21st April 1944
Vickers WELLINGTON Mk X
LN896 (code FU-?)
Bourbriac, "Kerbars/Kerlosquer", Park Fanch Koz (22)
(contribution : Gilles Billion, Dinard - Philippe Dufrasne)
Crew (28 OTU)
Flying Officer (pilot) BRENNAN HAROLD JAMES
Royal Canadian Air Force, escaped
Flying Officer (navigator) HOUSTON ALFRED J.
Royal Canadian Air Force, escaped
Flight Sergeant (bomber aimer) TROTTIER ERNEST J.
From Fenelon Falls, Ontario, deceased on 26th November, 1995
Royal Canadian Air Force, escaped
Sergeant (W.Op./Air Gnr) KEMPSON, JOHN, 20 years old
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
XVIII. F. 2. BAYEUX WAR CEMETERY
Sergeant (mid-upper gunner) DICKSON ROGER J.
Royal Canadian Air Force, escaped
Sergeant (rear gunner) ELDER ANDREW.
Royal Canadian Air Force, escaped
article published at the time on the reunion of Brennan and Houston
Brennan, Houston, Trottier, Dickson and Elder escaped thanks to the Shelburn network and were repatriated on the night of July 12 to 13, 1944 by MGB 503
(source : www.conscript-heroes.com)
Bourbriac, Friday 21st April 1944, "Kerbars/Kerlosquer".
Fall of the Royal Air Force's British bomber Wellington Mk X LN896, code FU-? Operation '' Nickel '' carried out by the 93th Group of the No.28 Operational Training Unit RAF (Trainees in Confirmation of Flight, waiting to be assigned to a bombing squadron). It is a nocturnal droplet mission on the city of Blois in the Cher (these leaflets were intended to inform the French population not to remain on the roads in the coming months).
The crew was Anglo-Canadian led by Flying Officer Brennan James Harold, 22 years old, Canadian pilot, born March 23, 1922. Profession in civil : technician in telephony. He lived 17 Glenelg Street East at LINDSAY, Ontario, Canada. This night mission was the first for all crew members including the pilot of this twin-engine bomber. On their return the 6 airmen were to be confirmed for other missions within an operational bombing squadron.
Flying Officer Brennan Escape Report written on July 14, 1944 upon his return to England.
On April 20, 1944 we took off at 9:18 pm from RAF Wymeswold airfield in the County of Leicestershire. The mission, nicknamed "Nickel" operation (code name for propaganda flyer raids - this type of raid was often carried out by bomber crews as trainees (OTU) at the end of their training before joining to an operational squadron), was to drop leaflets on the city of Blois in France. The goal was reached, on the way back, I asked several times my navigator, the pilot Officer Houston to give me the heading towards our base. He could not give me exactly the road to follow. We were lost. I asked my navigator again, to query the English guidance radio beacon. We had a contact quickly. Presumably, it turned out that we were intercepted by a German station whose mission was to divert allied aircraft. I did not notice that and took the direction given to me. We were on a heading west towards the tip of Brittany. At the moment I called, I thought I was in the north of France. After flying a good time, I checked my gasoline gauge and there I saw that my tanks were running out quickly. I understood that it would not be possible to reach England. The situation became worrying and distressing. Shortly after, on the ground, we saw a large fire that seemed to be on board a boat. I decided to go down to see what it was and try to spot me. I knew we were still in French airspace. This fire appeared to us like that of a big house. (We learned later during our escape, that it was the fire of a building of the barracks in Guingamp occupied by the Germans and which sheltered ammunition. Fire lit by only one man, patriot resistant of the region that wanted to commit this act on Hitler's birthday). I then flew the aircraft at 6000 feet (1800 meters). I informed the crew of the situation in which we were. I immediately asked everyone to put on their parachute, check the security and quickly evacuate the aircraft. I made sure they had all jumped and in my turn I jumped into the dark night over the Bourbriac region. During my descent, I could see the crash of my plane and the fire that followed. I knew after he had crashed on a small hill near this city and had broken into several pieces.
Crash site, "Kerbars / Kerlosquer" - Park Fanch Koz, which means in Breton : Field of the old François
© Photo ABSA 39-45
I arrived on the ground safely, not really knowing where I was. I immediately hid my parachute, my mae west (flotation jacket around our necks) in bushes. I then left in the dark, walking through the countryside. I walked until 7 am on the 21st of April. I then rounded a small village and hid in a field of thistles until 4 pm. Then I walked and arrived at Bulat Pestivien, where I joined the church. I entered there and met the priest of this parish. In spite of my efforts to speak French, he made me understand that he spoke only Breton. I left the church immediately. I was becoming hungry. I then met a friendly farmer who invited me to eat and drink. He then hid me in thickets on a hill. He arranged for some resistance people to pick me up and organize my return.
Houston Alfred James' report, 31 years old, Flying Officer Pilot and Navigator, born November 14, 1913. Engaged in the RAF June 8, 1942. Canadian nationality, profession, sales representative, James lived at 12 Abott Avenue in Toronto in Ontario, Canada. We were running out of fuel. Lieutenant Brennan gave us the order to parachute, which I did over Mael Pestivien around midnight on April 21, 1944. I landed in a plowed field. Despite the darkness, I managed to hide my parachute, my mae west and my harness. I started walking towards south-east (the instructions given to the airmen before leaving the plane was to move to the southwest as soon as they hit the ground, at first to gather and then to take the direction of escape networks to the south, to Spain. At about nine o'clock, I took refuge in a field where I was able to sleep until eleven o'clock. When I woke up, I saw two elderly women who were near a farm. I approached them and immediately gave them my identity. They offered me a glass of wine and directed me to the Callac road. I walked about ten kilometers, when I met two other women to whom I spoke by telling them again my identity. They told me not to go to Callac because the city was crowded with Germans. So I returned to Bulat Pestivien and then I took the road to Saint Servais. In a small wood, I saw a man. I approached him and asked him where I was. He told me he's from a group of patriots in the region. I told him who I was. He told me to accompany him. So I went with him, he hid me, gave me food and drink. He told me to stay there without showing me and informed me I would be picked up, but did not know when which meant I had to be patient. I stayed in this place until the next day 5 pm. Two resistant patriots came to pick me up by car and we all left for Mael Pestivien where they took me to a house, where I found our radio operator Sergeant Kempson who was lying, badly injured. The next day we left, having placed the wounded sergeant in the back of the same car and we went to the village of Quodimael (Coat Mael) to a house where we were expected. Unfortunately the sergeant died 3 days later despite the care given to him by the doctors of the region. In this house I found Sergeant Elder our rear gunner. Sergeant Trottier then joined us.
On October 1944, the two officers of this crew returned to Canada. Lieutenant Brennan and Houston, after a long sea journey aboard a transatlantic ship, first arrived in New York. They took the train to Toronto, Canada, where their relatives were waiting for them. Their families had suffered anguish following the telegram of disappearance of their sons during a raid on France. In mid-July 1944, a bit late, new telegrams were sent to these families informing them of their return to England and Canada.
Flying Officer Brennan joined the Canadian telephone company Bell. He died at the age of 90 on October 31, 2011.
Report of Sergeant Dickson Roger Jacques, upper turret gunner, 20 years old, born June 2, 1924 in Vernon, Canada. As a student, he joined the RAF on June 19, 1943.
On April 21, 1944, I jumped from our bomber at about midnight over Pont Melvez in France. I landed a few kilometers from this city. I immediately hid my equipment consisting of my harness, mae west and parachute of course. Despite the darkness, I turned to the southeast. At 7 am, I hid in dense bushes where I stayed until 10:30 pm, trying to sleep a little. Then I started walking all night. At 7 am on April 22, I headed for a farm to ask for help. They gave me food and drink, and then I was directed to another safer farm, 6 kilometers away. In this farm, I changed my clothes for civilian clothes. Resistant patriots organized my return trip.
Report of Sergeant Trottier Ernest Joseph, bomber aimer, 22 years old, born on 28th november 1922 and technician in telephony. He lived 139 West Cornwall street, Ontario, Canada and joined the RAF on June 1st, 1942.
On the night of April 20 to 21, 1944, like my comrades, I jumped from the bomber as a crew member. It was about midnight, we were coming back from a mission. I landed in a field a few kilometers from Bourbriac in France. I immediately hid all my equipment and I walked in the darkness to the south-east with the hope of finding my comrades, who had also jumped before me. I walked for 6 hours and then, tired, I hid all day until nightfall. I then headed the direction of a farm previously seen. I knocked the door but there was nobody. I left, very tired and continued my way at random, hoping to find help. Having found nothing in my wandering, I continued and the next morning I met a man who invited me to his house to have breakfast. He contacted two patriots who arrived quickly on a bicycle. We went to the village of Quodmael (Coat Mael) in Mael Pestivien where I found sergeants Elder and Houston. Sergeant Kempson who was seriously injured was also there. He died in the following days. That same day, we all left with the resistance to their camp located between Peumerit and Trémargat. On the night of April 23, Flying Officer Brennan and Sergeant Dickson joined us. The patriots organized our return to England on July 13th.
