THE RIPE HARVEST
The daily “La Bretagne”.
The negotiations and necessary preparations for the creation of the planned daily, which we had decided to call “ La Bretagne”, was already taking up an important part of my time during that same period. At the same time as de Guébriant was putting Jacques Guillemot in contact with the directors of Ouest-Éclair, I was also asked to pay them a visit by the Mayor of Guingamp, Paul Le Jamtel, who was a distant cousin of mine on my mother’s side. One of his sons’ mother-in-law, Mme Lemonier de la Haitrée, was an important shareholder of the Presse régionale de l’Ouest, editors of Ouest-Éclair. Both thought, doubtless rightly so, that it was preferable to be on good terms with the directors of Ouest-Éclair rather than struggling against them, whether or not we wanted to, or have them struggling against us on a commercial level. As far as they were concerned, Pierre Artur and Jean des Cognets viewed the creation of a new Breton daily with some apprehension having just succeeded, a few months before, in getting rid of their competitors at L’Ouest-Journal, which had been a costly exercise. As regards the Nouvelliste de Bretagne, another Rennes daily, they had long since overpowered it, in 1930, by getting rid of l’abbé Trochu, amongst others , who was a little too pink or too red for their liking. As for Jacques Guillemot, another shrewd businessman, who was not unaware of the comparatively fragile nature of the financial means he could raise to place at the disposal of the future newspaper, he had yielded to these arguments.
During the first fortnight in December, shortly after my return to Paris in fact, I went to visit Jean des Cognets at the Ouest-Éclair’s Paris office, avenue des Champs-Élysées. Short and slightly paunchy with fine features and a lively look in his eyes, he reminded me of the portraits we have of my maternal grandfather, the chemist from Callac. First of all Jean des Cognets was a pleasant man: he proved to have great knowledge. He always remained courteous and when he wanted to be convincing, knew when to use the necessary hint of emotion in conversation. In fact, the too few writings he left behind reflect his intellectual refinement. Had he not been firstly a business man with many demands being made on him, leaving little time for intellectual pursuits, he would otherwise surely have been able to make his name in our world of literature.
He already knew the main aspects of our projects and inquired as to how much I was earning.
– “If you are drawn to journalism,” he told me, “and if you would like to become part of the Ouest-Éclair team, we could double your present civil servants salary and make room for you on our editorial staff…”
I explained to him that I was only interested in journalism in so far as the newspaper we wanted to create could succeed in gathering together an important body of opinion in favour of the Breton regionalist and provincialist claims, a body which in turn could influence the French government’s policies vis-à-vis Brittany. I willingly admitted that his articles on Breton freedom, published in July in Ouest-Éclair, were an important step in that direction and summarised the main elements of the policy we proposed.
– “But,” I said to him, “Why did you not follow on that momentum? The best ideas only stand out if you go back over them, even at the risk of it becoming wearisome. A newspaper’s policy must be defended on a daily basis. It must deal with all the news, even that of minor importance, in this case that of Breton interests: and you know just as well as I do that Ouest-Éclair, from its area of distribution, is not just Breton. As far as I am concerned,” I added, “the Ouest is just a euphemism, and an article published from time to time is not sufficient for a newspaper to be a Breton paper…”
Jean des Cognets agreed that the Ouest-Éclair had become an important newspaper and it was that aspect, in accordance with commercial interests in fact which, a long time ago, had already taken precedence over that of upholding those ideals dearly held by its founders.
– “But,” he added, “the increase in our sales also enlarges our audience and it would doubtless reduce both if we were to pursue the policy you suggest on a daily basis. I have no doubt that with a little goodwill on both sides we could reach common ground. But I can not make any decisions without first consulting Pierre Artur. Therefore we must arrange to meet him in Rennes: let’s arrange a rendezvous now.”
Pierre Artur’s office was on the premises of the newspaper, rue du Pré-Botté. He was just as courteous as Jean des Cognets, but with a certain stiffness which the latter did not have. He was tall with a vivid complexion, looking more like a regular army officer than the director of a newspaper: in fact he was not involved in the editorial side and restricted himself to the directing of the administrative, technical and commercial side of the enterprise with the help of his assistant Alphonse Aubré. He was otherwise largely responsible for a progressive social policy which benefited the newspaper’s personnel. He had thus created a remarkable team spirit within the enterprise.
– “ It can be said that a business is doing well, “ he told me one day, “ if a director is free to go off, except in times of crisis. “
Pierre Artur was the best one to discuss and sort out with Jacques Guillemot, the financial and commercial agreements which could be concluded between the two groups, should we decide to go ahead: a broad picture still had to be drawn if we settled on this solution.
– “ There is no doubt,” I said to them, “ following on the conversation we had already, that the creation of a Breton daily intended to promote a regionalist and provincialist policy would not be necessary if Ouest-Éclair was to carry out this function. Is it not possible to create a Breton Ouest-Éclair, which does not prevent you from being Norman in Normandy, and so on for those from Anjou and Vendée also? It would of course require a different lay-out and presentation according to the various regions, not only of those pages for the departments, but also of the front pages where the editorials and general information are concentrated.”
I quickly realised that these suggestions seemed politically dangerous to Jean des Cognets, whilst Pierre Artur’s arguments against it were of a technical nature. I pointed out that these technical problems had been surmounted for the creation of departmental and sub-departmental editions, which were different according to the geographical position of the public they were intended for…
– “ But,” they both suggested, “ what seems to us impossible to do on a daily level could be done more easily on a weekly level, and the political lay-out of these weeklies could be entrusted to you.”
But only three of these weeklies were still operating in January 1941: L’Ile-et-Vilaine, Le Morbihan and Les Côtes-du-Nord. The publishing of “La Bretagne a Paris”and the Finistère weekly had been discontinued: L’Ouest-Éclair had never published a weekly in Loire-Atlantique in any case. Therefore Pierre Artur and Jean des Cognets’ offer would only be a partial solution and, I understood that if the publishing of the planned daily could not be prevented, they were thus attempting to establish a good relationship of common interests between the two groups.
I therefore accepted the principle of their offer, subject to a more precise agreement, and without any bias towards what might or might not be done for the daily. They were prepared to print it in a limited way and at a reduced price, on condition that it came out in the afternoons. This meant that our distribution had to be done by the Hachette depot and press delivery service and not through their network. It was certainly not an ideal option.
Nevertheless after numerous discussions and meetings, this was the option that Jacques Guillemot and I finally settled on. Our financial resources were relatively low. The active support of Ouest-Éclair, whose resources on the other hand were considerable, was a factor we could not disregard: it allowed us to contemplate the future with greater confidence.
I thus left Paris for good during the first fortnight of February. Marie-Madeleine had found a furnished apartment for rent in Rennes, avenue Louis Barthou near the station, which we moved into on a temporary basis. My presence on the spot became increasingly necessary: I could not wait any longer for the Ministry’s services, cut off in Vichy, to deign to inform me regarding my request for leave of absence. We installed some offices in a large apartment situated beneath the Cathedral towers; at 19 rue de la Monnaie. As in most old houses in Rennes, the staircase was majestic and imposing.
On the 2nd of March 1941, the Ouest-Éclair’s weeklies announced that we had been put in charge of their editorial and that the first edition under our editorship would be on the 9th of February 1942. On the Thursday afternoon, 20th of March, the first edition of “La Bretagne”, an evening daily, came off the Ouest-Éclair’s presses. It was dated the 21st of March, first day of spring.
