The evolution of the homeland
The Military tribunal
As a general rule, I never went away during the summer, a period during which the work was at its most intense. It also brought the children home for their long holidays. The children of our neighbouring acquaintances often joined them, as did also those guests visiting from our two families and friends.
These visits enabled me to maintain a better contact with Brittany and the continent; otherwise, it was only through subscriptions to the few Breton publications available at the time and the daily paper from Rennes that I managed more or less. I also received a number of press cuttings, posted to me mostly by my faithful friend Yves Briand, the ex archivist of La Bretagne. I seldom went to Dublin unless I had an exceptional matter to settle with the fisheries administration or a rare professional meeting and to visit the two boys who were boarders there. I sometimes took the train, leaving from Westport or Galway to where, at first, one of our employees drove me and later Marie-Madeleine, when she became a more expert driver.
Whenever I arrived at Westland Row station, where the trains back to Connemara departed from at the time, I irresistibly recalled the trains I took from Paris to visit my grandmother in Callac or to attend our meetings and Breton congresses before the war. The journey was about as long between Dublin and Galway, as it was then between Paris and Rennes. It took over four hours to travel the 200 kilometres that separated the two cities. Whenever I had a rather bumpy journey with frequent stops, it was the little train from Guingamp to Callac that I irresistibly recalled. The former, more modern, had neither the picturesque quality nor the charm of the latter. On taking the Callac train in Guingamp, I felt as though I had reached another world, in that strange, secret and slightly mysterious country I felt was mine and that I always loved to come back to. The carriages had an outer platform at each end through which one gained access. The seats were placed on each side of a central passageway. During the journey one could stand on the outer platform for some air, provided one did not mind too much the pieces of soot, dangerous for the eyes. My greatest pleasure, if there was no goods wagon attached to the end of the train, was to stand on the end platform. From there, one saw the countryside of fields, small valleys, moors and hills stretching out in the opposite direction. One heard the train slowing down, breathless as it climbed a hill, the sound of the streams running along the valley by the tracks, breath in the scent of grass and freshly cut hay. Inside the carriages were Breton men invariably striking up the popular Breton response songs, ‘kan ha diskan’. I heard from the distant past the ‘tralalala tralalaléno’ repeated in the songs. These memories irresistibly revived the images, colours and sounds of my country and my desire to return there.
I knew that one day I would undoubtedly manage to return to Brittany somehow, without making any advance decisions or future projects that were pointless to entertain at present until such time as this return was possible. The first obstacle to overcome was to obtain the lifting or annulment of the heavy sentence in absentia, which the special courts set up after the Liberation had inflicted on me. These had now disappeared. They had violated all legal rules and I could not accept that the decisions they had taken in my case, as in that of many others, which had been closely masterminded by those in power at the time, had any justification and any basis. Legally, though, their “judgment” was still valid.
The situation brightened as the years went by. The Military tribunal had taken over from the Justice Courts. It was now able to judge cases of “collaboration”, “collusion with the enemy” or “undermining the security and integrity of the State”. It was under one or all of these charges that we had been condemned. Controversies began to appear more frequently in public opinion and the French press, opposing those in favour of the amnesty and the “Resistancialists”, the indulgent and the infuriated.
I did not want to return to Brittany on account of some kind of amnesty. I could not contemplate this return unless it was accompanied by an annulment of the sentence inflicted on me. In order to obtain this, it was necessary to have a new judgment, which involved the opening of proceedings for the removal of the sentence and this implied an appearance before the military tribunal in Paris. I wanted to be able to tell the State, which had sentenced me that it had done so unjustly in 1946, and I wanted to use its own jurisdictions to declare this. An acquittal seemed also to be the necessary precondition to the eventual return to any political activity in Brittany. The situation had to be very closely followed and the right moment for a return judiciously chosen.