It was over this village that the evacuation order from
the Wellington was issued on the night of April 20 to 21, 1944
Report of Sergent Elder Andrew, rear gunner, 22 years old, born on November 14, 1922. Working as a riveter, engaged in the RAF January 19, 1943. He lived at 1889 Haro Street in Vancouver, Canada.
Like my comrades, I jumped from our aircraft in distress shortly after midnight April 21, 1944. I arrived on the ground near the Village of Kerbalen in France. Unfortunately, badly fallen, I sprained myself. The first thing was to hide my flight stuff. I did not want to be spotted. I left the place immediately and began a long walk in the night, despite my pain in my ankle. I walked until sunrise and hid until 10 am. The local farmer kindly greeted me, gave me food and drink. At noon, a doctor came and see me, on request of the farmer. He checked my ankle and bandaged me. On the advice of the farmer, I went to hide in a nearby field. I stayed there until nightfall. We were picked up and immediately I was directed to another farm where I slept in the stable with the horses. The next evening, I was directed to another village where, in a house, I found the Flying Officer Houston and the unfortunate Sergeant Kempson who was badly injured in the head. The next day, the partisans sent us to their camp in the forest. Then they arranged our return by sea.
Sergeant John Kempson had a tragic destiny, he died on April 25, 1944 around 6 am, at the Village of Coat Mael in Mael Pestivien. He was the radio operator of the Wellington and from time to time turret gunner, he was 20 years old. He was engaged in 1943 in the reserve volunteers of the RAF from Surbiton in Surrey, England. He was the only British aviator of this crew. He was the son of Horace Leopold and Mabel Alice Kempson. On this tragic night for these young airmen, the order to evacuate the aircraft was given over the hamlet of Saint Norgant in Kérien. As we have seen, the 5 Canadians landed without problem around the pond of Blavet and near the village of Kerbalen. Sergeant Kempson had landed near the village of Cosquer Jehan in Kérien, his jump had been in good conditions but he had touched the ground on rocks on the top of a hill. Under the wind, his parachute dragged him backwards. He was thrown on a rock where he broke his skull and fell heavily. Early on Friday morning, two women from the village, saw on this hill near their home, this white mass, unusual. They went to the scene and realized that it was a parachute.
Sergeant John KEMPSON and his father
© Photo Doreen Kempson
Cosquer Jehan en Kérien, site where Sergeant John Kempson has fallen
One of their neighbors, Mister Augustin Salomon, arrived immediately and found, at the foot of this rock, the unfortunate aviator into a coma. He was unconscious. Immediately and with prudence, they went to warn a resistance man who went on site, taking care to warn other men of his group. The two women hid the white parachute. The partisans took the airman to Dr. Lebreton, placed between two men in the back of a sedan car. The next day for more security, the Sergeant was taken to the village of Coat Maël where doctor Rivoallan, surgeon, came from Guingamp and made him a lumbar puncture and found a fracture of the skull. Doctors Sécardin and Lebreton ensured the care the following days. The injured airman died on April 25 in the early morning. French sniper partisans of the Tito maquis carried the body to their encampment. A carpenter made a casket. Sergeant Kempson was buried with military honors, his Canadian comrades were present at the funeral of the man they nicknamed "Johnny". The Resistance fired a salvo of honor. A priest pronounced the funeral oration. The burial took place at the foot of a rock near the Blavet valley at a place called "Toul Goulic" in Lanrivain. Transferred in 1946 by the service of the British burials, it rests in the English cemetery of Bayeux in Calvados. (Grave XVIII F 2)
"Toul Goulic", lieu de la sépulture provisoire du Sergent John Kempson
For the 5 airmen a departure towards Paris, in view of their escape towards Spain, was expected. Refused by the authority, they were redirected to a network of escape in the south of Brittany. After a few days and after a long distance, the order was given to the group to return to the starting point. The Shelburn network at Plouha proved to be better adapted to cross the Channel. This escape network had made with success several night missions towards Darmouth, southern coast of England, since the beginning of 1944. The Canadians had left Coat Mael to stay at the Tito maquis where they stayed for a month, participating in the activities of the resistance group. In the days following their departure, the Germans undertook a raid on the maquis of the entire region. On May 16, 1944 in Mael Pestivien they arrested forty people including the mayor of the town and the doctor. Many people were tortured and a man died. The day after other people were incarcerated in Saint Brieuc. Two deported men were killed in the camps in Germany, another was shot at the camp of Maltiére at Saint Jacques de la Lande. That same day, May 16, 1944, during the afternoon, many Germans and militiamen arrived to the village of Coat Mael looking for partisans who used to meet in one of the house there. They mistreated a person to find out more. They found nothing and burnt the home of the Grenel family which had been the accommodation of airmen and where Sergeant Kempson died. Fortunately at that time, the escapees were in a safe place, hidden, in a mill at Senven Lehart where they stayed 6 weeks and were evacuated urgently, after that a group of young partisans, installed in the castle of Goas Hamon in the same town was attacked and decimated by the Germans. The 5 airmen were directed, the same day towards the maquis of Coat Mallouen, safer, and they left it in early July to reach Plouha in order to escape by sea. In the night of July 13, 1944, the MGB 503, commanded by the Lieutenant Marshall, assisted by David Birkin (father of singer Jane Birkin) arrived at Cochat cove near the beacon of the bull, then recovered 16 soldiers including the 5 Canadian airmen. After a 83-day trip to France, the escaped airmen returned to England.
STORY OF EVASION OF LT A. HOUSTON.
Story of Lieutenant Alfred Houston's escape as told to the journalist Geoffrey Hewelecke of Maclean's Magazine in January 1945. This story provides details on the welcome and living conditions of the five Canadian airmen, in the maquis of the "Côtes du Nord", during their escape, after the fall of their Wellington bomber at Bourbriac around 0:30 am April 21, 1944. The lieutenant, at a certain moment of his story, speaks of the attack of a Junkers 88, from which a shell would have hit one of the fuel tanks. According to the Luftwaffe Archives, and missions reports, as well as claims for victory on Allied aircraft for the night of 20 to 21 April 1944, it is not possible to take into account this statement of the Lieutenant in the crash of his WELLINGTON bomber ; the same night, no German claim exists. We find 4 Lancaster bombers of the Royal Air Force shot down during a raid on Clichy sur Seine, La Chapelle, Le Blanc Mesnil in the Paris region. Otherwise, nothing. We remember that he was the navigator of this aircraft. He had not been able to make the return heading, somewhat compromised by the non-completion of his search which would have brought the aircraft and the crew back to its base. In fact, he had failed. He has probably sought to give this other reason, talking of an attack which in fact did not take place ; this is what results from the analysis made by our group which has recently looked at this case. In the reports of the return of escaped airmen in England (archives), written on July 14, 1944, none of the five Canadian airmen, including Lieutenant Houston, spoke of this attack of Junkers.
Drawing from a sketch by M. Pasturel
The mission on Blois was not a heavy bombing mission. The containers of leaflets transported did not weigh and the logistics had ensured the unit a sufficient autonomy in gasoline. When Lieutenant Houston contacted the guide beacon, there remained more than one hour of battery life. Widely enough to get back to Castel Donnington from where they had gone. The lieutenant spoke in his report of a doctor who had treated the sergeant John Kempson before his death and that the Germans would have assassinated, this announced by a young resistant of 17 years. It seems that the Lieutenant, troubled by emotion, expressed this feeling in his own way. He had really met the Dr. Secardin, who had come every day before the death of the young aviator at the village of Coat Mael where he was hiding. He also said he appreciated the kindness of the doctor. We believe that the lieutenant in the months following his return to Canada learned this sad news which in fact did not affect the doctor himself but his son tortured and murdered with six comrades at the Garzonval place in Plougonver on July 16, 1944. We have deduced this because no doctor who has treated Sergeant Kempson suffered this tragic situation as far as we know. Lieutenant Houston explained also the tragic death of this little girl who was shot in a German street at curfew time. It was not possible to locate the city where such an horrible drama happened.
EVASION by F/O (Air Force Officer) Alfred J HOUSTON
Narrated by Geoffrey HEWELCKE
The darkness surrounded me, and in the corner of the great Breton embankment, directly behind me, the darkness of the night was even deeper. The sky above me was covered. Below, I could touch some freshly plowed land. The smell of the land seemed as good to me as any freshly plowed field in Ontario. I moved my toes in my wet bomber boots, and I kept waiting. Soon, I heard someone whistling in the distance - a little air of jigue. Someone else has resumed the melody. Then the two whistlers stopped. Suddenly I was surrounded by men. It seemed to me that they had come out of the earth itself. They were numerous. Near my shoulder, I heard, "We are Patriots. We fight for France. We are the men of De Gaulle". I shook hands with the person who had spoken to me. He was their captain. I called him Tony, even if it was not his real name. I must tell you right now that all the names I use in this story are not the real names, in case the Germans kept some of their families as prisoners. Germans can take revenge on those incarcerated ... ..I know it.
