyrenees. After Herbert Spiller’s Halifax bomber crash-landed to the east of Paris in October 1942, he had the good luck to be helped by the priest and abbot of St-Dizier. They saw him safely on to a train to Paris, where he was taken under the wing of the Comet escape line and then passed south down the line and eventually over the Pyrenees … sometimes at a high cost. Several of the French people who assisted him later died either by execution or in the concentration camps. “You can imagine ... the sense of debt that hangs over me when I ponder on the fact that nine people died through helping me to live and return to duty,” Spiller writes, dedicating his book to all those who risked their lives to help him.


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Secret Flotillas: Vol. I: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944

By Brooks Richards

Secret Flotillas: Vol. I: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944

Why this book?

A detailed and authoritative account of the vitally important secret naval operations mounted to rescue Allied service personnel and also ferry secret agents to and from occupied France. Recognised as the official historian of the ‘secret flotillas’, as a Royal Navy officer Brooks Richards took part in many of these operations and thus vividly describes the hazardous voyages, often in small fishing vessels under cover of darkness and well before the days of GPS and other modern navigation tools. In addition to his own wartime experiences, Brooks Richards’ account is informed by extensive personal research, including access to what were then (and some still are) closed government archives.


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RAF Evaders: The Complete Story of RAF Escapees and Their Escape Lines, Western Europe, 1940-1945

By Oliver Clutton-Brock

RAF Evaders: The Complete Story of RAF Escapees and Their Escape Lines, Western Europe, 1940-1945

Why this book?

This book provides one of the most detailed accounts of the many escape routes (and their ‘passengers’) from France -- by land, sea or air. It is a mine of information, including biographies of the key people involved and invaluable listings of over 2000 of the more than 4000 evaders identified by Airey Neave of MI9. Of these, 3000 were airmen (including many Americans). But it is also eminently readable, combining historical background with stories of the individuals who made the perilous journey, some of the details being published here for the first time.


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