Beforehand, as my plans were taking shape, I made the most of my last few weeks in Paris to look for a team of Breton journalists who might be interested in forming the staff of the future daily. Jules Haag, editor in chief of Ouest-Éclair in Paris, was also president of the Breton journalists’ association there and gave me some very helpful information. I started looking for Morvan Lebesque who, the previous October, had abruptly left Rennes where he had been editor in chief of L’Heure Bretonne. No-one at P.N.B. seemed to know what had become of him. He had been replaced there by Ronan de Freminville, better known under the name of Jean Merrien. He, in turn, had just resigned following on the forced departure of Mordrel : He and Raymond Delaporte were the type of people who could not get on together in any case.
I felt that Morvan Lebesque , with his experience of professional journalism, would make a good editor-in-chief of the daily. I finally found him in a back-room of the editorial office of a Paris newspaper, near Faubourg Montmartre. He seemed surprised that I had been able to trace him, and obviously sought to remain forgotten. He was so thin, he looked half starved and bore absolutely no resemblance then to the prosperous Morvan Lebesque many people came to know, much later, with the Canard Enchainée, when with his talent and his pen he finally made a name for himself in the journalistic and literary circles of Paris. He explained to me that he did not want to return to Brittany and that if he had left ‘L’Heure Bretonne’ it was because he had absolutely no confidence in the soundness of Mordrel’s and the P.N.B.’s projects, from the day he realised that the support of the Germans had let them down, in spite of the hopes they had all entertained at the beginning of the occupation. Neither did he believe in my own projects, nor did my explanations of the policy I was planning to follow succeed in convincing him.
– “Do not say anything about seeing me when you go back to Brittany,” he asked me, “it would do me no good.”
In fact I had no further contact with him until the day when he finally let go and burst out his Breton faith, which he had kept hidden under a bushel for a quarter of a century but had never lost, in his brilliant book : “Comment peut-on être Breton?”. Unfortunately, this essay was to become a sort of testament and spiritual swan song. But it is thanks to it that his memory will survive. He was once again, as he put it himself when we were in touch again at the time, “the militant brother of our struggle.”
Ronan de Fréminville was too exclusively a writer to have been entrusted a position as editor-in-chief of a daily, with all the technical problems that go with it. But at “ La Bretagne “ he became an excellent literary director : it was he who discovered or was involved in launching, thanks to our columns, Anne de Tourville, Yves-Marie Rudel, Théophile Briant, Armand Robin, René-Guy Cadou, Alain Guel and many other talents. The scarcity of paper and our subsequent agreements with “La Dépêche de Brest”, compelled us to eliminate the columns for which he was responsible. Though personal relationships were not always the easiest with such a dominant character, full of a sense of his own superiority, his aristocracy and his talent, I still regretted having to let him go at the time. We knew each other and thought highly enough of each other, in spite of brief arguments, for me to become godfather to Gwenolé, his first son by his second wife, Gisèle Verschuere, daughter of a bookseller from Cherbourg, with whom he later established La Librairie de Bretagne in Rennes. We always kept in touch later on, until his sudden death a few years ago.
Olier Guyon, who originated from St. Brieuc and was a Breton militant of long standing much older than myself – I had been to school at St. Charles with one of his sons – had taken on the editing of “ La Bretagne à Paris “, along with Louis Beaufrère. Olier was a taciturn man with great convictions whose loyalty to his beliefs was without a doubt. He happened to be available but was unable to leave Paris for family and personal reasons. He accepted at least to take on the job of permanent correspondent on the spot for us. He continued doing so as long as the paper was in existence. This was the cause of his being prosecuted at the time of the Liberation but fortunately with no penal consequences.
Thus, I had to ask Gérald Baecker, a professional journalist in Paris and a long-standing Flemish militant who was a friend of Jean-Marie Gantois, to take on the job as editor-in-chief of “La Bretagne”. He understood completely all our problems and we had met quite often before. Furthermore, he was a brother-in-law of Théophile Briant, the poet from “ La Tour du Vent” in St. Malo, whose “ Les Amazones de la Chouannerie”, we were going to publish soon as a series. I was not aware at the time that he was unreliable and had a difficult character.
The relationship between De Baecker and the newspaper’s team, ended by deteriorating: he very soon handed me his resignation and was replaced by André Rouault to whom I had previously entrusted the job of assistant editor-in-chief.
Rouault , who originated from Plounérin, had just recovered from a long illness. I did not know of him until he was recommended to me by our friend James Bouillé, an architect from Perros-Guirec who was one of the coordinators of Bleun-Brug, and by Louis Even du Vieux-Marché, an amiable dreamer with blue eyes, gentle expression and red beard. He was the Trégor correspondent for Ouest-Éclair and moved around the area a lot, with or without his tribe who trailed around after him. He knew everyone there and was to be seen at all the official banquets which gave him the opportunity of feeding himself at very little cost: but he was also known, by all his friends, for his tendency to call on them just before mealtime, which they would have to invite him to share. Moreover, he was a brother to the Senator of the same name and a direct uncle of Jeanne Le Flem. Rouault, who lived near Plounérin station, often provided him with interesting “documents” for the newspaper he represented. He came to fetch them himself, usually around mid-day.
Rouault claimed to have Breton beliefs even though before the war he was a militant for Croix de Feu, Colonel de La Rocque’s group. He really had no specific beliefs, seeking only those which fulfilled his ambitions at the time. He had represented a Breton association from Paris, at the Fédération’s steering committee meeting, and I had seen him there a few years ago without really getting to know him. It was only much later that I became convinced that he had insidiously sharpened the conflicts which had opposed de Baecker to the rest of the team. I have always found it hard to get used to insincerity, and even more so to believe in it and accept it. Rouault possessed a certain amount of enthusiasm. He had a gift for writing and did his work well. That he was not very talkative did not bother me. It was only after our agreements with “La Dépêche” that his duplicity and scheming came to light: even then it was Marcel Coudurier, whose duplicity equalled his, who finally warned me about it. No doubt the latter was an expert where I was not.
My various problems and contacts with different people, together with rejections, cowardice, revenge and despicable acts which marked that period of the Liberation, finally convinced me that good nature, courage, sincerity and fidelity are rare virtues in this world. Thus, all the more reason to cherish those who display these uncommon qualities. One does not come across them very often along the winding road of life. Yet only they can light up the path and help you reconcile with life.
Xavier de Langlais was one of the latter: he was not a journalist by profession, but I was able to help him out of a difficult financial situation by entrusting the illustrations of our columns and our serials to him, as well as the drafting of our small daily column in Breton. He accomplished all of these with his usual talent and conscientiousness. He wrote a number of the Breton columns of Seizh Avel himself, the rest were the work of a network of Breton associates he had gathered together. Later on when we set up offices in Morlaix, the scarcity of newspaper forced us to eliminate most of our illustrations. However he more or less replaced Ronan de Fréminville in charge of our artistic and cultural columns. He worked from home, rue Victor Hugo, and I did not see him that often, though we sometimes visited each other as a couple with Marie-Madeleine and Annick.