Tony touched my RCAF battle-dress with his fingers, and he waved his head. "It's not good", he said. He spoke abruptly in French, just a few words, and a pack of clothes came to me from somewhere behind us. By touching the clothes, I discovered civilian trousers, a vest, and studded shoes, which later I recognized as from German uniform. I changed clothes where I was, in the dark night. Then someone passed me a Sten gun. "Loaded?" I asked. "Loaded", was the answer ... I was now part of Tony Patriotes group - of the group that later the reporters would call the "Maquis", but I never heard those men using that name themselves. Later that night, Tony and my new friends took me to a barn where we were able to light a candle safely. It was the moment when I saw them. There were about thirty of them - men of hard and tanned appearance, most between the ages of 18 and 30 years. They all went to the fields, rather than going into forced labor for the Germans. All were armed - either with Sten machine guns and grenades, parachuted by our aircrafts - or with German guns and pistols. If a Patriot had a German rifle in his hand, I soon realized that a German soldier was decomposing in a shallow grave somewhere in the middle of a Breton field.
In the barn, I explained to Tony and the others that I was navigator of a RCAF Wellington and that our mission had been to parachute leaflets over a city to warn residents to avoid roads at the beginning of the invasion ; and that it was on the way back that we had met a Junkers 88 and that our gas tank had been hit by a German shell. I told him there were five other crew members somewhere within a 20-mile radius. Tony took note of their names and their descriptions. It was Flying Officer Harold BRENNAN, pilot. He was from Lindsay, Ontario. I came from Toronto myself. Before the war I was chemical representative for the company A. S. BOYLE. There were sergeants Andy ELDER, rear gunner, who was from Vancouver, British Columbia; Ernie TROTTER, Cornwall, bomber; Roger DICKSON, of Vernon, British Columbia, superior gunner, and Johnny KEMPSON, radiotelegraph operator, of Surbiton in Surrey - the only Englishman on our Canadian team.
The date was April 20, in the spring of last year. I explained to Tony that I advised the guys to head south-east to the Spanish border when we jumped out of the aircraft ; and he took note of that too. A few minutes later, I heard the doorbell of a bicycle outside, and Tony blew out the candle, to open the door. Then he lighted it again. A girl pushed her braids behind her shoulders and stood upright in front of him. She was one of the messengers who were part of the Patriots system - and she was proud of her role. She spoke quickly with him, in a language I did not recognize. Very serious, he nodded his head, she kept talking. Of course, she spoke Breton - a language that looked like Welsh - and I did not understand a word.
"We found one of your friends, seriously injured." Tony turned to me, "A young, dark-haired, long-faced boy." I thought for a moment. "It's probably Johnny Kempson," I suggested, "What has happened to him ?". "A doctor is with him, 20 miles from here," Tony told me, "We've found him unconscious among the rocks in heaths. Do you want to see him ? '' "Of course," I said. Tony spoke to someone behind us. Once again, the candle was extinguished, and the barn door was opened. Once again we lit the candle again. "I told one of the guys to steal a car," Tony said to me, "He'll be back soon." He looked at me curiously, almost with envy. "It must be beautiful to be able to fly in these aircrafts," he told me, "to be able to shoot the Germans - to be able to bomb them. Compared to us, we are forced to walk on all fours in the fields and ditches, we would give our right leg to be able to do as you."
"You have a job to do also" I suggested to him. Tony nodded. "That's right," he admitted, "and we do it. Do not think that we are not soldier because we do not have a uniform. A large number of Germans have been killed, and more will be killed." The ferocity of his voice surprised me. But now, no. I now know what the Germans do to the Patriots when they take them. And right after, Tony asked me if everything had gone well when I jumped out of the aircraft. I told him that I had landed in a field, and sung loudly, so glad I was to be alive. He smiled when I explained to him that my parachute had not opened immediately. He smiled when I told him how I had fled across the fields and embankments, across a river, and then turned back to try to avoid the dogs I had heard barking in the distance, dogs that could have shown my trail to the Germans. I also told him all my journey today before finally meeting the man who had taken me to the field where I met them.
Very soon after, a car arrived in front of the barn. Five of the Patriots, and I got into it. The Germans had forbidden the population to be outside after 9 pm. But that did not change anything for the Patriots. Later, I was next to Johnny. He had a gray face. A doctor and a woman took care of him. "Johnny," I shouted. He turned his head a little, but it was obvious that he did not see me. I knelt beside his bed. He put his arms around me. "I want to go home," he whispered to me. The doctor, a gray-haired man, with a kind face, shook his head. I took him aside and he told me the bad news. The Patriots had found Johnny among the rocks. Maybe his parachute had pulled him by that. In any case, he had a fractured skull, and internal injuries too. "Could'nt we find a way to drive him to a German military hospital," I asked, "There he will have a chance."
The doctor smiled sadly. "Not yet," he said, "I've already treated him, and the Germans will know - I'll be shot, because according to their rules, they say a wounded paratrooper must be left where he fell." German patrols often came to this village, and Tony made the decision to take Johnny Kempson to another place. We put him in the car and drove him to another village about 15 miles away. We put it in a barn on the straw. I stayed with him, as well as 2 of the Patriots. They dug a grave.
Over the next 5 days, the rest of the Wimpy team were found by the Patriots, who took them one by one. During this period, the doctor visited Johnny every day, and brought in a specialist from a nearby town, a specialist in head trauma. Despite our care, and despite the daily visits of the two doctors, Johnny died on the morning of the sixth day. We knew he was going to leave us, and before his death, the Patriots looked for a priest, even though Johnny was not a Catholic. That night, the Wimpy crew gathered in the village. They (the village inhabitants ?) had spent the day digging a grave for Johnny on a hill about 15 miles from where we were. They had dug for 9 hours to make the grave, due to the rocky earth. Early the next day we buried Johnny. Our team formed a guard of honor; the pastor of the nearest village celebrated mass, and a group of ragged Patriotes, leaning on their rifles, were waiting, but a little apart.
Six weeks later, I went back there, and I saw that the children of the village had put flowers on the grave of this person who was unknown to them. After the funeral, Tony gathered us a little bit apart. "Now we are ready," he said. "Ready for what ?" I asked. "Do you want to go back to the Spanish border ?" he said. "It is part of our duty as Patriots to help the Allied airmen to escape the Germans .... You are combatants of great value ... It has cost a lot of time and money to train you for your tasks .... Well, 18 men from our group will drive you in southeast to the limits of our territory. We will be guides and guardians for you. We will take you and fight for you. And we only ask you one thing - not to risk your life fighting, without the need to do it ...... Let us fight it." We left, heading southeast.
The attack of the Gestapo.
Crossing the country with the Patriots was no problem - at the beginning. Then later, when the Gestapo followed us closer and closer, it became a nightmare. Behind us, we left a trail of blood and suffering. At first, however, the Patriots knew the roads where there was little risk of meeting patrols. They knew which farmers would give us food without asking questions ... which forests were the safest. In addition their "information service" was so well organized. Girls on bicycles, young farmers, sons of farmers, were coming from time to time. At night, we heard someone whistling a melody in the darkness .... One of ours would whistle another melody. There would be a whistled answer and an obscure shape would come out of the shadows to whisper a few words of information.
But the Germans hit quickly. The second night, about 40 miles from where we buried Johnny, I was awakened by voices close to me. I listened to them, and I got up. One of the voices belonged to a young man of about 17 who helped us to treat Johnny Kempson. He had not come with us, but he had managed to find us, and had a terrible story to tell us. In one way or another, the Germans learned Johnny's story. They were informed of the doctor's role. They tortured him. They broke both his wrists, they twisted them .... Then they killed him. The young man's voice was hard and unemotional. He also said that he himself was captured but that he managed to escape. He was the first French man to give his life for us ; this kind and gentle doctor who knew well that he was risking his life to cure Johnny, but who came anyway every day. I never knew his name.
Tony gathered us immediately. He told us that it was obvious that the Germans had information about us, since they had some about Johnny. It meant that the Gestapo in front of us would be warned, and that behind us, the Gestapo was already following in our footsteps. It was necessary to continue with great caution. We started right away. The young man, who had given us the awful information, was to join another group of Patriots. Maybe now is the time to tell you about our guides. There was of course Tony, tall, tanned, extremely efficient as leader and elected captain of the band. He had lived "in the fields" since the surrender of France. One of the others was a hairdresser and he cut our hair. Two of them were sailors.
