Close by Astley Hall is a specially designed garden made by Chorley born designer John Everiss. Depicting a hiding figure of a World War Two airman looking up at a stained glass window, it was entered in the Chelsea Flower Show in 2015 to great acclaim. Afterwards it was bought by Chorley Council and set up in Astley Park.
It is to commemorate all the escapees from France and the French civilians that risked their lives to help them during the conflict. Alongside is an interpretation board that tells the story of how John’s father Stan Everiss, shot down over France, escaped with the help of the French Resistance back to Britain.
On the 16th April 1943, Stan Everiss was navigating a Stirling bomber that was returning from a night raid on Manheim in Germany. Over France, the plane was attacked and set on fire forcing a crash landing. The pilot was able to land the plane, expertly guiding it between two cherry trees to remove both wings and the reserve fuel tanks and so avoid an explosion.
Stan was knocked out for a few hours by the impact. When he regained consciousness, he was found by members of the French Resistance in Chauny. At first they did not move him far from the crash site because of his spinal injuries, but hid him in a ditch. When they thought it was safe they put him in a wheelbarrow and took him to safety.
He was taken to a garage belonging to Pere Alfred Logeon. This doubled as the headquarters of the local resistance - L’organisation OCM secteur B1 (Aisne). The Logeon family would have faced torture and death if they had been found sheltering him. Over the next few weeks, they nursed him back to health to get him ready to flee the country.
Before Stan left to start to begin his journey on the escape line, he took a photograph of the crash site with his camera (SEE PHOTO ABOVE RIGHT). He then buried the camera along with his service watch. On 26th May he had recovered enough to start his journey. He travelled from Gare d’Austerlitz to Lyon using the ‘Comet’ escape line. This involved being hid in the water tender of a steam train, in near freezing water. He then had to cross the Pyrenees, but his first attempt was scuppered by a German patrol.
Stan reached Manresaon on 20th June and from there caught a local train to Barcelona. There a local guide took him to the British Consulate where he was given diplomatic immunity. He was then moved on to Gibraltar and finally repatriated on 27th June 1943. On returning to England, BBC radio sent a message back to his French helpers so that they knew he was safe. The broadcast said “The lilies bloom again”.
Of the seven original crew members, all but the pilot managed to evade capture. To read more on how they were hidden, given medical aid and smuggled out on escape lines see the webpage here (some of the page is in French, but the bulk is in English)
In 1947, Stan returned to the crash site and was able to find his camera and have the photograph of the crash site developed. He never fully recovered from his spinal injury, suffering pain all his life when he walked. Stan went on to be a zoologist and designed an animal management course used in zoos throughout the world. He would raise money until his death in 1996 for the RAF Escaping Society. This sends funds to former French Resistance members and their helpers in need of assistance.
Symbolism in The Evaders Garden
The fabric of the garden is made from reclaimed objects from Chorley Council depots. It uses a gateway from a derelict mill, timbers from a lock gate and stone from a demolished church. It is planted to look like nature is returning around a war damaged church. The hiding figure of the airman looks up at the stained glass window. In the window are two young French people, the girl in the foreground stretching out her arms offering help. Before him lies his parachute, which morphs into a pathway.
Perhaps the most poignant features are names on the bricks of the walls of the church. These are some of the people that helped Stan to escape. All would be dead by the end of the war, with the exception of Pere Alfred Logeon. Raymond Biernaux, who pushed Stan in the wheelbarrow to move him from the crash site, would die two years later in a concentration camp.
A headstone like slab has words from Leo Marks’s poem The Life That I Have . This was a code poem, used to encrypt messages by agents in occupied Europe. Marks realised that using known published poems made the code too easy for the enemy to crack and composed this specially for an espionage mission in 1944.
The garden won the Silver Gilt Award at Chelsea Flower Show in 2015. Monique Logeon, aged 86, a surviving member of the family that helped Stan escape, was guest of honour at the opening of the garden at Chelsea. The Evader’s Garden is now a permanent fixture within Chorley’s Astley Park.
Astley Hall and Park has much of historical interest. The hall has free entry, and you can read more about its fascinating history on our webpage here:
The words on the tombstone (ABOVE) are:
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours
'The Life That I Have' written by Leo Marks
ABOVE: Part of the Evader's Garden display.
BELOW: A copy of Stan's photo of his crash, he buried the camera and came back for it after the war.