Aldbourne Heritage Centre

Eleanor Maud Hawkins, third child of Edward (Teddy) and Mary Hawkins, was born 21 March 1906 at Westfield Cottages (top of Castle Street). The 1911 census records the family living in ‘Hightown’ area. Her father was listed as a ‘General Bricklayer’. I have no details of her early life but at some point she left the village, was apparently a good golfer and sometime in the 1930s married Frenchman Charles Cheramy.

At the outbreak of WW2 they were living in Paris but in response to the German invasion, they escaped to Montauban, north of Toulouse in southwest France. They had a baby son and were very active in the French Resistance, helping to run an ‘escape line’ for allied servicemen (hoping to reach neutral Spain and/or British Gibraltar) and relaying clandestine radio messages to London. The escape route had the code name of the ‘Pat O’Leary Line’ (alias of a famous Belgian Resistance operative).

Eleanor was widely known then and afterwards as ‘Pat’ Cheramy. The Cheramys and colleagues helped over 200 downed allied airmen to escape to Spain or offshore to allied boats before the Cheramys were betrayed to the Gestapo in 1943. The Gestapo threatened to kill her baby but fortunately the Red Cross saved him. ‘Pat’ was tortured before being sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women, especially ‘political’ prisoners, for a further 19 months. Although not an extermination camp, thousands died there through forced labour and cruelty. ‘Pat’ endured forced labour on road making, surviving on horse-chestnut bread, cabbage soup and coffee made from roasted acorns. She was beaten, causing a badly fractured skull, damaged sight and hearing and a broken hand. In 1945, just ahead of the Allies reaching Germany, and along with several hundred other ex-Resistance operatives, she was moved to Mauthausen camp, one of the very worst of the ‘death camps’ to await extermination but ‘fortunately’ her camp was bombed and later liberated by the Americans. On release her weight had fallen from over 8 stones to just over 3 stones. She underwent extensive surgery for her injuries and received financial compensation from the post war German funds but best of all she was reunited with her son. We have not found any further mention of her husband Charles.

After the war she received 11 distinguished awards from the French and the Americans and the British Empire Medal and was much respected by the ‘Royal Air Forces Escaping Society’. As late as 1970 she was an important guest in London at a 25th anniversary VE Day reunion of MI9 and Resistance operatives, meeting Prince Charles and attending a Royal Garden Party. She was then living in Deal, Kent but shortly after moved to Brighton. Apparently she kept in touch with some Aldbourne residents and would have liked to have returned to live here. She died in Hove on 26 March 1987, aged just 81. In Aldbourne churchyard, on her memorial stone (close to the Muriel Foster bench), along with the names of her mother, father and sister, is a ‘Royal Air Forces Escaping Society’ plaque. As Ida Gandy stated in her book ‘The Heart of A Village’, Eleanor Maud ‘Pat’ Cheramy, was ‘someone in whom Aldbourne may well feel pride’.