Among the others were clerks, workers, farmers and farm workers. Aged all between 18 and 30 years old ; physically in good health and so expected by the Germans for hard labor. All without exception had a strong determination to fight the Germans until the last breath. They considered themselves soldiers for France. A group of Patriots was never too numerous - about 15 or 20 men or women at most, who collaborated with them, but for most of them who did not live "in the fields". Each group had an elected captain. Each captain answered to a superior officer. Each senior officer had 5 groups under his control. Each superior officer was to report to a power above him, who was in contact with the staff of General De Gaulle, from where he received his orders, and to whom he transmitted their requests for arms and dynamite. The flexibility of the organization was really incredible and at the same time the commanding system worked perfectly.
Gunshot of the curfew.
We continued on our way, and we found food in nature as much as possible, hunting rabbits in the woods, and taking fish in the rivers. From time to time, we were able to buy bread in isolated farms. Soon we received a new message, warning us that the Gestapo was on our track. We split into small groups of 2 or 3. For about 4 days, my two guides took care of me, and then we were able to join the others in a small town much further south. This Friday evening, a doctor from the city came to see us. He invited us Canadians to visit him for the weekend. "You can eat good homemade food," he said with a smile, "Moreover, I think you'd like to take a bath and sleep between sheets."
We were uncertain. "Is'nt it too risky for you ?" We asked him. "I think I know how to take care of me," he replied with a smile. Saturday, at noon, we left our camp two by two, a member of the crew with a Patriotes guide. After our week-end resting at the doctor's house, we left just before curfew, imposed by the Germans, at 9 pm, and we headed for the limits of the city. Suddenly a Patriot pathfinder, a little ahead of us, raised his hand to warn us, and our guides immediately pushed us towards the entrance of a small alley. "There is a German patrol approaching us ... " they whispered. In a house near us, a door opened, and a girl of 5 or 6 years old, came out quickly, she had visited a girlfriend, and had stayed for too long. She had arrived in the middle of the street when we heard the dry slap of a rifle. The little girl turned strongly and then fell ... She gave two little shakes with her feet ... ..and then she did not move.
We, airmen, were stupefied and horrified by the brutal violence of this act. The nausea took us. Then we grabbed our Stens, and we were about to run out of the alley, when the Patriots held us back. "Bad idea," they told us, "Not good, if you kill the patrol - the Jerries will take their revenge by killing 30 or 40 people in this city." With great caution, they looked around, and they watched the street. At the crossroads, we hardly could see, with difficulty, four Germans, wearing steel helmets on their head. They were bending over their bicycles. One of them, on his guard, was holding his rifle and at the same time looking at the pitiful little body near us. But he did not dare to approach him. A little while later, the Germans rode on their bicycles and left. "That's France as it is today," my guide whispered. "Look, there's an open window to see why there was this shootout." "It's hell," I said. "It's not going to last long - I swear, it's not going to last," he replied emotionally.
Our road closed.
Two days later, we were on the edge of the territory known by Tony and his group. Another group of Patriots met us and it was now up to them to guide us further. The group consisted of 13 men under the command of a captain whom I will call "Jean". He was a former captain in the Army and was now living "in the fields". For two days we continued our journey with him, and then a messenger arrived to inform him that the Germans learned that many Allied airmen managed to escape through Spain. Entire Gestapo regiments had been mobilized to patrol the border. It was useless to continue. Then we turned around, and took the road back to the north and to Brittany ; and we did not take the same route as the first time.
A week later we saw a German patrol, about twenty soldiers. They saw us too. Immediately they run after us across the fields. They were going to catch us and in addition they had guns with a range longer than our machine guns. The balls came closer and closer. Soon we would have to fight them, and they were more numerous and better armed. On all fours, we crossed a wooded slope, which served us as an obstacle, when one of the Patriotes - a 28-year-old, strong, tanned, approached Captain Jean suddenly, and greeted him. "I'm asking permission to stay here to fight the enemy," he said. "With my Sten and maybe another too, I'll be able to hold them for half an hour, to give you time to escape." Captain Jean looked at it closely. Then he greeted. "Permission granted," he said.
The young man took another Sten and settled in the ditch, his arms directed across the embankment towards the field on the other side. He started shooting right away. "Come quickly," Captain Jean gave us the order. "His sacrifice must not be for nothing." We continued running. Behind us, we could hear the sound of guns, and then silence. A little later, we heard shrieks, a frightful and scary sound. Later we learned that he had been wounded, captured, and then quickly tortured to death. A few days later, we were crossing a field, when bullets rang out into the air around us, followed a few seconds later by the sound of a bang. We fell to the ground - but one of the Patriots remained without any move. "He's dead," said Captain Jean. "Leo, Paul, Jacques and André - it's your duty to take our aviators to the woods near the stream you know. The others stay here with me, and we'll repel the Germans."
On all fours, we managed to reach a ditch, and we went flat on the belly towards a passage in an embankment. Behind us, guns rang out. That night, the captain and two of the others found us. The other three remained in the field, killed by the Germans. They estimated they had managed to kill at least two of the enemies, and the Germans finally made the decision to turn back. We continued our way north for a distance of about 80 miles to an old mill. Here we were told that we would have to wait for some time, to give the Patriots the opportunity to arrange another solution for our departure. In the meantime, we had to live in a small room in the attic of the mill ; we had to take care not to make noise because the Germans came regularly to take their meals in the room, two floors below us. We were allowed to smoke only when no one else was there. At night, we had to take care not to make light appear, and we did not have to approach the only window, which was covered with cobwebs. The miller's wife, a very kind lady, and her daughter, brought us something to eat.
An earthquake of rifles.
We stayed in this room for six weeks; six weeks that were among the most monotonous and boring of my life. In the room there were two beds. There were five of us, which meant that every night one of us was sleeping on the floor. We had a card game, a table with five chairs, a toilet bucket. Nothing more. We played bridge without stopping. Living so near to others, an existence so monotonous, whispering to speak ; little by little the others annoyed you, and we ended up hating ourselves. It was during this time that we learned that the doctor who had welcomed us for this beautiful weekend, was forced with his wife to live "in the fields", because the Germans had discovered what had happened. From time to time the Patriots came to visit us, with cigarettes and pipe tobacco stolen from a local warehouse. The cigarette ration for civilians was 20 cigarettes a month : each of us smoked more than that each day.
At the mill, we had time to think, and to worry about our families - and to think about the worry we were causing. We were of course missing in action, and they did not know if we were still alive. From time to time, we even discussed our situation, wondering whether it was really worth the effort to keep trying to escape ; perhaps it would be better surrender to the Germans. But on every occasion that this idea came to our mind, we remembered all those who gave their lives, without blaming us, and willingly - because they thought they were saving the lives of trained and experienced combatants : impossible for us to give up. It was June 6th - D-Day - during the fifth week of our stay in the attic of this mill. It was up to me to sleep on the ground, and I woke up thinking that there was an earthquake, which shook the building. I laid on the wooden boards and I still felt earthquakes. I listened carefully, and heard guns in the distance. Immediately I woke up my comrades, and we stayed in the dark, ears opened. We guessed well and understood what was happening. In our opinion there was too much noise for DCA shooting (against planes). What we heard was naval guns - most probably preliminary shells before the assault.
About June 6, 1944 : testimonials of Mrs and Mr Rault André, "The Old Châtel". Saint-Gildas, (located near Quintin).
"I was 14 years old, I lived with my parents in the city of Le Lelay (Côtes du Nord at that time) .We had been occupied by the Germans for four years, says Mrs. Rault and some of us were talking from time to time of a possible Allied landing on our coasts. We believed it more or less. One morning, everyone was sleeping in our house when suddenly we were awakened by a noise from our attic. My father got up and went upstairs to see what was going on. He was surprised to see our large wooden balance vibrating and resonating on the floor. He found this surprising and went back to tell us what he had seen. He decided to go out in our yard and was surprised to hear in the distance from the north a strange, continuous and deaf rolling.We understood.This Tuesday, June 6, 1944, the Allies were on the assault of the coast.They will deliver us, we said.
I lived here at my parents' farm in Vieux Châtel, says Mr Rault André. I was 18 years old. I also remember the awakening we had on June 6, 1944. We were surprised to hear in our dresser all the plates that vibrated continuously. We wondered what was happening. We never had such a phenomenon. In the courtyard we could also hear a rolling noise coming from the north. It did not stop. In the village of Saint Gildas several people were able to observe this phenomenon which has remained in our memory. The distance from Arromanches on the Normandy coast to Saint Gildas was 203 kilometers as the crow flies. "
Testimonials collected by Jean-Michel Martin in October 2012
At 9 o'clock in the morning, the miller's nephew entered the room and ran, with two bottles of wine in his hand, and tears in his eyes. "The English have landed," he shouted. Behind him a clatter in the stairs. The miller, his wife and their daughter went up the stairs. We opened the wine, and we drank silently on that glorious morning, and through the window we watched the forced labor groups, pushed by the Germans, driving wooden poles into the ground, to prevent gliders of invasion forces to land. That same night, the news once again were hard : the Germans had surrounded and killed a group of eighteen Patriots, who lived 2 miles from us. Out of these deaths, there were four who brought us cigarettes. Seven were killed fighting the enemy, and eleven others were taken by the Germans and tortured to death. There was a high probability that the Germans would have discovered information about our existence.