It was always a great comfort to me and a rest from my multiple tasks, to talk with this patient, gentle and uncomplicated man whose fine features were always underlined by a bow tie. Xavier de Langlais was deeply sincere and firm in his beliefs: he was well aware of his own worth but was careful not to show it. He was obsessed with the idea of leaving some lasting work behind him, such as a monument erected to the glory of his nation, his language, traditions and his soul. He followed imperturbably, just as I did but on another level, “The road of a distant goal”, which our fellow country-woman and friend Madame du Guerny had referred to in the book of the same title that she had written under the name C.Danio. Moreover he had a very refined mind. He was a painter, poet and philosopher all at once. A few years later his book “ L’Ile sous cloche”, better known under its Breton title “ Enez ar Rod”, had prefigured, long before George Orwell , the world with neither hope nor faith which was reserved for mankind with the invasion of specialisation and technology, together with the advent of Big Brother, in which neither of us could help but recognise the dictatorial, omniscient and omnipotent state, destroyer of freedom, a concept against which we were fighting in fact by carrying on our Breton struggle.
The erudition of Xavier de Langlais in Breton matters was only surpassed by that of Robert Audic, whom I had called to my side specially to look after Ar Brezhoneg er Skol. I had settled him into a small office next to mine. Gentle and shy with a sickly nature, he was a fountain of science. His weak health did not permit him to hold his post for very long.
He was replaced by Alain Le Berre, when it became necessary to follow more closely the network of Breton courses we had created in a number of primary schools. I had never met Alain Le Berre before as he had been exiled in Le Havre. He was an avid reader and occasionally wrote for La Bretagne. Throughout his life he remained faithful to the Breton language. His work on Breton ichthyology, published shortly before his death, ranked him as one of the most prominent researchers of his generation. With his eternal pipe and tartan ties, he continued to work conscientiously alongside me until the Liberation. We know that the latter put an end to, amongst other things, the Breton and Breton history classes in the schools, which we had managed to obtain and to run in spite of the Recteur d’Académies’ reluctance. I had also called on my old friend Yves Briand, ex-librarian of the Breton students’ circle, to take on the role of archivist for the new daily. He had settled himself into a small room alongside our offices. But a serious illness soon caused him to leave us also: he was never effectively replaced.
March 1962: Yann Fouéré with Yves Briand, archivist for the daily ‘La Bretagne’ in the ’40s, and later for the MOB, with his daughter top picture – with Marie-Madeleine Fouéré et Mme Briand bottom picture, in Paris.
The team of journalists at our central offices were a rather motley group: at our editorial meetings, held on a daily basis at first, then weekly, I usually presided and was thus able, little by little , to get to know the response of each one to the policy I was pursuing. Thus I was better able to advise them when, at the end of our first year, we had to transfer the printing and the editorial office of the paper to Morlaix.
Joël Seryex carried on as assistant editor under de Baecker and then under Rouault : he came from “ Nouvelliste du Morbihan” . When the paper left Rennes I was able to channel him towards a post as local editor of the Agence des Nouvelles Continentales which had set up an office in Rennes. When he was appointed sous-préfet towards the end of 1943, he was replaced there by Louis Stéphan, a young student and talented journalist, who had impressed me by the forcefulness and originality of his pen. I had taken him on as a freelance journalist at first and afterwards on a permanent basis. He wrote mainly for “La Dépêche” under the pen-name of Jacques Morvan. I had assigned him a place in Morlaix alongside André Rouault. He had the audacity, the enthusiasm, the imprudence and faults of his youthfulness. The “Maquis” in Saint-Marcel and Ploërmel where he was from, must have held it against him as, shortly after the Anglo-American landing in Normandy, he was found cravenly assassinated in Paimpont forest. A great talent struck down in the flower of youth, a tragic and pointless death, as were many others unfortunately during those troubled times. Those who assassinated him made sure they left no trace of their identities.
Michel de Galzin, another from Morbihan, compiled the local news which came from the correspondent’s network we had set up. Meticulous and tidy, he carried out this often unpleasant task to perfection. He was motivated by a deep love for his area of Vannes and has since dedicated a number of books to illustrate it. His loyalty to his friends and his country has always been unfailing. I was not able to organise a suitable position for him before we left Rennes. He is one of those I have always regretted having to part with.
André Guillemot, Jacques’ half-brother, took care of the editorial office in Rennes. He was by far the eldest of our team. Thirty years previously, he had belonged to the first Breton separatist movement, founded by Camille Le Mercier d’Erm. He had married an Irish girl in order to, as he put it, “regenerate his Celtic blood, having been too gallicised “. A move which did not work out as he had no children by the Irish girl and she was one of the most anglophile persons I had ever met. Before and after our departure from Rennes I had entrusted him with the editing of the Ouest-Éclair’s weeklies, for which we continued to be responsible. For this service, he was remunerated directly by our colleagues. His flexible character and easygoing nature , also very British, as well as the complete detachment with which he accomplished his tasks, made it possible for him to retain his position, without any conflicts, until the disappearance of the Ouest-Éclair in August 1944.
André Jorand, like Seyrex, also came from the “ Nouvelliste du Morbihan” . He took on the post of editor in charge of the abundant sports column which I had decided to include in the paper. I felt it was essential to penetrate and conquer the younger members of the public in order to spread the ideas championed by “La Bretagne”. I was the first to place such an importance on sports and the newspapers which came after us, copied us in that respect. André Jorand was the ideal man for this job. He had no specific Breton beliefs but he was a conscientious technician and competent at his job. We could not have done without him: he continued at his post until the end. After the Liberation when our newspaper had ceased to operate, “ L’Ouest-France” was quick to take him on.
Yves Le Diberdier was undoubtedly the most colourful, the most prolific, the most aggressive and the most difficult of our local correspondents to control. He was also one of the eldest of the team: a seasoned Breton militant, he had first taken up arms with Brittia, alongside Jean-Pierre Calloc’h. He was also extremely erudite in Breton matters but his pen was dipped in vinegar and vitriol: he would have been the cause of my being involved in numerous trials for defamation had I not given strict orders that all his articles without exception should be submitted to me before publication. But he was behind the articles and campaigns which contributed to the making of “La Bretagne” into a vigorous newspaper critical of centralised power and the Vichy administration. His verve, his rebelliousness and great talent as a polemist were given free rein. He respected nothing and no-one. After our move to Morlaix, when I had to do away with the post of Brest correspondent with which I had entrusted him, he remained as one of our most loyal and most prolific free lance correspondents. He was Yves Le Diberder for “La Bretagne” and Youenn Didro for “La Dépêche”. Compared to him our other correspondents were made to look like mere “civil-servants” of journalism, in spite of the conscientiousness of some of them. I was not able to keep many of them on when we moved to Morlaix, using instead from then on the “Dépêche de Brest” network of correspondents, for economic reasons.
A small scaled-down team took care of the administration, sales and accountancy. Our accountant, Vallée, a conscientious and solemn character, was often the butt of jokes because of the toupee he wore. Another, Nourry, a former bank official in Lorient, was a character recruited by Guillemot and totally lacking in humour: he nearly brought about the departure of two of my female staff members, by claiming to prohibit them from wearing make-up whilst they were working! Practically all of this staff also had to go when the printing and editorial office of “ La Bretagne” were transferred to Morlaix. The administration, sales and accountancy were henceforth undertaken by contract with the services of “La Dépêche de Brest”. From Rennes, the only ones I kept with me were my sister-in-law, Suzanne Mauger, who was an excellent secretary and very discreet, together with Gilbert Monroy as press stenographer. The latter had an extraordinary gift for languages: he spoke Breton, French and English fluently and later on easily acquired Spanish during his exile in Venezuela. I was not able to keep him until the end as in spite of my efforts he was conscripted for labour services and, after his arrest by French gendarmes, had to leave for Germany. He married a Ukrainian whose nationalist Ukrainian militant family had to flee the Russian invasion of their country. A firm friendship continues to bind us, as well as our shared thoughts and ideas for the defence of the values and ideas, which already then motivated the team we had formed. The main goal, or even the only goal of “La Bretagne”, was to support and disseminate them.
