Basil Le Brun and Roger Lerouille's escape

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Basil Le Brun and Roger Lerouille with the dinghy they used to escape

One of the earliest escapes by boat from Jersey in 1944 was by Basil Le Brun and his friend Roger Lerouille - a French marine architect, an employee of a company working for the Germans, but also in reality, and unbeknown to anyone, a member of the French resistance. Basil was typical of many young men who, after four years of Occupation, was, in his own words, 'fed up and itching to get into the action'.

Dinghy loaded with German assistance

Together with another Frenchman, a barge skipper whose name they never learned, they lifted a 9-foot dinghy from St Helier Harbour and stored it overnight in Le Sueur's store on Commercial Buildings, transporting it there on a cart using a false permit obtained by Roger, which convinced a German to the extent that he even helped to load the boat on to the cart.

Great caution was needed because three of Basil's contemporaries - Frank Killer and two companions - had just been apprehended by the Germans after their unsuccessful escape attempt. The following day the boat was taken to Le Coin, La Rocque, the intended departure point, but, upon advice from other locals aware of the plan, the trio were advised that a far safer embarkation point would be at Belair.

Basil Le Brun

Another of Basil's contemporaries, Bertram Payn, agreed to move the boat in his horse-drawn cart. The engine was carried on a bicycle trailer by another volunteer.

As it was considered too risky to use the main coast road, Bertram and a fellow helper set out through the country lanes to the embarcation point. A tarpaulin covering was not large enough to cover the boat completely, and the boat was plainly visible. Nearing Belair they suddenly met two Germans soldiers walking in the road towards them. A few breathless moments followed but they were not challenged and continued on their way, being joined shortly afterwards by the trailer-borne engine.

The Fauvic Embarkation Point system swung into action, unloading the boat and stores and generally assisting the three escapers to load and launch the boat. Basil had with him his College OTC kitbag containing a change of clothes and two English £5 notes, one concealed in each sock.

At approximately 10 pm on 21 September, on a high tide, the three set off. Bertram Payn recalled the final moments before departure. Some women were with them, and one of the Frenchmen became somewhat indignant at the time being taken to say farewells, swearing in French and grumbling 'This is no time for kissing. We ought to be off, otherwise we'll be caught.'

Happily, such fears were not realised, and the actual crossing was uneventful - if any such venture as this could be so described. Suffice to say the trio reached the Carteret area where they were picked up by some French fishermen and escorted ashore at about 6 am. Here they enjoyed a hearty breakfast with a French family before re-embarking in their boat and rowing down the coast to the American garrison at Coutainville.

Basil kept in touch with Roger over the years and in 1985, at the time of a reunion of escapees, Roger returned to the Island to enjoy the festivities, which included a row in the actual boat used in the escape. This craft can be seen on display at the Underground Hospital at St Peter. Roger Lerouille was decorated by his country for his work in the French resistance.

Lerouille's resistance work

As a schoolboy in Caen, Roger Lerouille was already involving himself in minor acts of disrespect for the German authorities in France and generally making a nuisance of himself to them. In 1942 he realised that more and more hostages were being taken in reprisal for sabotage by the French Resistance. In order to protect both himself and his relations, he decided to leave the Caen area and, having seen a notice asking for personnel in the building industry and civil servants to work in Jersey. he applied and was accepted.

On arrival in Jersey he was surprised to find that he was under a four-month contract to work for the Germans.

At the end of his contract he had to return to Caen, but he then managed to get a job with a French company that was responsible for servicing all the cranes in St Helier Harbour. Feeling happy here and relatively safe, he was at first reluctant to accept an invitation to attend the birthday of the daughter of a friend in Caen, suspecting that there was something behind the invitation.

He was put in touch with a stranger who asked him to enter on a map all the information he might have concerning the Occupation, the fortifications, the defences and anything he knew about Jersey. That was the beginning of many months in which he, together with Jersey friends, cycled all oyer the Island gleaning information.

While at work he hid a camera in the golf trousers he wore and managed to take photographs when he was high up in the cranes. He became responsible for maintaining the supply of bottled oxygen in the Island, which required him to make regular trips to and from France, and on each occasion he smuggled over information. Papers and photographs were hidden in the inner tube of his bicycle, later in the frame under the saddle then, on one occasion, inside the gas cylinders he was taking to be recharged.

The resistance network around Caen was broken up during the winter of 1944 and not only was Roger unable to pass on the information he was still gathering hut he feared that he might be traced to Jersey by the German authorities in France. He eventually made contact with the man responsible for maintenance of the buoys and beacons outside the Harbour who had access to a 7-foot tender. From then on he became a member of the three-man team that passed through the Fauvic Embarkation Point. The final stages of the actual escape are described below.