The next morning the miller climbed the stairs quickly, and shouting aloud, "Come on, come on - the Jerries ..." In less than a second, we ran down, and we followed him to the the back of the building where he indicated us to escape towards a swamp 300 meters away. The Germans were advancing on the road. We rushed to the swamp, and we hid among the reeds, when in the same time, the car of the German army arrived in front of the mill. An officer came out. Very soon, we heard two gunshots. It was impossible for us to know what had happened, but we were afraid for our guests, who may have been killed. In the afternoon, the miller's daughter arrived with pieces of bread, butter, and a carafe of cider. She explained to us that her parents were not in danger. One of the officers had fired his rifle, when a farmer and his cart had slowly approached the mill, at the moment when the Germans wanted to leave. It was their way of saying, "Let us go or pay attention to the consequences." We were in fact expecting more investigations.
A young woman, so beautiful and so kind
That night, we stayed in the marsh, and all the next day too, until midnight when we were told to go back to the mill. We had something to eat, and we met our new guide. It was a young woman aged about 19 - a blonde hair girl dressed in fashion - I called her Paulette. She was also one of the nicest young women I have ever met, and she was Patriot in charge of extremely difficult missions. She explained to us that the bridgehead in Normandy was at about hundred miles from us, and that it would be too dangerous for us to approach it. However, another solution had been arranged, she assured us, smiling at us, her eyes sparkling and full of life. That first night, we followed her for 10 miles. She stayed with us for 3 days and 3 nights, and she left us with another group of Patriots, with whom we spent a week.
After 8 days, Paulette came back for a new step. The next day we left and walked at 8 am, and spent four hours trying to enter a small town without being seen by the German patrols. It was the city where Paulette lived - in which the Germans kept a garrison - right in front of Paulette's house. Finally we managed to enter the house, without being seen, and had the opportunity to meet her mother - an impressive old lady who had lost four sons to France. The last of his sons had gone to England to join the Air Force (RAF); and now he was missing in action. There was no son left, and it was now up to Paulette to continue the fight for France ... It was like that in this family. We were barely an hour in the house, when outside we heard screams and gunshots in the street. It was a German patrol that behaved like cowboys. They demolished the front door of a nearby house, and forced the residents to accompany them.
At the end, we went to bed ... Brennan and I in one room, and the other 3 in another room. The next day we watched with interest as the Germans emerging from their barracks across the street and putting all their belongings in farm carts before leaving for the front. It seemed to us that only young boys and old men remained. Some of the young people were crying. Another 2 nights, and Paulette informed us that it was time to leave - the last step - and we followed her towards the coast. On the way, she grabbed from a bush a magnetic mine detector with earphones. She had learned to use it - and needed it - because we entered a minefield that stretched a few miles. Paulette was advancing step by step, while making circular movements, on both sides, with her "pan at the end of a broomstick". His gestures looked like a complex dance. If she spotted a mine, she dropped a handkerchief on it. One could just see the white color of the handkerchief, like a rose flower in the darkness of the night. Then she moved forward taking a small, cautious step - and the handkerchief was falling. The last to follow was to pick up the tissues and get them to the front of the line.
We continued this way for seven miles; it was slow, distressing, and we advanced step by step; sometimes so close to the German trenches that we could hear the soldiers talking ; and it seemed impossible to us that they could not see us going by. In June the sun rises early, but we could not hurry or move faster. It was like the advance of a snail, and the risk of being discovered with the sun. Finally we left the field and Paulette indicated us to move on to the next step. Censorship forbids me to describe this last step, but I can tell you that by standing where she left us, and watching Paulette return to the mortally dangerous minefield, while doing his little dance slow as an 'adagio', with its broomstick and the mine detector, we had the deep regret of not being able to take her with us. We prayed to God, yes, sincerely, we prayed to God to allow her to safely get out of this minefield. Already too much heroic French blood had been lost to ensure our escape. Already too much.
Five days later, we arrived in England !
Thanks to Mrs Janet Pitman for helping us with the translation of Geoffrey Hewelecke's 1945 Canadian article in Maclean's magazine about Lieutenant Houston's story.
TESTIMONY, MISTER YVES ROUXEL.
The fall of this aircraft occurred three days before my 6th birthday. Despite my young age and the long time spent, some memories remain in my memory. We lived in the village of Logoray and the aircraft crashed in the middle of the night near Kerlosquer and Kerbars. The sound of his fall had awakened my mother. There was a terrible explosion. The next day, everyone wanted to go on site to see what had happened. With my brother Michel, one year younger than me, we walked ther, accompanied by older neighbors, alltogether as a group. Arrived on site, everything was burned. An aluminum container (flyer container) was brought back to the village by the young group. It was about 2 meters long. He quickly served as a boat, which we floated on a pond near our home. Then one day, this container disappeared. The carcass of the plane remained a long time in place.
TESTIMONY, MISTER MONSIEUR JEAN LACHATER.
We were suddenly awoken at half past midnight. The aircraft flew close to the roof of our house and crashed into a terribe explosion.
TESTIMONY, MISTER JOSEPH GUILLAUME.
In our village Coat Maël, there were regular gatherings of resistance patriots. In the house of the Grenel family, the father and his three sons, Jean, Armand, the youngest and Yves, were part of a network of resistance. The eldest, Yves, was very active. The father was also named Armand. On the day of Maël Pestivien's dramatic raid on May 16, 1944, a lot of Germans arrived in the village during the afternoon and began to look for people from the maquis that they suspected of being part of it. Finding no one, they set fire to the house of the Grenel family as well as the neighboring Sanier's family house. To these two terraced houses was added a large barn belonging to Monsieur Ange Le Cozler. When he saw the fire spreading, he was fearing for his barn, he began to destroy with an axe the top of the frame adjoining the Sannier's house to prevent fire from burning his building. A German, seeing him, ordered him to come down immediately. As soon as he arrived on the ground, the German hit him with a rifle butt on his head, he had no pity for this old man. A bit later, a neighbor wanted to create a water chain to extinguish the fire ; she arrived with two buckets filled with water. A German saw her, shouldered his rifle and fired a shot in his direction, fortunately without reaching it. She fled immediately. Both houses burned completely. The Grenel house was never rebuilt. It was in this house that a young aviator died. Talking about this, one day, Doctor Secardin, a doctor at Callac, arrived by car, which he discreetly parked at our house. He knew the house, we were from the same family. He walked to the chapel Saint Gildas and the bottom of the village. We did not know where he was going. We learned it later. He thus came three days in a row to treat this wounded young man. He was walking on one path but was careful to come back by another so as not to be observed. Mr. Armand Grenel father, was arrested during the raid that took place in the town. Released in the afternoon, as he was returning home, he was arrested again by Germans who came to search him by car. He was deported to Germany and died there on 18 January 1945 at the Bremen Blumenthal internment camp in Lower Saxony.
TESTIMONY, MRS MARIA MICHEL.
In the spring of 1944, a young English airman arrived by parachute in the middle of the night near our village Kosquer Jehan en Kérien. He had fallen to the edge of a path leading to one of our fields. When we arrived on site, there were people from the village near him. He laid on the floor, inanimate and unconscious. Someone touched him at the wrist. He reacted a little but he was in a deep coma. One of us said we had to hurry up and look for help. Informed, some resistance patriots arrived quickly. They used a sedan car. The wounded man was seated in the back seat between two men and was hidden in a village where he unfortunately died in the following days. A long time after that, we found in the countryside not far from this place another parachute hidden by a member of this crew who had landed there.
SOME PARTS OF THE WELLINGTON Mk X.
Source biography : "Raids Aériens sur la Bretagne durant la seconde guerre mondiale" (Air raids on Brittany during the Second World War) ; Volume I & II. Roland Bohn.
Sources : "Par les nuits les plus longues" (On the longest nights), Roger Huguen. "La Bretagne au combat" (Britain in war) by Joseph Darcel.
Special thanks to :
- Keith Janes. Website : Conscript Heroes - firstname.lastname@example.org - Escape line. England.
- Jonathan Ives for his research help in England.
- Mr. Yannick Botrel, Senator Mayor of Bourbriac.
- Mrs Maria Michel
- Misters Joseph Guillaume, Jean Paul Rolland, Yves Rouxel, Jean Lachater, Pasturel.
- Mrs. Janet Pitman for helping with the translation of the 1945 article by Geoffrey Hewelecke in Maclean's magazine in Canada about Lieutenant Houston's story
Sergeant (W.Op./Air Gnr). KEMPSON, JOHN
XVIII. F. 2. BAYEUX WAR CEMETERY
"Raids Aériens sur la Bretagne durant la seconde guerre mondiale" (Air raids on Brittany during the Second World War) ; Volume I & II. Roland Bohn.