The promotional pamphlets and posters advertising the creation of the daily newspaper “La Bretagne”, specified very clearly, though with all the necessary caution called for in the difficult times we lived in, the objectives we had in mind: “A daily newspaper safeguarding Breton interests” for a “prosperous and happy Breton province in a reformed France” was their claim, adding that the forthcoming newspaper was “compiled for all Bretons” and “produced for them only”. My first “message”, which featured in our first issue, defined the aspirations and limits of our politics, which was to “win a worthy place for Brittany within a France worthy of us at last”. This would be along the lines of the redevelopment of the provinces as had been outlined, rather vaguely in fact, by Maréchal Pétain in his messages. The Breton question had therefore to be put in those terms, that the achieving of its autonomy – as no progress could be made without that – appeared compatible with the maintaining of France’s unity which was fervently sustained by both the Vichy government and the German authorities. Many in Vichy believed that the “collaboration” between France and Germany, drawn up in Montoire, was the price which had to be paid to maintain and guarantee this unity. They knew that a “fait accompli” always carries a lot of weight in the history and destiny of a people. Whether this was sincere or not, we had to take advantage of that state of mind to proceed along the path of provincial autonomy. We had no way of knowing what the future held in store for us: the maximum amount of political, cultural and administrative concessions had to be obtained for Brittany and the Breton people. Along this path to autonomy the idea had to be popularised in Breton public opinion, and at the same time this evolution in public opinion had to be used to apply pressure on the new government and its local representatives, to grant them the most extensive satisfaction possible.
This was not an easy task, which the following events would prove. It was not only the newspaper which had to be managed and kept going, and the policy which had to be defined and maintained, but also a vast amount of work had to be put into public relations, meetings and political initiatives. I had been a militant for a long time already, and was not put off by this type of work, though I may not always have enjoyed it. I had to impose a rigorously regular work discipline on myself: but what is the “time for living” if not to devote one to causes, occupations and work which are precisely your reasons for living? Few people in this world have that privilege as they become so absorbed, sought after and often swamped, in their work as in their leisure, by such time-consuming and intrusive daily tasks that if eventually they manage to do without them they no longer know what to do with themselves.
We finally found, a couple of months before the birth of Rozenn, an unfurnished house to rent, 128 rue de Fougères , opposite where the “octroi” or old road levy office at the entrance of town used to be, at the boulevard de Metz crossroads. A few hundred meters away, the trees in the new Parc de Maurepas barely reached six feet off the ground. To the South, behind the wall of the small garden, there were still fields stretching out into the countryside. Thus I was able to go ahead with the move. I had no regrets leaving Paris, in spite of all sorts of memories which linked me to it. I knew I could count on my imagination to be able to recall them on the screen of my memory whenever I wanted to. I was happy to have my table, books and familiar objects again, in a new place. Our landlord, who had a small carpentry business and was now retired, helped me convert one of the three upstairs bedrooms into a study. The shelves were soon full of my books. I was able to have the phone installed. I was comfortably able to work there, though in the winter the house was very cold and damp, especially on the street side to the North as, with no fuel available, we were unable to have the heating on. I had some wood brought in and even on one occasion some turf from the Monts d’Arrée which, thanks to the chimneys, made it possible to more or less heat the two or three rooms we used most.
I was not often away. Whilst I was in Rennes my time table remained practically unchanging. In the morning, I went down rue de la Monnaie, at first by car, then later towards the end of the Occupation, when petrol rationing became so bad that it was no longer possible to get any, even with the “coupons” so parsimoniously distributed, I cycled down. At the office I went through my mail, dictated the most urgent replies, saw those who had asked to see me or saw to some matters in town. Shortly before one o clock, I returned home, rue de Fougères, and straight after lunch settled down to work in my study on the newspaper’s lead article for the following day. I kept up this minimum rate of five or six editorials a week for as long as “La Bretagne” was published. When I was away, I wrote two or three in advance and posted one each day from wherever I happened to be. Even during those troubled times, at least whilst communications existed, the post worked better than it does today!
Having finished my article, I returned to the office and presided over the editorial staff meeting, during which that day’s paper was criticised and the broad outlines for that of the following day were drawn up. The rest of the afternoon was devoted to correspondence, meetings and visits. The evenings were usually spent on the research necessary for the preparation of the articles, on the critical examination of the newspapers, ours and those of our competitors.
From the month of April 1942, when we had to move the main editorial office to Morlaix, I had to go there regularly for two days a week. I rented a room in a private house; not far from the printers where both our newspapers were printed, on the other side of the tobacco manufacturers. I usually left around midday on Monday so as to be in Morlaix in time to chair the early Tuesday afternoon editorial conference for the two newspapers. I then returned to Rennes by the Tuesday night train which only reached its destination around one o clock in the morning. Never have I walked as much through the streets of sleeping Rennes as I did then. In view of the circumstances, with the curfew there was no traffic and the streets were deserted. Partly for security reasons, I preferred to walk along the middle of the pavement, where my footsteps echoed loudly. It was a relatively long way from the station to our house, rue de Fougères, especially with only the moonlight and stars to guide you. Sometimes the night was as black as ink. It took me easily three quarters of an hour to an hour to walk home. I had all the time in the world to meditate en route.
Meditation had never been needed more: these were troubled and difficult times; but everyone knew they brought decisive events. In spite of the isolation to which I was restricted by the hostilities, I continued to think of Brittany and the other nations without a voice and without a European state, which were once more in danger of being crushed by the confrontation of the great powers, the collision of their imperialisms and the arousal of their ideologies which, as often happens, masked their desire for power. I certainly had a clear view of the objectives I was pursuing, which were sufficiently described and expressed in my political editorials at the time. But I did not conceal the fact that these objectives, or at least some of them, could only be attained if we succeeded in assembling a body of opinion in their favour, strong enough to make an impression on those in power and convince them to engage on the road to the reforms we advocated. This was the core of my strategy: I thought at the time that, whatever happened, what we achieved could not be taken away from us, unless, of course, there was a revolution, like the one 150 years ago, which had swept away Breton civil liberties, institutions and franchise agreements, in spite of the Breton’s obvious determination to defend and protect them. The French government was weak and divided, even if its administration and tools of power remained, and even if they could count on the German authorities to prop it up. It should be possible to snatch some concrete concessions from it, which to us were simply our rights, and which it would never have agreed to contemplate under normal conditions.