I was certainly not the only one amongst the Breton political refugees to be concerned with these problems. We discussed it during the Inter Celtic congress held in Dublin, in July 1953, at an informal meeting to which most of Ireland’s Breton emigrants and those Breton delegates who had traveled to Dublin had gathered together. Célestin Lainé was present at this meeting, as was Raymond Delaporte. But they did not speak to each other. Amongst those present were Per Denez, Erwan Tymen, Pierre Lemoine, Ronan Huon, Visant Seité and some others of those that had come from Brittany. The meeting had dwelt mainly on an examination of the situation in Brittany and on the necessity, which seemed obvious to me, of creating a new nationally minded political movement. There were no volunteers amongst those present who were prepared to dare take that initiative in the immediate future, particularly as a certain number of “prudent ones” had carefully abstained from assisting, undoubtedly in fear of the consequences for themselves of this meeting, though held confidentially, with the “outcasts” we all were. Yet at the same time as the Interceltic Congress was held, the French Chamber of Deputies were for the first time discussing a motion for an amnesty bill, presented by the government itself.
It was doing so for the first time, though from 1947 to 1953 there had been a number of proposed bills tabled for this purpose to the French National Assembly. Amongst the ranks of the “Resitants” themselves, the voices of a certain number of independent personalities had been raised, having realised, according to the terms used by Joseph Foliet, that the repression had taken “an aspect of political revenge and not that of universal unbiased justice”. George Duhamel, referring to the administrative purges, wrote that the professional commissions of the purges had taken “disciplinary measures that were not always separated from obscure settling of scores”. But the national headquarters of the local communist, socialist and M.R.P. parties who had elected the main actors and the main beneficiaries of the upheavals, expropriations, dismissals and sentences of those in charge and of the Vichy government’s civil service, had difficulty accepting this talk, even though it was accompanied by appeals for “national reconciliation”.
An amnesty law carefully pointing out that the amnesty was not rehabilitation, nor “revenge”, was finally voted in by 378 votes against 211 on the 24th July 1953. It was proclaimed on 6th August of the following year. It granted full amnesty to all those sentenced to loss of citizenship rights, one of the most iniquitous charges ever introduced into French law. It also covered all those sentenced under the age of eighteen at the time or who had been given prison sentences of equal to or less than five years. It is true that the authors of law also took advantage of it to grant amnesty for all the crimes, assassinations, rapes and criminal offences committed during the “Resistance”.
The Law, as it stood, opened the possibility for all those sentenced in absentia to have their sentences reviewed, without the risk of being sentenced too heavily. It was obvious in fact that the severe political sentences inflicted on most of us could hardly be upheld. Few in any case, even amongst the members of the Formation Perrot, risked being sentenced to more than five years imprisonment by a military tribunal that could only pass judgment on deeds, not on opinions as the Liberation’s special courts had done. Henceforth, all those who had been sentenced to a maximum of five years could return to Brittany without any risk. Job Hirguair, who was under eighteen when he enlisted in the Formation Perrot, was soon after able to take advantage of this law. He was able to return to Brittany without any further formalities. Yves Delaporte who had not followed Raymond in his Irish exile and had remained illegally was one of the first Breton political convicts sentenced in absentia to appear before the military tribunal in Paris. He had been careful not to advise anyone of his intention to do so. He had been one of the leaders of the P.N.B. He had been sentenced in absentia for this by the courts in Rennes to ten years hard labour in 1947, at the same time as Raymond Delaporte was sentenced to twenty years, whilst Olier Mordrel, Célestin Lainé and Yann Goulet were sentenced to death. Appearing at the end of 1953 before the military tribunal in Paris, based at the Reuilly barracks, he was acquitted. He also subsequently went into voluntary exile. For many years he worked as a teacher in Morocco, before returning much later to retire in Brittany.
Public opinion, for its part, changed noticeably. It had never approved the excesses of the Liberation that only the followers of the communist party and some undesirables continued to support. Everywhere people drew away from the influence of the few vociferous ringleaders who had ruled, often by fear, threats and as informers in the smallest of villages. In Saint-Lunaire, where he had retired, my father had been elected president of the area’s ex servicemen’s association. The mayor of the commune was a doctor in general practice, Le Dantec. Before retiring to Saint-Lunaire he had been an army doctor in one of the French African colonies who, during the war, had joined forces with de Gaulle. This was sufficient for him to proclaim himself to be a great Resistant. He appeared to nurse a certain feeling of jealousy towards my father who, in a commune where personalities were uncommon, had through force of circumstances become one. A retired senior civil servant from the Ministry of Finance, he was frequently sought out for advice, for assistance in administrative matters or for small favours that, owing to his natural helpfulness, he was always ready to give to his fellow citizens. He stood for the municipal elections in 1953 and was elected with his complete list of candidates “republican and for the defence of common interests” against that of the standing mayor whose basic political beliefs were really hardly different from those of my father. It was, undoubtedly, just as in Ireland, the passions, grudges and quarrels inherited from the war that separated them.