SIS/MI9 Operation Crozier - 12/13 July 1944 - MGB 503 (Mike Marshall) - Conscript Heroes website
PARTS OF THE WELLINGTON Mk X
Museum 39-45 - Le Pont de la Haye - 22100 LEHON - DINAN
Part 1 Part 2
Part 3 Part 4
Part 5 Part 6
Part 7 Part 8
Part 9 Part 10
Part 11 Part 12
Part 13 Part 14
Part 15 Part 16
Part 17 Part 18
Part 19 Part 20
Part 21 Part 22
Part 23 Part 24
Part 25 Part 26
Part 27 Part 28
Part 29 Part 30
- Photos 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 et 11 are probably parts of the fuel tank.
- Part 10 would probably be one of the caps of the tanks.
- Parts 13-13a-14-15-16-17-18-25 and 27 are part of the same set, ie the part of the mixer of the aircraft's controls with the compensators. The elevator plus its compensator equals two commands. Rudder trim plus both compensators equals two controls, all this controlling the rear of the aircraft. If we look at photo 13, there are two main axes that are perpendicular, one for the rear and the other for the wings, the red line on the right is probably for the rear of the aircraft, the green line on the left for the wings and the blue line for the main control that goes to the joystick. Normally there should be another axis coming from the rudder pedals, the rest of the controls were either cables or bike type chains.
- Parts 19 and 20 were probably behind the propeller (?).
Parts identification : Barthélémy Barré
The biography dedicated to the loss of the Wellington Mk X LN896 was selected to be
published in the History and Archeology Journal of Argoat (n° 60, page 21)
STORY APPENDIX OF THE "PAYS D'ARGOAT" (COUNTRY OF ARGOAT)
author Mister Jean Paul Rolland, issue n°40, published in 2003
Mrs Marie Françoise Secardin - le Roc'h. Her resistance in world war two.
Mrs Sécardin - Le Roc'h - Doctor Sécardin(1891-1950)
On Friday, March 21st, 1944, in the morning, Marie Françoise Le Roc'h, midwife in Callac, returned at home, number 12, street Doctor Quéré. This time of the year, it was not hot, and moreover the fog was dense, which made it harder to drive her little Simca model five : she was exhausted ! She only thought of one thing: her bed to rest and warm up. Her apartment was above the garage of Doctor Sécardin, her neighbor.
She was about to open her door when the doctor talked to her :
- How early riser you are today !
- Yes, I come back from Plougonver where I performed a delivery.
- Would you accept to do me a little service, which would be to go and get my butter at the farm Parcheminer at Kerfoen en Calanhel?
- Well yes, I'll go right away, I'll rest when I'll be back !
When I arrived at the farm, people had just woken up. The widow Parcheminer was heating the coffee in the big fireplace on a small fire. She told me that the butter was not ready. I sat on a small block of wood in front of the hearth to get closer to this little fire, thinking to warm me up. Then three of his sons arrived to have breakfast. They talked to each other, their conversation was quiet, but enough for me to hear a few snatches in particular: ''there are two dead (1), but two others do not have much ''! I did not say anything, I tried to warm myself up.
And when they had finished commenting on this story, I said to them :
- What, an aircraft (2) fell close to Poullouarn, but where are the two wounded airmen ?
- Further down, not far from here, in the big house along the road that leads to the Chapelle Neuve.
But as far as I did not have a lot of gas in the car, I decided to walk to the house that the Parcheminer brothers told me. Along the way, I met a childhood girlfriend, Mathilde Débordés, who was returning by bicycle from this famous house where the airmen were.
She told me :
- One of them is quite severely injured but the other, on the other hand, has only simple scratches on the fingers.
- What, did I tell her, they stay there while the Germans when they will be warned will come to arrest them !
Rapidly, I began to think about the best way to operate.
- You do not want to go with your bicycle to warn the valid aviator that someone wants to talk to him since you told me he speaks a little French ; I do not want to go to this house.
Shortly after, she came back with the airman.
I asked him :
- You are English ?
- "Yes," he answered and laughed.
- Do not play me a dirty trick, because if you are German what will I become?
He laughed, then, because of his accent, I realized that he could not deceive me. I told Mathilde to go with him in a field, on the left, which was on the roadside of Loguivy Plougras. I must go to Callac to look for gas vouchers in order to refuel the tank, then I must come back for him and hide him. There was no time to loose because the Germans could be there at any time. I had to go to the Mayor of Callac, Mr. Toupin. I had to explain him the situation for him to deliver me the gas vouchers. His son Emile came with me to get the fuel and then to pick up the English airman. We found Mathilde Débordés and our "compromising package".
Lying at the back of the vehicle, we were driving towards Loguivy Plougras, without any precise destination ; a certain feeling oriented me to Plestin les Grèves, which I knew for having been to school. I thought that by getting closer to the coast it would be easier for me to send him to England, his country. For the moment I drove confused ! Before arriving at Loguivy Plougras, I remembered that I had an uncle, Arsene Auffret (3), who ran a farm in a village, located left on this road, and where I went there several times with my father. By stopping here, I would be able to have a few days to organize the escape of the English airman. When I arrived at my uncle's house, I explained to him the reason for my coming. He did not take the time to think, and immediately accepted.
Every day I used to come and hear from him. My uncle installed him in a room in his house. After the fourth day, when I arrived, he no longer was in the room, but in a hayloft above the cattle. My uncle informed me of the fears of his mother, aged eighty-four, since this foreigner was under their roof, and that the risks were great. He could not keep him longer. I took my responsibilities since it was my decision to take this step.
I told him :
- Tomorrow, at noon, I will come and look for him and I will take him home to Callac.
I thought this was a good time for the transfer, because the Germans, like us, were supposed to have lunch. Dressed with farmer clothes, I took him to my apartment in Callac. Shortly before arriving at home, I met some ladies of Callac dignitaries who were used, after their lunch, to go for a walk. They saw me with a stranger, but they never talked about it. I installed him in the highest room from where he could hear the aircrafts passing or returning from raids over Saint Nazaire, Lorient ... He could also hear the German company parading every morning and singing : " Ali Alo Ala ..." My brother also came and joined us, he went shopping to meet our needs ; they shared the same bed. I do not remember how many days he stayed at home. I was obsessed with how to evacuate him from French territory. Mr. Toupin, mayor, let me know that I imperatively had to present myself to the kommandantur and to inform about the presence of this airman ! But for me it was out of question of surrendering this airman who had already compromised some people. Certainly the Mayor had been under pressure and threats from the German occupiers. Still, after the liberation, he came to me to get me on his electoral list, but of course I did not accept this offer.
Then I decided to go and visit Dr. Renan. I had full confidence since I was working for him.
And I said to him :
- I want to go to England and as I know you are from the region of Lézardrieux, maybe you know someone who could inform me ? I would like to leave !
Very surprised, he answered me :
- Anyway, you are not going away, you have work, everything works well for you!
Four doctors were in Callac : Hénaff, Renan, Sécardin and Trégoat, and all knew that I wanted to leave but I did not know how they had got this information. They came, alternately, to bring me clothes and shoes in order to dress my airman decently for him to be unnoticed. A friend of Dr. Sécardin, André Connan, owner of the slate quarry of Maël Carhaix, who is nicknamed "little prince", was said to know a network. In fact, it was necessary to reach the Landes, south of Bordeaux, where forestry workers could help us to go to Spain. The description of the airman was distributed everywhere in the neighboring town halls. The fear of getting captured became serious.
After the war, the English captain Carry, Royal Air Force, gave me this poster. He found it in the town hall of the “ Vieux Marché ”. He dedicated it to me. Madame Mond, from Belle-Isle-en-Terre, married to the '' king of nickel '', an Englishman, had told him my story. I prepare, step by step, '' my man '' so that he leaves with all the advantages on our side, without attracting the attention of the Germans in particular. I took advantage of my brother being there to go to the Rivallain hairdresser to get some hair dye. I was able to dye the aviator's blond hair and eyebrows brown. Early the next morning, dressed in a raincoat that belonged to Doctor Hénaff, which hides the other clothes, we leave with my small car at Plougonver railway station. Unfortunately, I only get one ticket for two towards Le Mans !
Arrived at Guingamp station, I give him the suitcase, taking care that his flayed hand is not too visible. The German sentries paced the platforms, the rifle on the shoulder. We do like everyone else so as not to get noticed and go to the waiting room. On the way to Saint Brieuc, André Connan and one of my uncles, Yves le Roc'h, are on the platform. They make sure that I leave and that I don't face any difficulty. At Le Mans, a friend of mine, Madame Fauvy, with whom I studied midwifery in Rennes, is waiting for us. We eat and sleep at her home and, early the next morning, we go to the station to take the train towards Tours. I changed my mind, I will not go to Bordeaux, but I will get closer to the demarcation line (4).