At the time when “La Bretagne” was founded, Breton opinion had already changed. The only recollection it had of the separatist attempt was the fact that the Germans had seemed to support it at first. The hostile propaganda which was unleashed continued to substantiate this legend. In reality, it was not that simple: but it was not the official propaganda which was going to tell them that: and if the Germans themselves had said it, no one would have believed them; it was necessary to clearly set ourselves apart from this attempt: it rapidly became apparent, according to the reports we received from our salespeople, that my first articles had not been enough to settle the matter. It was advisable to emphasize it even more. I met with Raymond Delaporte and passed on my observations to him. We agreed on a course of action, and it was as a result of that consultation that I published two articles which, at the time, aroused both the surprise and anger of numerous P.N.B. members, unfamiliar with the subtleties of politics. “Ce que nous sommes à la Bretagne: bon Bretons et bon Francais” was the title of the first one which appeared on the 15th of April 1941, and the second “Réponse à L’Heure Bretonne “ appeared the following day. It had been agreed that L’Heure Bretonne would react, emphasising its distance from us, as we did from them and from the P.N.B. Raymond Delaporte was sufficiently well versed to present it in a politically correct manner, though personally I would have preferred it to have been put more clearly, and would have done so had I composed it myself.
Included in the second editorial was a sentence, which I had not chosen lightly, as I was afraid it would raise objections from the German censorship: “It can maybe not be asked of everyone in Brittany,” I said, “to be like us good Bretons and good French people. It seems in any case that everyone can be asked to be good Bretons. We can not accept that a good Breton, even if he has no love for France, can obligingly tolerate another foreign domination, whichever it is. If there is to be a revolt against the one, then there must also be a revolt against the other. That is all I have to say to L’Heure Bretonne”. But Von Delwig, who was then the press censor in Rennes, was himself a shrewd politician. I knew that he was favourable to Brittany and to the ideals, “respectful of French unity,” which it defended. He did not bat an eyelid.
Having thus prepared the ground, I subsequently came back to it again on several occasions. These clarifications, together with our propaganda, allowed me to set up friendship networks around the newspaper, which took shape and formed the “ Comités des Amis de la Bretagne”, in the principle Breton towns. Little by little, they assembled a number of personalities concerned about the defence of Breton interests and therefore favourable to the regionalist or provincialist ideals we defended, and which were also linked or not to the government and also to the person of Maréchal Pétain. To these committees, I assigned a dual goal: the psychological and financial support of the newspaper, of course, but also testifying to the French government of the political support we were receiving from them. At that time when all the traditional political parties had faded away and the vast majority of elected representatives had rallied to the Vichy government, the “notables” were the only ones who could replace them as possible negotiators with this government and its representatives in Brittany. It was therefore important that I should avail myself of their support: they represented a very wide range of elected local personalities, representative of the business world and the trade unions, members of the Universities, the Church and the Bar as well as the professions.
I took charge of the creation of the one in Rennes myself, and made numerous visits allowing me the opportunity of meeting with personalities as diverse as Bahon-Rault, professor Marquis, Thébault, mayor of Janzé, and ex-deputy, General Fleuriot, the president of “ La Caisse de garantie des Notaires”, and that of the Agriculture Chamber. In other towns, the initial contacts were made by our militants and some of our correspondents. Jacques Guillemot sent out special envoys in charge of recruitment. I would usually be there to attend the first committee meeting in each town. All those who took part knew what was involved: I would see to it that, at the same time, the project of Statutes for Brittany, which I had already prepared in the autumn of 1940, and had since then presented to personalities we wanted to gather together, would be circulated. In a clear and simple form this project of Statutes synthesized our policy and the eminently concrete objectives we pursued, apart from any ideology or political doctrine. The latter in fact were getting very bad press. Public opinion included both right and left wing political parties in its reprobation, holding them more or less responsible for the defeat and collapse of France.
From all of these contacts, it was clearly quite evident to me that there were many more Bretons in favour of a large regional autonomy than was openly admitted. This is even more so the case now, as I write this : support for these concrete reforms transcends all ideological divisions and all loyalties to the French parties; it expresses itself with more or less enthusiasm and frankness, depending on whether the party or government being supported in Paris is hostile to it or not. But it lives on deep inside each one, just waiting for an opportunity to express itself more openly. Here again, it is the courage of a public spirit, the character and independence of each one, which makes all the difference and makes one dare to say out loud what the others are quietly thinking but hesitating to express. There is not one Breton, at least amongst those who recognise themselves as such, who is not a potential “autonomist” , and who would not be prepared to join forces with some form of current political autonomy. Our nation so often defeated, crushed and decimated, ignored or persecuted by armies, foreign powers and interests, desperately needs to be reassured. But today there are always those, whether Breton or not, who out of self-interest or ambition, or simply through lack of character or imagination become accomplices or docile instruments of the domination and hold them more or less responsible for the defeat and collapse of France.
At the same time, however, I had to maintain contact with the Vichy government’s representatives in Brittany, as I had placed my course of action under the aegis of the “provincialist “ reform projects set out by Maréchal Pétain. After the préfet Georges, it was with the préfet from Ille-et-Vilaine, who shortly after became the first “préfet régionale” of Brittany, that I had my first interviews. Francois Ripert, son of the Law professor of the same name, was the one who zealously and conscientiously carried out these duties. He had come from the “Conseil d’État”. I had met him already in Paris when he was head of the cabinet of one of the Interior ministers shortly before the war. The first time I approached him, just before the appearance of “La Bretagne “, was to put him in the picture regarding my projects, and to ask him to intervene so that my request for leave of absence should be approved. I also knew that the report he would make to the central services of the Ministry of the Interior after my visit, could influence the fate of the request I had made to the Information services for a subsidy. I saw Francois Ripert several times again after this, as well as his permanent secretary R.Cousin, especially when he was appointed Préfet Régionale de Bretagne, and when, to the surprise and protests of all Bretons, Loire Atlantique, known as Loire Inferieure then, was placed under the Préfecture Régionale d’Angers, and therefore outside of the region he administered. Francois Ripert did not see any point in protesting about this, though I asked him to do so, on behalf of the Bretons. He administered L’Ille et Vilaine in the same way as he would have administered L’Allier and Brittany, in the same way he would have administered La Touraine and Orléans. After all, the role played by the central power was to bring together, or not, the French departments as it suited them. As a top civil servant, he was a zealous servant of the State as one and indivisible. He could not see that this new division of regions could cause problems for the Bretons, or could put a strain on their interests or feelings, nor even that they should have been consulted about this. Was he not a French person like the others?
The articles in “La Bretagne” echoed in no uncertain terms my disappointment. I was not the only one to protest and I did not fail to motivate the chorus of those who were displeased, for whom the columns of my newspaper were always a tribune. Little by little, the “Comités d’Amis de la Bretagne” were being set up, and their lists of personalities were a proof of their representativeness. At the beginning of 1942, I decided to launch a campaign through them with the town councils of Brittany. The idea was, within the field of provincial autonomy and the administrative unity of Brittany, to take up again the campaign which had been led by Ar Brezhoneg Er Skol during those years immediately preceding the war, in favor of the teaching of Breton in the schools. What I had prepared to be voted on by the town councils, was broadly based on the “ projet de Statut “ which the “Comité d’Amis de la Bretagne” had already signed :- An administrative assembly or grand provincial Council composed of delegates from the ‘communes’ or municipalities, and from the Breton field of economics, the professions and the religious field, together with the actual teaching of Breton and the history of Brittany in all the teaching establishments of Brittany.
