The ceremonial Flag of St. George had hung on the north wall of the chancel of
St. Patrick’s Church, Barking for sixty years or more. All that was known was
that it was given by Mrs. Philo in memory of her son who had been killed in
action in World War II. Recently it was replaced by a banner of no
particular interest using the mounting and also using the bottom half of the
flagpole on which to hang it, the St. George’s flag being consigned to the wall
of the south aisle of the nave.
Following the redecoration of the church the flag was not re-hung. An
“the restoration of the banner of St. George given by a mother in memory of her
son who died, as so many sons, daughters, husbands, fathers, brothers and
sisters did in WWII, to preserve our freedom, to its original position
[on the wall of the chancel] as a token of respect to Mrs. Philo’s son and all
those who gave up their tomorrow for our today”
was rejected by the church committee who decided that the flag was beyond
repair but to be kept under the communion table.
Arising from this an approach was made for an explanatory piece to be written
to be enclosed with the flag and I am grateful to the churchwardens for providing
me with the opportunity to undertake the task. Little dreamt I what was
about to be uncovered.
Having very little information to impart, I contacted the local library and
they put me in touch with Ms. Linda Rhodes (Local Studies Librarian), to
whom I am deeply indebted, who discovered a substantial amount of information
concerning the son on the internet and provided leads to persons who might
provide details of his early life. To date, evidence indicates that the son’s
name was Stanley James Verse Philo, his home was in Wedderburn Road, he
was probably educated locally, volunteered for active service, serving in the
R.A.F.V.R., shot down over France when he was aged 20 and escaped back to
England. He was killed in action on the 3 April 1945 aged 22, and is
interred in Cambridge City Cemetery.
The following article, which provides a poignant record of his bale out over
France and his escape to England, discovered by Ms. Rhodes on the internet, is
reproduced here by the gracious permission of the author, Mr. Derek
Richardson. I also thank Mr. Keith Janes for his permission to print the
article with annotations as it appeared in the Conscript Heroes website, by
which I was made aware of this precious slice of history that is embodied
in the flag possessed by St. Patrick’s Church.
This article written by Derek Richardson and published in ELMS Newsletter of
Spring 2004 is reproduced here courtesy of the author with a few notes in
square brackets added by the editor for the benefit of visitors to this site.
NEWS OF RICHARD PHILO
By Derek Richardson (0052)
Lancaster III No LM337 EA-V of 49 Squadron Bomber Command RAF was hit by flak
returning from bombing Milan on the night of 15-16 August 1943. Five of the
crew lost their lives but Sergeant C H Witheridge (navigator) and Sergeant S J
V Philo (bomb-aimer) baled out, landing uninjured near the small town of
Verneuil-sur-Avre (Eure) in northern France around 0245 hours on the morning of
16 August. The two survivors went their separate ways. [Sgt Witheridge was
brought out by the Belgian Comète escape line]
20 year old Stanley Philo from Barking in Essex, who spoke no French, headed
south on foot, reaching the village of Senoches (Eure-et-Loir) the next day.
Here he was befriended by the Helleux family – themselves refugees from La
Garenne-Colombes near Paris –who looked after him for five days. They
knew of no escape organisation but during those five days they found him some
civilian clothing and, using a photograph which Philo himself was able to
supply, obtained a forged identity card bearing the words “sourd-muet”
(deaf and dumb). Monsieur Helleux also procured forged ration cards for bread
and meat and a map of the railway route between there and the Pyrenees on which
he had marked all the places that were considered dangerous. Finally,
Madame Helleux provided Stanley with enough food to last him for the five days
they thought it would take him to reach the frontier.
It did not work out like that, however. Philo left Senonches on 23 August
and arrived four days later at a village about 5 kilometres north of
Azay-le-Ferron (Indre) where he was put in contact with an escape organisation.
They kept him there for eight weeks, but eventually he and three other escapers
[Sgt P Bakalarski (shot down off the Danish coast after a raid on Hamburg
in July 1942) and Sgt W Ragnis (shot down off Brest in August 1942) both 300
Sqn, and a New Zealander known as Geoffrey Marston who had been captured on
Crete. All three had escaped (separately) from Stalag VIII-B (Lamsdorf)
in Poland] and two guides completed their journey to the Pyrenees and began the
difficult ascent. Tragically, Geoffrey Marston* (who was much older than the
others) collapsed and died on the climb and they had to leave his body in the
shelter of some rocks. The rest entered Andorra on 26 October 1943. Philo
spent the next five days in hospital in the town of Andorra being treated for
frostbite, after which the British Embassy in Madrid organised his passage to
Gibraltar. He was repatriated by air to Lyneham on 16 November, three
months to the day after the start of his misadventure.
But that is not the whole story. Madame Helleux, realising how distressed
Stanley’s mother must have felt on being informed that her son's aircraft was
lost, decided to try and contact her by letter and pass on the news that her
boy was still alive. Now, there was of
* Thanks to Oliver Glutton-Brock (see his new book about RAF evaders to be
published in 2009) I now know that ‘Geoffrey Marston’ was in fact DVD
Frederick Geoffrey Williamson RNZASC and that he died, two days before his
thirty-ninth birthday, near the Pic de Rulhe. In 2008 I was with an ELMS party
that remembered Dvr Williamson, along with three US airmen who also died
in the Pyrenees that same day, by placing ELMS crosses on the Andorran border
in their honour.
course no postal service between France and Britain except prisoner- of-war
mail through the International Red Cross. Nevertheless, Madame Helleux
sought to multiply her chances of success by writing several such letters and
posting them in different places in the hope that one of them might get
through. Miraculously, one of them did. This is what it said:
“Le 26 août 1943. Votre fils se trouvait sur la route X le lundi 23 août.
