Hero Women in the French Resistance
"Ils ne passeront pas!"(they shall not pass)
The French Resistance: Is the term used to describe a group of active opponents of Hitlers Invasion of France during WW 2. The Resistance Movements fought the Nazi German Occupation of France and the collaborationist Vichy regime using clandestine methods. French Resistance included small squads of armed men and women (referred to as the Marquis,if they were based in the countryside), publishers of underground newspapers, and escape networks that helped allied soldiers.
In recent years some have stated that the French Resistance has not been afforded due recognition for its part in halting Hitler's march through France. However, in 1946 the Allied Forces gratefully acknowledged France's heroics and declared that the resistance was not only central to diverting Hitler's forces away from an easy route across the English Channel, but also that France's reclamation of Paris ensured German forces were without a strong base during the last stages of the war.
Another crucial contribution by the French Resistance groups in their cooperation with Allied secret services (see Office of Strategic Services and Special Operations Executive), was the providing of intelligence on the Atlantic Wall and coordinating sabotage and other actions to contribute to the success of Operation Overlord. The Resistance was pulled from all layers and groups of French society, from conservative Roman Catholics (including Priests), to Liberals , Anarchists, and Communists.
One of the greatest heroes, as they were all heroes of the French Resistance was Berthe Fraser.
To the unknowing eye, she appeared to be an average French housewife in her forties, going about her domestic errands in her hometown of Arras, France. Yet in truth, Berthe Fraser was one of the bravest women in the French Resistance, at the center of an underground network that saved the lives of many English agents and pilots during the years when the Nazis occupied France.
Berthe Emilie Vicogne was born in 1894 but became a British subject when she married an Englishman. Her husband told her story to an English newspaper:
Her first work was in 1940 when there were hundreds of British soldiers roaming around France. My wife started a movement which grew until it was a sort of underground channel. She sent dozens of British soldiers by devious means to the coast where they were smuggled to England. Yet this first phase of her dangerous work was to come to an end in 1941 when someone betrayed her and she was arrested by the Gestapo. She was imprisoned in Belgium for fifteen months and released in December 1942.
COURAGE & INGENUITY
No sooner had she got out than Berthe immediately contacted the officers sent into France from England, and embarked on a new phase of anti-Nazi activity, helping the Allies by supplying English agents with a complete support network of Resistance fighters. She looked after the foreigners, providing them with shelter, transport, and safe hiding places where they could engage in their clandestine missions. She arranged liaisons, transmitted vital messages, and took on the very dangerous role of courier, travelling far and wide by car, sometimes on foot, laden with documents, arms, and occasionally the dynamite required for sabotage operations.
Somehow she managed to evade discovery, collecting the supplies of weapons that were dropped by night at secret locations by British planes, hiding the vital goods in safe houses where they could only be released on presenting her signature.
Berthe had to go to great lengths to protect her English charges. Once, entrusted with the care of the well-known English agent Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas, known as "The White Rabbit," she arranged a funeral cortege to transport the senior officer, hidden inside the hearse. He says she was "one of the great Resistance heroines.... She worked impartially for any French or British organisation that needed her."
BETRAYED & TORTURED
Yet in February 1944 Berthe was once again betrayed, this time by one of the English agents whose life she had saved.
The Gestapo tortured her every day for 28 weeks, with the threat of death hanging over her head at every moment. She was publicly stripped and flogged in front of the Nazi troops, but nothing could break her determination to protect her colleagues. She spent over 6 months in solitary confinement, 24 hours a day, and still she refused to betray her friends in the Resistance and the English army. Finally, condemned to death, Berthe Fraser awaited execution with no hope of escape.
"THANK YOU, BOYS"
Unbeknown to Berthe, D-Day was imminent. The Allies were soon to invade Northern France on June 6th 1944; and as the hopes of France cautiously rose, her friends smuggled in notes of encouragement to keep her spirits up, written in a tiny scrawl on little shreds of ribbon, one of which read:
My dear friend, we embrace you tenderly and tell you to be brave. The hour is coming. In my opinion our friends must be arriving at the beginning of June, if we are to believe the whispers.
She was in the condemned cell when the English and American soldiers stormed the prison on 1st September 1944. As her liberators freed her poor, broken body from its chains she said: "Thank you boys, you are just in time."
She won many awards, including the George Medal, the Croix de Guerre, the Legion of Honour and the American Freedom Medal as well as the honor of a letter of thanks from Eisenhower.
Without the French Resistance the outcome of World War two might well have been vastly different.
How Angels Die, David-Michael Harding. 2011. ISBN 13 978-061550325