Arriving in Tours, we start looking for accommodation that we find across the street from the station. This hotel has the particularity of having an access corridor that reaches the street. In that way, it is not necessary to go, each time, through the bistro and the reception lobby, to reach the room. We are free from our comings and goings. We stay a few days in Tours, where I find the time very long. The aviator, at first, stays in the room and I go to the station to get information from SNCF employees, to be able to cross the line. I invent a story saying that my sister was seriously ill in the free zone and that I want to get there as soon as possible. But I can't get any information, people being suspicious of me. After three days, the aviator and I don't eat much because of the anxiety and fear we feel. We walk in the streets of Tours, arm-in-arm, he says to me in his rough French: "I have the impression that everyone is watching us" ! I understood him well and shared his opinion. One evening, we decide to break the monotony and we go to a chic restaurant. After settling in, I see, at the back of the room, seated at a table, two men who look at us with insistence, so much that the appetite is not there. The waitress comes to bring us a dish, the aviator thanks her so strongly with her accent, that under the table I kick him so that he understands that we have to be quiet. We don't stay long in this place, we nibble the rest of the meal then I ask for the bill before disappearing into our hotel room.
Then Saturday arrives, the day of the market in Tours, as I studied enough maps to locate the demarcation line, we take a little train to Cornery. On this train there are peasants who have been going to the market and who are chatting together. I listen to them and perceive, but without showing any interest, that someone or another has crossed the demarcation line. When I have heard enough, I speak to the oldest of these peasants :
- Could you not tell me how to get to the free zone because my sister is seriously ill, I am accompanied by my deaf and dumb brother and we have no papers ?
- Listen Miss, at the next station, I'll go and see the smuggler and tell him to come and meet you. The guy came, he stays near the train door, he asks me:
- How much are you ?
- Two, my brother and I.
- Look at me, I have a navy overcoat, a beret and a musette on my back. You stop at Cornery, it is the terminus. Then you will follow me at hundred meters behind, do not stop looking at me, I will be accompanied by two other people. At Cornery, like newlyweds standing gallantly, we follow him with the fear of losing him, without really knowing if we are respecting the distance of one hundred meters. In the evening, along the road, there are Germans in an orchard, washing in a bowl of water. Since we have no papers, the idea of ??being caught and being shot crosses my mind ! The smuggler also warned us that, when he made a sign to us, we should immediately disappear in the vineyards and wait wisely. Fortunately, the weather is with us, a light rain started to fall, like a fog, reducing the visibility. He comes to pick us up and then we follow him through the vineyards with the other two people. Once, the airman had some difficulties in walking and pointed out to me that he had not done his military service in the infantry, his shoes were heavy with clay stuck to his soles. When reaching the end of a vineyard, a small path marks the demarcation line. To the right of this path I see a German guard post which keeps the road which leads to Loches. The smuggler makes us walk in single file, on the side, so that we do not hear our steps. But suddenly, an engine noise is heard, a car approaches ! The men jump on the embankment to hide but, as it is raining, it is slippery. I was the last one to hide. It is a false alarm, the car goes on the main road. Then we start talking and introducing ourselves. The two men were escapees from Germany, originally from Corsica, the Laurentin brothers (one of the brothers wrote to me later in order to ask me if my « package » had arrived safely) ; I did not answer him as a measure of discretion. We go, at nightfall, to the French guard post which is a little higher. I feel a big relief, and retrospectively I think it was the best moment of my life : we were friendly received by the soldiers, they gave us some food. At that time, I declare to the smuggler that the guy who is with me is not my brother but an English airman. He disapproves my approach and lets me know that, if he had known that before, he would not have accepted because it was too dangerous for him and for me. So I was right to shut up ! After such a long time, I do not remember that the smuggler asked me for an amount of money. The greatest regret I have at the moment is that I did not ask him for his name and contact details in order to contact him to pay tribute and thank him. The smuggler takes us to a house which seems to me to be a reception center run by an elderly man who welcomes us on the doorstep with a storm lamp. This old man seems to belong to passive defense. He takes the four of us up to the attic. There, I see a pile of Scottish blankets, the two Corsican brothers hasten to grab one, they roll up inside and on the floor, they fall asleep. They seem to be used to such a situation ; the airman and I do the same and as a serene woman among three men, I fall asleep too. My only obsession is getting lice ! The next morning, the smuggler takes us to Loches (Indre et Loire). The two Laurentin brothers go to an administrative center to obtain free movement papers, to return to their island. As for us, we don't know where to go, we look like tramps ! The smuggler meets us, we drink a coffee at Loches station and he tells us that we should go to Châteauroux and meet Colonel Batz (officer in charge of occupied zone-free zone relations). We decided to do it, by taking the train to Châteauroux where we arrive shortly before noon. We meet Colonel Batz, a very sympathetic person, who invites us to eat in the canteen where we have an excellent meal which gives us great comfort. I explain the object of my approach to him ; I come from Brittany with an English aviator and I am looking for some way to help him join his country. His answer is clear :
"If you do not want him to stay with us, where obviously he will be caught, go to Lyon to the United States Consulate, there perhaps they will agree to have him evacuated. In the meantime I will give you a pass so that you can go to Lyon and return home to Brittany ”. Our dress is very pitiful but it is not our primary concern ! That’s how we were then on the way to Lyon where we arrived the next morning at Lyon-Perrache station. When leaving Callac, Doctor Trégoat had the good idea to give me the address of his daughter, Georgette, who was married to Kurt Salomon (cattle merchant). Mr. Solomon and his family took refuge in the free zone because they were sought as Jews. Despite all the worries I had accumulated in this adventure, I remembered the address where we were going. As soon as we knocked on the door, a lady came and opened us. She told us that the Salomon family no longer lived in this accomodation. As she found us very embarrassed and disappointed, she communicated us the new address and offered to accompany us by bus to this building. We exchanged some banal words. She was also from Brittany, and then I stopped talking ! We found the Salomon family and then after a few minutes, Mr. Salomon found our clothes in poor conditioons, and he allowed us to wash and offered us other clothes. Then he led us to a jewelry store, which black marble facade was decorated with seahorses, held by a man called Le Provost, (a very important person in the Resistance) and located at Place de la République. I entered alone in this establishment. Monsieur Le Provost opened a hatch in his jewelry store and then he took me down to a cellar, where there were lots of boxes, in order to ask me questions : where did I come from, where did I go through… ? Then before leaving, he told me that the airman's family would be informed that their son was still alive. I concluded that in this cellar, were stored some radio equipments. Then I met an American journalist, Madame Braud, who asked me :
- " What are you going to do now, are you going back home to Brittany? I can offer you to join the American Red Cross ".
- " No, no, I'm going home ".
The airman, went alone to the United States Consulate. The American authorities explained to the aviator their strong desire to meet the person who helped him in his escape. Then they received me in order to ask me questions : in front of maps, I showed them the route we’ve taken. As I had stained nails, they asked me wether I was hairdresser or dyer ...! They offered me a cigarette, while continuing the interrogation which, I guess, was similar to the one with the English. They realized that the answers were the same, however their skepticism remained. The fact that a single woman could have taken such a high risk approach ? In the tram, well-dressed gentlemen greeted us. I respond to their greetings but without any words. Resistance was taking place ! I stayed four days with Mr. Salomon who lived under the assumed name of Claude Trégoat : the airman lived with one of his cousins, a banker, whose parents fled Nazism for the United States. Kurt Salomon made us discover the city where he had a lot of connections. The day of my departure has arrived, Mr. Le Provost and the English airman accompanied me to the station ; he still asked me to stay to accompany the aviator to Marseille, to the Maritime Gendarmerie. I refused and stated that he no longer needed me, the danger has passed. Duncan MacCallum, the English airman, asked me if I could wait until the end of the war to settle down with him. I bowed my head and didn't answer him. I didn't want to give him wrong hopes. So, with my repatriation certificate issued to Châteauroux, under the nose of the German soldiers, I easily reached Callac. At the end of the war, I heard from Duncun MacCallum, from his mother who communicated with Captain Howard. He returned to Scotland in Aberdeen, at the following address: 1 Mac Aleen camp 21 house Street.