Roger Lerouille

The escape

"One final effort to get the boat across the road and we only had a low dyke to get over before we were able to load the equipment: a bag of food, a change of clothing, a back-up sail made from a tent and sewn by Molly Jenne, a torch, a battery, a compass and a bottle or champagne.

"Then it was time to say our last goodbycs to our girlfriends who had come to bid us farewell, and we headed out to sea at nightfall.

"We left well before the moon rose, as we had to be at least three miles offshore by the time it would appear.

"The lights on Mont Orgueil Castle showed us which direction not to take. Up to now, everything had gone smoothly, and we had respected and kept to the different phases and deadlines of our project. We now had to move away from the coast in silence. We rowed energetically out to sea, conscious that, if we were caught, my French companion and I would be shot and our Jersey friend would be imprisoned.

"We had to make good speed, one at the tiller and the two others manning the oars, because the launch which sometimes patrolled between Mont Orgueil and St Helier could have caught us easily if we were on her route. I broke an oar because I was pulling so hard. Fortunately, there was a spare, but only one.

"A force three easterly wind and the choppy sea it raised didn't help us. As soon as I reckoned that we had gone well past the rocky plateau of La Rocque, judging by the lights on the coast, I started the outboard motor, hoping that we could not be heard from the coast. It started first pull, but was too powerful for our little, overcrowded boat, and the water poured over the gunwhales. Our speed, combined with the choppy waves, resulted in 15 centimetres of water pouring into the bottom of the boat in the space of a few moments, drenching our luggage, including the lamp, which I salvaged immediately from the water.

"The silence of the stopped motor relieved us, worried as we were that the noise it made could be heard ashore.

"We lost no time throwing our luggage overboard, along with the mast and the sail, which were useless in a headwind. We took turns bailing with the only bucket. The light of the moon allowed me to dry the torch, and we took to the oars. From time to time, when a cloud hid the moon, I shone the torch on the compass for a few seconds, to make sure we were still heading to the south cast. The torchlight was very dim, due to its having been soaked. We held this course with a margin of safety to compensate for the currents that would carry us on to the Ecrehous rocks.

"To economise the torch, we steered by the moon, which was waning, bearing in mind its movement from east to west. The currents had reduced the waves, and there was a lot of seaweed in the murky water. We got into a routine. We knew that this uncomfortable situation was going to last, and that we were probably going to have to row until morning, and so we took turns at the tiller.

"Around four in the moming, after six hours of navigation, the currents reversed as I had foreseen, pulling us away from the dangers of the Ecrehous shoals and carrying us down the French coast towards Mont Saint Michel.

"About five in the morning, the turbulence in the water and the seaweed carried by the currents prompted me to surmise that we were above a rocky plateau, and I reckoned we were above the Chaussee aux Boeufs, or Pirou.

"With the dawn, the east wind fell, and the sea became calm. We could make out a lighthouse about one kilometre away to the north. Basil, who knew the Channel Islands well, assured me that that type of lighthouse was not to be found in the Channel Islands. As we approached cautiously, boats at anchor appeared through the light mist, then the sandy coast was unveiled. We were in France.

"As a precaution, Basil tied a Union Jack to the end of an oar, which he stepped in the mast's place. A house roof appeared above the dunes. There was no one in sight.

"Around 7.30, aching all over, after 11 hours of rowing, we stepped onto dry land and drank the champagne so preciously saved aboard, our elation fired by the fact that we had neither drunk nor eaten since the day before.

"After having pulled the boat up on the beach, we made for the partly-hidden house, where a woman lived alone.

"She made us a good breakfast of ham and fried eggs. When we returned to the beach the fishermen of Gouville, the nearest village, took photographs of us with them. They told us that a group of Jerseymen had arrived ncar Coutainville, some six kilometres to the south, and we used the outboard motor to take us there during the afternoon.

"Our craft was still flying the Union Jack when we were received by some Americans, who took us to their headquarters and questioned us. Basil wanted to know the names of the Jerseymen who had escaped on 20 September, and confirmed that they were part of the same group as his friend, Frank Killer, who had been less fortunate than we had.

"After questioning us briefly, the Americans took us to Granville, where they left us, the other Frenchman and myself in the main police station, and Basil with the British authorities.

"When I was questioned that evening. I contented myself with replying that I belonged to an intelligence group in Caen, citing the names Delamare and Chateau, the only two people in the network whose names I knew. I kept my information on the situation in Jersey for the British authorities.

"I had someone bring us a meal from a restaurant to the superintendent's office and we spent our first night in France in the police station garage, surrounded by others, of which some were collaborators. After two nights without sleep, I slept soundly through the noisy discussions. The next morning we were released. After an exchange of addresses over a parting drink in a cafe, the French seaman set off in one direction, and I in another. We never saw each other again. "

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