This was practically simultaneously addressed to all the municipalities of Brittany, together with a circular showing the signatures of the notable personalities who had rallied to the “ Comité d’Amis de la Bretagne “ . In the space of a few weeks, over a hundred town councils had adopted this new document. Francois Ripert, doubtless alarmed by this rise of “ provincialist “ sentiment, deemed it necessary to impede it. He instructed the four préfets of his region to remind the town councils that they were forbidden, by order of the municipal law of the 5th April 1884, to vote on documents of a “political nature “, and therefore to respond to “ requests ” of this nature that they might receive from persons “ outside the administration “ . The prefectoral circulars also stated that it was only “for Maréchal Pétain alone to decide on the political institutions for the country and as to when they would be carried out.”
The Regional Préfet’s intervention clearly slowed down the rate at which the document was adopted, but did not stop it altogether. It is interesting to note that much more recently during the 70’s and 80’s the prefectoral administration of Brittany used the same terms of the law to instruct the town councils that they should abstain from voting on documents in favor of an amnesty for Breton political prisoners, or in favor of the administrative unity of Brittany.
My relationship with Francois Ripert quickly deteriorated, and hit rock bottom after La Bretagne’s press campaign and investigations into the manner in which certain civil servants and Vichy administrations, in particular that of Supplies and Price Control, operated, especially in Finistère. I felt that in the absence of consultation with the electorate, it was up to us defend the interests of the population and put forward their complaints. This campaign also put an end to my relationship with Prefet Georges, who supported his Director of Price Control, Dubois Saint-Severin, in spite of the insolence and vulgarity the latter displayed. Georges was a career civil servant, just like Ripert. The system was more to blame than they were; but they did not see it that way.
Ripert even succeeded in having my father transferred from the Brest Trésorie Génèrale to that of Orleans, accusing him of furnishing me with information on the abuses of the Finistere administration! I, in turn, had to protest at the highest level and conduct a vigorous offensive – requesting Vichy and Paris for the Prefet to be transferred – and sought support from those parliamentarians who had maintained good relations with Maréchal Petain’s ministers. I confidentially proposed the name of one of these ministers, Edgar de Kergariou, Mayor of Lannion, to replace Ripert. De Kergariou subsequently became a member of the “ Comité Consultatif de Bretagne”, being later appointed French ambassador to Sofia . He had the ear of Maréchal Pétain, but the government of the latter absolutely refused to appoint a Breton as regional Préfet in Brittany. Senator de Kergariou was an amiable, well thought of man of the world and was good company. But a Breton de Kergariou, with a position of authority in Brittany would be held in suspicion by the top French administration. Also Vichy was not pleased that I had temporarily fulfilled a function at the Morlaix sous-préfecture ! But, the appointment of Breton civil servants in Brittany, and Breton-speaking in Basse-Bretagne, was already a fundamental claim as far as we were concerned and we constantly defended it publicly.
In the meantime, Raymond Deugnier had been appointed permanent secretary of the Ille et Vilaine Préfecture. I was glad to see him again. He spent the evening of his first Breton Christmas with us. In fact, very soon after, at the beginning of 1942, he was appointed permanent secretary of the Finistère préfecture. My problems with his préfet placed him in a delicate position.
One day, he loyally informed me that the latter had asked him to make an official request to the Feldkommandantur, the authority with whom the prefecture had to officially communicate, to ban the publication of the newspaper “La Bretagne’, because of its attacks on the French administration.
Deugnier, just as loyally, made the request that was expected of him : nothing came of it, as it automatically aroused the opposition of the Propagandastafel in Rennes and Angers, who could not tolerate the army meddling in things which they felt did not concern it. But these problems did not prevent Francois Ripert from giving a positive response to our request for a subsidy for the newspaper : on condition that it was within reason and ‘subject to recall’ , probably in case “ La Bretagne ” continued to attack the French Administration ! I knew that this was a classic strategy of the government. In the offices of the Ministry of the Interior’s cabinet, I had witnessed the stream of journalists and parliamentarians who were the beneficiaries of these bribes. But my request for support was in view of the policy I maintained, which was in accordance with French sovereignty and unity, and not to have to be subjected to some instructions from the State or its top civil servants. On this point, I wished to maintain absolute independence: in any case I knew that governments listen more to those who criticize them, than to those whose agreement they are sure of, or whose agreement they know they can ‘buy’ with favors, money or privileges.
This was another part of my policy, which I particularly insisted on. Granted I had placed my struggle within the framework of France. But I had not assured Vichy of any support for its policies, nor for the activities of its administration. I would only be able to support it, in so far as the reforms that Maréchal Pétain contemplated were on the way to fulfillment. It was not the unity of France that I defended: it had already cost us dearly; but it was the conquest of tangible and concrete Breton freedom which, though it was incompatible with the indivisibility of the State, could be obtained and blossom within the general framework of its unity. Until this political, administrative and cultural freedom had been secured, we had to keep our distance from whatever government was in power. We had to deal with them as would a body in opposition, loyal of course but efficient, vigilant and resolute. Giving free reign to our criticism was also the only way of convincing Breton public opinion of our independence from those in power, Vichy and the Germans. We were practically the only Breton daily to clearly demonstrate that independence.
It was of course impossible to criticise German authorities and policies: but it was Vichy, and not the Germans, who governed Brittany. This was still the case, even if the Germans increasingly had a tendency to try and govern Vichy. At least as far as they were concerned we were able to display complete neutrality. It was not up to a strictly Breton daily like ourselves to take sides on the conducting of the war, nor on the Reich’s policies and Franco-German relations. We did not claim to be a major news reporting paper, as were our competitors. Von Delwig had allowed it, once and for all, even though his successors found it more difficult to do so as the war progressed. Our news, articles, reports and editorials had to focus on Breton subjects or those of Breton interest. We had a sufficient amount of these topics to fill our pages. Consequently, in every way possible, the German propaganda articles which we were more or less forced to print, were relegated to secondary positions, and the space allocated to them was reduced to a minimum. At first, this policy succeeded very well, but it proved increasingly difficult to maintain. For a few days, I even succeeded in publishing the British war communiqué alongside the German communiqué. But our peers demanded the right to do the same, and it was not long before we were forbidden to publish the former. This policy that I personally advocated, proved increasingly difficult to maintain. I have written with more details in the book which I dedicated to the history of the daily paper “La Bretagne”, of the problems it caused me in the end.
But in spite of our propaganda and our efforts, there were no developments. Maréchal Pétain continued to speechify: but the Administration as jacobinical as ever just did as it pleased. It was the power which continued to govern. It wanted to continue doing so in the smallest detail as it did before, even though certain sectors of the economy, of social policies and employment, partly escaped their grip, particularly in the occupied zone, owing to the presence of the German army. But this very fact, because of the increased state control it implied, provided it with an opportunity to spread its tentacles : even going as far as asking the town clerks for a list of the numbers of cows, pigs and chickens living in their area! Instead of loosening the noose of centralisation, it was getting worse. Of course, the state of war was partly to blame. All elected bodies at a local level were gradually done away with, though no one had ever requested it. Apart from the influence of events, this was a question of deeper underlying objectives, permanent, immutable and unchanging. It did not bother Maréchal Pétain’s ministers that they were contradicting the spirit emanating from his messages. One of them, Joseph Barthélémy, wrote with delight: “Our country will know a centralisation, greater than ever in its history, even under Napoleon…”
All this did not surprise me. At least I continued to protest loud and clear. The paper was an efficient political support, and the Friends of Brittany groups faithfully supported our claims. But by autumn of 1941, I was beginning to be concerned about the financial balance of my undertaking. Our starting capital was diminishing. We were still waiting for the subsidy from Vichy. This also only half surprised me. I then decided, during that autumn of 1941, to take a trip to Vichy to try and speed things up, as well as to test the waters and feel the atmosphere. Maréchal Pétain was based in the Hotel du Parc: The ministries were spread out in various hotels or requisitioned apartment buildings. The old town, known for its water, wasnow a hive of rumours, intrigue, political manoeuvring, gossip, fruitless restlessness and dubious schemes.
