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Stanley Philo


“Lest we forget”
William Law

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 appeal for

“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.

William Law

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 ()

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.

Stanley Philo


  • 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 ---W.L.

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 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 5, the day World War II ended in Denmark and on 4 July to mark the Rebild celebrations

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