There are approximately 888 English Heritage blue plaques scattered across London, marking where famous people have lived and worked, intended to "celebrate the architecture of London's streets and the diversity and achievements of its past residents."
I've noticed them all over the place, generally referencing people I've never heard of, occasionally some I have. And yesterday morning, on my longer-than-usual walk to work, one in particular caught my eye:
"WING COMMANDER F.F.E. YEO-THOMAS GC
'The White Rabbit'
'What's this?' I asked myself. 'Could it be...mystery? Intrigue? Perhaps even a quest?!?'
Yes, while I've never heard of F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas, there are few things I love more than delving into a good quest. So today, I'm delving. Watch me delve!
I found some fairly-detailed tidbits on his Wikipedia page:
- F.F.E. stood for Forest Frederick Edward, though he went by "Tommy" (which I found incomprehensibly hilarious until I realized it's undoubtedly in reference to his surname).
- He moved to France with his family early in his life, allowing him to pass as a French national on several occasions while spying within Occupied France during the Second World War.
- He personally convinced Winston Churchill to provide resources to French resistance movements.
- In March 1944, he was betrayed, brutally tortured by the Gestapo, sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, as well as to Stalag prisoner-of-war camp, before repeatedly escaping and finally reaching allied lines in April 1945. He never named names or gave up any secrets.
- He survived the war and was a key witness at the Nuremberg War Trials in the identification of Buchenwald officials.
- After the war, he went to work - of all places - at a Paris fashion house.
The 'GC' on the blue plaque means he was awarded the George Cross, the second-highest honor in the United Kingdom (second only to the Victoria Cross), and the highest award for civilians.
What was missing from Wikipedia was why he was codenamed 'The White Rabbit.' And so I delved on.
The Telegraph provided a fascinating side story: Yeo-Thomas was the inspiration for James Bond. Damn straight. Ian Fleming - who also worked for British intelligence during the war - even wrote a memo about good old Tommy. Not to mention the parallels about him being a bit of a ladies' man.
...I suppose "Bond. James Bond." does roll off the tongue a bit more easily than "Yeo-Thomas. Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas." But I digress.
A Daily Mail article describes the 2010 unveiling of his blue plaque at the Bloomsbury home he shared with his common-law wife Barbara starting in 1941. He was actually still married to his legal wife, Lillian---scaaaaaaandal!
I never did find a source that stated conclusively why the Germans codenamed him The White Rabbit. It's the title of both a miniseries and a book based on his exploits. I suppose - much like the white rabbit from Lewis Carroll's Wonderland - he'd sometimes simply, mysteriously disappear into the underground.
I'm glad to see him recognized. You never know what a blue plaque might teach you about history, and heroes.