The Hotel du Parc, the casino and the neighbouring apartment buildings were the Elysée and Palais Bourbon rolled into one: but nearly all the parliamentarians, whom no one knew what to do with, had left, after being paid for their silence and complicity. In reality or as a mirage, the French State survived nonetheless in this miniature capital: it continued to rule and every morning saluted the Flag before the guard of honour.
Top-ranking civil servants dispatched everyday affairs as before. Vichy had dethroned Paris for a while. I succeeded in seeing a number of people in the Head of State’s cabinet, over which reigned Dumoulin de Labarthète : Roger de Saivre, a heavy lidded man who was a friend of my brother in-law Macheras and former head of the “Jeunesse patriotes”, Colonel de la Rocque and some other civil servants. I had never before met the former head of “La Croix de Feu “. It surprised me that this small self-effacing man, of little presence or prestige, could have mobilised crowds of people. It is true that neither was Hitler much to look at: but his voice, his passion and his demagoguery probably radiated some kind of magnetism which hypnotised the masses. In contrast, Maréchal Pétain, whom I glimpsed once at a salute to the colours, had a great and prestigious dignity in his simplicity.
It also surprised me that the latter’s entourage was mostly composed of people who mainly belonged to the so-called ‘right’ school of thought of L’Action Francaise et des Ligues, whilst the setting up of his regime had been supported by parliamentarians and militants from all the French political parties. It was explained to me that the ‘left’ militants had mostly rallied around Pierre Laval, who at present had been set aside by the government, but who remained faithful to Vichy. In fact, most of them, refusing to regard Vichy as France, fought in the occupied zone. Many had joined Marcel Déat, Georges Claude, Félicien Challaye and Doriot, drawn more to the “Socialism” of Germany than to the “Conservatism” of Vichy. A prefectorial report at the time pointed out that they upheld “a national policy with a socialist tendency” there. Were not both Hitler and Mussolini, as Doriot and Déat, and many others, originally from the socialist and communist left or extreme left? Once again I could see the lack of realism in French politics, with its hopeless attachment to ideologies and abstract concepts. Those who follow the latter do not always realise the consequences they can have if carried through to their logical conclusions. The French will always lack the solid pragmatism and sense of moderation of the Anglo-Saxon’s, who do not much care for purely ideological debates. The latter simply judge a policy on the concrete results, which can be expected from it, and not on how perfect it can appear to the mind.
As a result of this visit I came to the conclusion that Brittany was perceived as being a great distance away, even further away than when perceived from Paris. All that was required from Brittany was that it remain within the bosom of France. The rest was not urgent. It would be looked into at a later stage. Reports would be made as a result of my visit, of course, and the request for a subsidy would take its course.
I went to visit my old colleagues at the Ministry of the Interior. All were more or less moping, and becoming embittered in the deleterious atmosphere of Vichy, and the narrowness of the room requisitioned for them. The chief of staff assured me that the measure taken for my dismissal, subsequent to my departure from Paris without any formal leave, was a mistake and that my leave of absence was a foregone conclusion. I therefore concluded that everything possible had been done to prevent me from following through with my plans, but now that the paper was being published, it had been decided to make the best of a bad situation.
On returning to Brittany, I had practically decided to draw a line through any hopes we had of receiving a subsidy from Vichy to help us make ends meet. Firstly, we organised a capital increase, to which Jacques Guillemot again contributed generously; then with Pierre Arthur, Jean des Cognets and the help of Ouest-Éclair we looked into converting “La Bretagne’ to a weekly paper. The decision had just about been taken, and was ready to be carried out, when in February of 1942, there was the sudden turn of events brought about by the “Dépêche de Brest’ affair. I wrote a detailed account of it in the book I dedicated to the history of that daily which I directed. Francois Ripert had already obtained the dismissal of the Mayor of Brest, V. Le Gorgeu, accused of having publicly refused a vote for a motion of confidence in Maréchal Pétain. At the same time, Ripert had also obtained the transfer of the Brest sous-préfet, Perreau-Pradier, my old colleague from the Ministry of the Interior. But there was nothing he could do, on the administrative level, to prevent Le Gorgeu from carrying on as director of the Brest daily, an influential publication of Brittany. It was the German embassy, under pressure from Vichy undoubtedly, and the higher authorities of the Propagandastafel who intervened, demanding that the shares of the Union Républicaine du Finistère, editors of “ La Dépêche “, held by V. Le Gorgeu and the members of his administrative council, be placed at their disposal : failing which, the publishing of the newspaper would be forbidden . According to historians of that period, this type of thing was fairly common, in one form or another, within the press published in the occupied zone, over which the occupation forces had supreme authority and control.
Marcel Coudurier, the director general of “La Dépêche”, was alerted and intervened. The newspaper had to be rescued, together with the employment it provided and the equipment it held. He got in touch with Jacques Guillemot after a visit to the Anger’s Propagandastafel. The latter had the affairs of the Breton press under its control. Following on the negotiations and transactions I have described, we were able to purchase the thirty shares, from a total of 150, held by Le Gorgeu and his administrative council. In this manner, we avoided both the disappearance of the newspaper “La Dépêche” and the appropriation of the shares by the Stafel authorities. Thus the “La Bretagne” group, in agreement with Marcel Coudurier and the shareholders of the newspaper, took over political control of the Brest daily. The changeover was thus also merely a change of the administrative council.
Negotiations with the past management of “La Dépêche” had lasted several weeks. We felt it was necessary to have these ratified at a general shareholders’ meeting of l’Union Républicaine , which had become Union Bretonne du Finistère, before moving to Morlaix. Thus it was not until early in April of 1942 that “La Bretagne” left the “Ouest-Éclair” printers for the printing presses of “La Dépêche” in Morlaix. The common interests established between the two newspapers proved to be very beneficial to both publishing bodies. As far as we were concerned it allowed us to contemplate the future with less anxiety. The integration of services and publicity, the savings on editorial and administrative staff, and the reduction in printing costs by utilising copies common to both newspapers, enabled “La Bretagne” to lower its costs, reduce its deficit and balance its budget. It also became a morning daily, which was much better than being an evening daily, for a newspaper that was sold throughout Brittany. Its sales and takings regularly and progressively increased.
We had a contract for the printing with “La Dépêche”, just as the “Ouest-Éclair” had done ; but they also took over the management, enabling me to offload a number of administrative tasks, which I had previously shouldered, onto Marcel Coudurier. This left me with more time to take on the political management, and editing, of both newspapers. And also to devote more time to my involvement in the political life of occupied Brittany. Together, both papers sold close on one hundred thousand copies a day, of which about 80% was for “La Dépêche”. They had become a force to be reckoned with in the service of the politics which I had undertaken. The result soon made itself felt, on a financial as well as on a political level.