Il était en bon sante, sain et sauf. Il se dirigeait vers X sur le chemin du
retour avec des provisions pour quelques jours. J’ai l’espoir que cette letter
arrivera á destination car c’est pour assure une mere sur le sort de sons
fils que j’envoi cette letter.”
Translation: 26 August 1943. Your son was on the road to X on Monday 23 August.
He was in good health, safe and sound. He was headed towards X on his
return journey with provisions for a few days. I hope this letter reaches its
destination for it is to reassure a mother about the fate of her son that I am
sending this letter.
The envelope containing this letter was addressed to Mistress Stanley
Philo, 90 Wedderburn Road, Barking, Essex, Angleterre, was stamped at the
correct foreign letter rate of 4 francs and was postmarked COURBEVOIE SEINE
AOUT 43. It was opened and resealed by both German and British censors.
On both sides of the letter there are conspicuous vertical blue bands
about 6 mm wide. These show where the German censor applied a chemical which
would have detected the presence of anything written in invisible ink. Of
course, the German censor should never have passed this letter for
transmission in view of its revealing contents. We can only guess that he was
touched by the sentiment of the final sentence and routed the letter through
Red Cross channels.
After his return, Sergeant Philo joined 196 Squadron, Bomber Command.
1319259 WO Stanley James Verse Philo was killed in action on 3 April 1945.
W R Chorley, R.A.F. Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, Volume 4,
Aircraft and Crew Losses, 1943 (HMSO)
Public Record Office (now National Archives) WO 208/3316 Report M.I.9/S/P.G.
(-) 1580. (Philo escape report.)
Claude Jamet, “L’extraordinaire et mysterieuse odyssée d’une letter à travers
les lignes” in L’Echo de la Timbrologie no. 1672, Amiens, February 1995. [A
photocopy of this article, in which the censored envelope and the letter
itself are illustrated, is held by the editor]
Following the initial posting of this article, I received a fuller version of
Stanley Philo’s story, firstly from Andrew Worby, son of evader Jack
Worby (Jack’s wife Kay was a friend of Stan’s and still is a friend of Stan’s
sister Joan) and then from Stan Philo’s nephew, Tony Harris. Rather than the
usual MI9 debrief, this is in the form of a Statement. Tony also sent me
the covering letter that the Air Ministry sent to Stan’s mother in July 1945
which contains further details of Stan’s helpers. I have used this information to
add the following detail to Stan’s escape story.
Although Stan [as Marcel Bernard] cycled the first few kilometres from
Senoches, he then walked some 200 kms from Champrond-en-Gatine to Azay-leFerron
in five days – passing the (later to become famous) Foret de Freteval on his
second day and Blois the next.
According to the covering letter, Stan was then sheltered at (or near) Azay, by
M Generchon at the Chateau la Bousee, by the Postmaster at Azay and by Mme
Shields, widow of an American. Then there was Marie-Claire at the Hotel
de France in Russec (sic). This was Mary Lindell, the English born Comptess de
Milleville, and her Marie-Claire escape organisation based at Ruffec. She is
well known for helping Major James Windsor-Lewis in 1940, and most famously,
Major Blondie Haslar and Marine Bill Sparks, sole survivors of the
Operation Frankton ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ canoe raid on Bordeaux in December
1942. We already know of several other evaders that Marie-Claire helped and now
it seems we can add Driver Frederick Geoffrey Williamson RNZASC and RAF
Sergeants Stanley Philo, Bakalarski and Raginis to that list.
PS The reference to ELMS at the head of the article, and again in the footnote
on page 6, I was informed by the editor, is explained at www.escapelines.com
Editor’s Note: Bill’s poignant article moved me so much I determined that I
would try and find out a little more about Stanley Philo’s family
background and also how our valiant Barking hero died.
Stanley’s father, Joseph Stanley Philo, was born in Poplar on 20 May 1885. He
died on 10 September 1967 and was buried, aged 82, in Rippleside
Cemetery. Stanley’s mother, Mary Ann Crouch, was born on 8 July 1884. She
died, aged 92, on 25 August 1976 and was also buried in Rippleside Cemetery
(plot D 1530). His parents married in 1907 in Poplar. Their children, Stanley’s
siblings, included Maud Alice Philo (born Poplar 1907); Doris Josephine
Philo (born Poplar 1912); Joan Victoria Philo (born Barking 1919) and Stanley
Joseph Philo (born Barking 1922).
Details of Stanley’s heroic death may be found on the internet at
www.airmen.dk/rebildn.htm as follows. A Stirling MK IV LK 193 left Shepherd’s
Grove Air Base, near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, on 2 April 1945, at 22.30 hrs
on operation SOE Tablejam 260, with containers to be dropped in Denmark for the
Danish Resistance Movement. The aircraft crashed into the sea between
Cromer and Sherringham, Norfolk, at 22.50 hrs. It is not known if the crash was
due to a technical defect. The whole crew died, apart from Flight Sergeant
Bennett, who succumbed to his terrible injuries on 2 June 1945. It is
assumed the rest of the crew perished on 3 April 1945.
Stanley Philo’s name (unfortunately spelled Philow) appears on a bronze plaque
on the Aviator Stone Memorial at Rebild, Denmark. Flowers are laid at the
memorial on May 5th, the day World War II ended in Denmark and on 4 July to mark
the Rebild celebrations.