He lived with his mother and sister. He was then a prisoner of the Germans and, after the war, he made a career in Canada in Ontario where he died. He was a civil engineer and in the Royal Air Force he assumed the role of navigator. As for me, I came back to my profession as a midwife and I got married on April 25, 1941 to Doctor Pierre Sécardin. Doctor Sécardin, son of a captain of the Navy, was born in 1891 in Dinan, married for the first time to Mademoiselle Euphrasie Le Davet (1895 - 1925), school director in Guingamp, died in the sanatorium of Plémet of tuberculosis, with whom he had three children : Louis (died at the age of three), Pierre and Yves. His second wife, Louise le Cam (1904 - 1937), was a cousin of the first, originally from Coat Maël en Maël Pestivien, who also died of tuberculosis. One evening, the gendarme Plourin, based in Callac, came to slip a piece of paper under the doctor's door, on which he had written: "we're going to arrest you". The next morning, I was dumbfounded when he said to me : « get your things, we have to go ! ».' That’s how I made my way for the second time. We went to Tours where we stayed in the same hotel. My husband took some information, we walked all night long and early in the morning, we were in the free zone. Then we took the direction of Lyon where we were welcomed by Mr. Le Provost, jeweler. Doctor Sécardin worked as a doctor for the Indochinese troops, as for me I no longer had a job. In November 1942, my husband managed to get me a passport for a French army officer's wife from North Africa. He sent me to Brittany to get some information and to tell the owner of a bistro, his friend, to take care of his house. I went to Moulins where I was searched by a German woman. After having settled my business in my country, I returned to Lyon, but without having papers in order because they had been delivered to me for a one-way trip. I came back to Lyon via Bordeaux ! Passing through Rennes, I met Pierre Sécardin who came to see his fiancée, Miss Gobichon. But Lyon was invaded by German troops, and it became increasingly difficult to hide. Then he was assigned to Toulouse that we reached by train via Sète, where we spent the night, because our train was not a priority : we had to give priority to the German convoys. In Toulouse, where he worked, I sometimes accompanied him. Then I practiced in a birthing clinic at Place Esquirol. We stayed in a small two-room house on an enclosed courtyard in the Cartoucherie district. We were happy, we were missing nothing. My husband then decided to reach Callac, everyone said to us: « you will regret it, do not go to Brittany to be bombed ». But he had only one desire : to come back. But we paid dearly for this return! We had left Brittany for almost a year.
He was with Tremeur Burlot, head of the Front National (civil organization of the internal resistance in the Callac region), in the first months of 1943. A person, on a bicycle, came to drop off a packet of newspapers « The Resistance » for my husband and then I left with my bag of midwife to distribute them. During the night of April 8 to 9, 1944, around half past midnight, the Germans broke into our home looking for Doctor Sécardin. I was alone with the youngest of his sons, Yves, twelve years old. The whole house was ransacked, the cupboards too, the soldiers, putting their weapons in my back, were yelling : « open it madam, open it madam !!! » They even sent me to the bottom of the garden where we had a kennel. The officer seemed more accommodating.
He spent time and asked me :
- « Where is your husband ? ».
Without showing fear, I told them :
- « He has been going to Paris for a few days to buy dental equipment ».
- « You must know which hotel he stayed at ? »
- « Well, no ».
- « You French women are funny ! I have to bring you under the halls of Callac. If I can I will have you back home in maybe one or two hours. » When arriving at the halls, there were already a lot of people, I sat next to Eugène Cazoulat (5).
He tells me :
- « If you get out of here, go and tell my wife that she must destro the address of a Belgian which is in the drawer of the kitchen table, under the forks ; my wife is sick, she is about to give birth. »
- « Well, if I get out of here I’ll do it. I stayed the rest of the night at the halls. From time to time, the Nazis showed us, supported by two soldiers, a man called Mainguy, whom they had tortured in order to scare us and encourage us to speak. I was called to the Gestapo office which was at the town hall, upstairs in the halls. The SS again questioned me about my husband and, of course, I told them the exact same thing than before ».
They suggested me :
- "If you give us his address in Paris, we will release you".
I thought myself, if I get out of here, you're not going to find me again ! At the end of the interrogation, I left the office and I could see men, their heads against the wall, I only recognized Morin, the mechanic. In the early afternoon, they loaded men into trucks that I could see through the windows of the room where the women and young children had been gathered. The German officer who came to pick us up, me and my husband's young son (Yves), came to warn us that we could reach our homes. Yves Sécardin was with the young people, in particular the Geffroy brothers, including Charles, who had been arrested in August 1941. I went to see a German officer so that I could take him with us. He asked me twice:
- « Is that your son, madam ? »
- « Yes ??sir ! » I said firmly and confidently – « Well, he can go with you. » When I arrived home, after having given the message of her husband to Madame Cazoulat, I gathered some linen on my bike and went to « Saint Cognan en Saint Nicodème », to the farm Bourdonnec, where I remained a full month. As for little Yves Sécardin, I advised him to go to his grandmother's, at Coat Maël en Maël Pestivien. When I arrived in Saint Cognan, the son of the widow Bourdonnec, told me that my husband was in Plémet (where he had practiced his job) and that he asked that I join him. I went to Plémet, by bike, my satchel filled with tobacco for the members of the Resistance. Then we returned to the Duault forest sector, precisely to « Pont Cadic en Saint Nicodème », with an old lady, a client of my husband. The day of the fighting at Kerhamon, we were there and we heard gunshots and bursts of automatic weapons.
We were in several houses in the region and on Sunday June 4, 1944, before the fighting, some people went to the site of the drop zones at « Kerprigent en Locarn ». They came back with parachutes to make corsages for the young girls, sewing kits, chocolate, cigarettes ... that the parachutists had offered them. But when they knew that the Germans were coming to look for the maquisards in the bordering moors, they were afraid, and they hid their gifts under a pile of litter ! After the fighting in Kerhamon, a villager took Doctor Sécardin, in a chariot, to the Rivoallan clinic in Guingamp in order to practice his job, and he was still there when the Americans entered Guingamp.
After the fights, I moved by bike, and I went to Plourac'h, I did not know where to go. I slept with my aunt Fernande (Mrs. Arthur Le Roc'h), retired teacher, in the village of Plourac'h. Previously I was at my godmother's (Miss Coquil Marie) also in the village, but the priest explained to her that it was hazardous and dangerous to welcome me. One evening, a man called Le Bolc'h came to get me to give birth to his wife, then after giving birth an idea came to my mind : if I went to my brother's farmers in Kerlosquet en Plourac'h. The farmer, when she saw me, exclaimed :
- « It is not now that you should have come, but three weeks ago because I would have been happy that you were there to give birth ». And it was there that one night we heard thudding noises of aircrafts passing low, they were flying towards the maquis of Lan Maudez to parachute weapons. Then around noon, on August 5, 1944, the Americans arrived in Callac. I did not go directly to the house, I stayed two days at the Burlot café (retired teacher), across from the gendarmerie. Then I found the house, the door smashed, the car stolen…
Then my husband joined me. We learned that his son Pierre, who had just finished his studies in pharmacy in Clermont Ferrand, had been arrested on July 9, 1944 and then massacred on July 16 in Garsonval en Plougonver. He had refused to indicate where his father was hiding. Doctor Sécardin said that if he had known that his son was detained in this terrible Souriman cellar in Bourbriac, he would have done everything in his power to recover him. My husband died in 1950, without having been able to mourn his son. I often make this high-risk trip in my dreams, whereas the trip done with my husband is more vague. Maybe because I have fewer bearings and the dangers were less ? The story of Mrs Sécardin, who never gained glory from this action, still deserved to be told. By her individual and solitary decision, she in her own way showed her disapproval of Nazism. Thus, this testimony, at the dawn of her life, told by herself, will not be a legend, consequences of the inaccuracy of the facts and the exaggeration. Make future generations deeply meditate on the need to fight for democracy, for freedom, for the dignity of men, of all men. Madame Sécardin took all the risks, she chose, as André Malraux said, the "disorder of courage". Peace, democracy and the rule of law are fragile situations with an uncertain fate. The 21st century may be different from the 20th century, if we do not forget what these Resistance fighters with subversive ideas have done and demonstrated. To the young heirs and accountants of the commitment of these generations ! It is in the collective memory of our nation that our youth must find the sources of its reflection on civics, the defense of freedom and peace ? Because there is a danger when forgetting is confused with refusal to know and choosing the comfort of ignorance.
Testimony to Mrs Sécardin - Veteran's card, issued by France 56 years after Mrs Sécardin's actions and signed by the Minister of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Halaoui Mekachera. Without having requested it !
Jean Paul ROLLAND
(1) They were temporarily buried in the cemetery of Chapelle Neuve, before reaching their native land after the war. The first person to take care of the airmen is Yves Barbier from Calanhel. He drove Mac Callan, injured in the hand and the other seriously burned, to Poulou's farm.
(2) This aircraft had just carried out a bombing on Brest where she was hit by a Flak shot. (No error).
(3) In fact his wife was a cousin to my mother.
(4) The demarcation line was created by the armistice of June 22, 1940. It went from the Spanish border to the Swiss border by Saint Jean Pied de Port. Mont de Marsan, Langon, Angoulême. Vierzon, Moulin. Paray le Monial, Chalon sur Saône, Dole. An authorization was necessary (Ausweis) to cross it. It was no longer needed after the occupation of whole France by the Wehrmacht, in November 1942, but was officially removed only in February 1943.
(5) Head of FTP staff.