Our move to Morlaix had just about coincided with a change in the Vichy government and the return of Pierre Laval. Towards the end of April, I was advised by the regional prefecture to return to Vichy, where I had been summoned by the Minister Paul Marion, who since 1941 was responsible for the information services and propaganda. He had just been appointed Secretary of State for information in the new government. Thus, a few days later, I arrived at his office.
Paul Marion, like Pierre Laval, came from the “left”. He was mainly known as one of Jacques Doriot’s assistants: but the fact that he had been a militant communist in the twenties, and afterwards had joined the socialist party, was omitted. He had only left the former to join Jacques Doriot’s party, and had resigned at the beginning of 1939, after the Munich agreement, thus showing that he had no sympathies for the present German politics and ideology. He certainly was a propaganda technician; but from my conversation with him it seemed that he did not confine himself to his technique. He had a very widespread knowledge of political matters. Because of his previous functions, he was aware of the documents I had submitted to his services. He explained to me that the previous government had decided to leave it on the back burner, but that this one had opted to look on it favourably.
– “President Laval is closely monitoring the situation in Brittany,” he told me. “He is in close contact with some of your parliamentarians, particularly those who are his Senate colleagues. He is aware of the moderating role you play in Breton circles, which is why we have decided to give you financial support and authorise a regular monthly subsidy of F40.000 as from this month…”
Paul Marion also led me to understand in veiled terms that very soon there might be a change of incumbent at the Breton regional prefecture.
– “ There is an awareness,” he told me, “ in the spheres of the government , that Brittany’s particular political and cultural problems must be approached from a different point of view than in the administration of an ordinary region.”
I realised that all the steps I had taken, together with those of Kergariou and other Breton personalities had finally born fruit. I was satisfied with the favourable decision I had obtained regarding the newspaper. The subsidy had finally been granted, when I no longer expected it, and also at a stage when we could just about manage without it. This, in fact, was possibly the real reason why it was granted: better to fly to the assistance of a fait accompli than to appear to be set apart from it. Vichy was also probably grateful to me for having indirectly contributed to the settlement of the delicate Le Gorgeu affair, avoiding any fuss or major political incident. The pragmatism Pierre Laval had demonstrated throughout his political career had certainly been a factor: he was not a man of rigid principles but of compromise. Also, I thought, Marion’s services are confronted with similar problems on a daily basis. This is just a routine matter to them. I knew that the great majority of newspapers of the free zone, especially those which had been withdrawn from the Paris region, only survived thanks to the regular government subsidies they received. They were in fact much higher than the one we had been allocated. The “collaborationist” press of the Paris region flew the same flag, except that it undoubtedly had several possible sources of finance.
A few days after I had returned to Rennes, I had a visit from Maurice de La Gatinais, whom I had not met before. He belonged to an old family from the Breton town of Lamballe. He was elegant, dressed with care and presented himself well. His fine figure was enhanced by Roman features and a true oratorical talent. He explained that he had been “advised” to come and see me. He confidentially informed me that Pierre Laval would be appointing him to the post of Regional delegate for Youth and Sport in the Rennes region. He had mostly come searching for ideas, encouragement and support, possibly even assistants to help him with those duties, intending to give them a Breton slant. I promised I would think about it.
At first glance, I was interested in the idea. The great difficulty we came up against was the putting into practice of the regional or “provincial” autonomist policies we defended. The appointment of Breton civil servants in Brittany, or those open to our ideas, was a means of progress towards that end: the State’s monolithism had to be broken, and thus that of the administration on which it’s undivided power lies.
I had enough administrative and political experience to know that in centralised France, measures decided on by government , be they laws or simple decrees, were only applied if the administration so desired. This, in fact, has not changed since. Thus it was that from the beginning of 1941, we were able to obtain the teaching of Breton History as an obligatory subject in primary schools, thanks to steps taken by some Breton parliamentarians, who continued to frequent Vichy. Maréchal Pétain himself was in favour of it: Brittany had such a wonderful past, and the Bretons were such good soldiers! But no efficient measures had been taken to implement it, and the government’s decision had remained practically unheeded. The hostile Education Office in Brittany, full of its centralised traditions, had no lack of excuses: lack of adequate textbooks, lack of competent personnel, requisitioned schools and any number more! Rather than confronting the Education Office, it was better to let them fall into their own trap by writing and printing the handbooks, organising courses for teachers, and preparing them for new and specifically Breton tasks. The Youth delegation therefore could initiate this policy and make up for the Ministry of Education’s deficiency, whether intentional or not, at the local level.
Owing to the inexperience and ignorance in Breton matters of Maurice de la Gatinais, who thought of himself more as an orator rather than a civil servant, it was necessary to provide him with competent advisers devoted to Breton interests. The small Ar Falz group, who would have been ideal for this, could not be relied upon, as they had never quite recovered from the premature disappearance of Yann Sohier. Kerlan, his successor, was involved in various activities for the Parti National Breton and devoted nearly all his efforts towards the creation of a Breton speaking school. There was no one else from their group that I knew of, and we had to move quickly. I spoke to René Daniel about it: he was one of the few primary school inspectors in Brittany, who faithfully supported the efforts of Ar Brezhoneg er Skol for the teaching of Breton.
René Daniel lived with his wife and their two Scandinavian blond, young children at Place Saint-Thérèse, in Saint-Brieuc, near the church of the same name, whose architect had been our friend James Bouillé. He organised a friendly dinner there which gave me the opportunity of getting to know Joseph Martray better. He was a young civil servant with the Côtes du Nord prefecture at the time and Daniel had introduced me to him previously. I explained the whole matter to him. Though not a very talkative person, he did not hesitate for an instant. As it happens he was also from Lamballais and was already acquainted with La Gatinais and his family. Administratively, his secondment from the prefecture to the Youth’s regional delegation could easily be arranged. This was done a few weeks later when La Gatinais was appointed.
Once he was at the Youth delegation, Martray lost no time. Whilst La Gatinais held public meetings and had people stick up posters, asking the Breton youth to lead the “révolution nationale” , Martray was organising Breton History and Language courses. I went to two or three of them. Martray also took the initiative of creating the review “An Eost” which carried on the dedicated tradition of “Ar Falz”, and effectively replaced it in public education circles at the time. Right up until the end of the occupation, “An Eost” was a precious link between teachers and professors who, making the most of the facilities we had managed to obtain thanks to the creation of the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne, created and gave Breton and Breton history classes in primary schools, and education centres, which had replaced the training colleges. I had also suggested to Martray, that he also try and bring together Celtic and Folk groups in some kind of federation, which we could draw on to recruit teachers and course organisers with Breton minded motivation. Though there were far fewer of these groups than there are now, this proved to be a very difficult task because of having to overcome the rivalry, jealousy and petty quarrels between them. This scissions disease continued its devastation, just as it would continue to do so later. Nonetheless, the short-lived Union folklorique de Bretagne made it possible for us to introduce Martray, some time later, into the Comité Consultative de Bretagne.
Shortly after La Gatinais and Martray started at the Youth’s regional Delegation, the head of the regional prefecture was changed. I was one of the first to be told about it and greeted the event in the columns of “La Bretagne”. The second regional prefet of Brittany, who took over in May of 1942, was not Breton: but then neither was he a prefet. What luck! Jean Quenette was Deputy for Lorraine, which had become part of France very much later, and was always highly conscious of its personality. Could it be that Vichy had finally realised that Breton problems could not be tackled and settled in a realistic manner, unless they were assessed other than by a rigid, standard, unchanging administrative mind?