When he came to visit us with my mother in the summer of 1954, my father explained to me in more detail the circumstances that led to his decision to stand for the municipal elections. Our house was now sufficiently comfortable to enable us to receive them both. My parents had not until then met their two youngest granddaughters, Benig aged two and Olwen just a few months old.
“I had nothing against Le Dantec”, my father explained, ” and I had been to the Town Hall on a courtesy call. But one day, on the occasion of the inauguration of a street, named after a “Resistant” from the area, who had died during the war, a street just opposite my house, at the bottom of la Côte de Tertre, Le Dantec had seen fit to attack me personally in his speech. He had cried out, in a grand moment of eloquence: “You may own and live in grand houses: but it would be better not to have any than to have a son who is a traitor to his country”. In my capacity as president of the ex-servicemen I was naturally in attendance. I did not want to make a scene at the time, but I thought to myself: “You, mate, will not get away with that”.”
My father’s management of municipal affairs, during the two terms of office that he served at the head of the commune, was beneficial for all concerned. It is thanks to him that the restoration took place of the old church, containing the remains of St. Lunaire and of the Lords of Pontual, as also the building of a modern school complex and the purchasing of a new Town Hall.
Francois Mitterand, the Minister for Justice at the time, who formed part of the same parliamentary group as René Pleven, deputy for Dinan, came in 1956 to inaugurate the school complex, alongside my father, the ex minister Guy Lachambre, the prefet, the inspector of schools and other personalities from the département.
1957: Inauguration of the new school in Saint-Lunaire. In the centre Francois Mitterand, Minister for Justice, cutting the ribbon, on his left the Préfet, on his right Monsieur Jean Fouéré, Mayor of Saint-Lunaire.
My father and I had lengthy discussions regarding the opportunity of a return in the near future, in view of an appearance before the military tribunal in Paris. From his end, Jean- Louis Bertrand, who had followed my case in the courts, was testing the waters in judicial circles. He felt, as we did, that as the tribunal was in Paris it would be useful to take on a lawyer from Paris, accustomed to this kind of political trial: a number of those sentenced by the Liberation’s special courts had sought their services to regularise their situation vis-à-vis French law. The Parisian lawyer would be a counsel alongside Jean-Louis at the hearing. Various correspondence and discussions followed after my father’s visit to us. The possible date of the trial also had to be considered. It was difficult for me to be away for a long period during the fishing season, although Samzun, who was still my associate at the time, could replace me if I was away too long.
We finally choose Maître Isorni: He had been Maréchal Pétain’s dedicated counsel. He had since been elected deputy for Paris. He had some reservations regarding the Breton politics that I had followed as he was, like most French intellectuals, a defender of French unity that Maréchal Pétain had in his own way endeavoured to guarantee and safeguard. From that point of view the facts could not be contested. However, Isorni was not comfortable that I considered calling on my Basques friends to stand as witnesses in my support. The French State considered the latter were, even more so than I was, sworn enemies of the unity and indivisibility of Spain that Franco wanted to establish by the disappearance and eradication of the various identities of its people, exactly as French State had been doing for the past two centuries to its own people.
He preferred that my witnesses, if they had not been involved in the charges, should be chosen from amongst the senior civil servants of my friends who were still in office under the new Republic. Jean-Louis finally came around to his way of thinking.
A joint approach was therefore made to the president of the Military Tribunal in Paris, at the beginning of 1955. The latter was a civil courts’ judge. He requested the transfer of my file from Rennes to Paris. There had already been an extensive preliminary investigation done by the courts in Rennes. It was enormous: the stack of papers was over a meter high. The inquiry had been complete, as I had not left Rennes until the last minute, and a new inquiry was pointless. Nothing new had occurred to make it necessary. The Tribunal would hear the case, based on the file composed by the court in Rennes that had sentenced me. This was an important issue, as it would considerably shorten the amount of time I would have to spend in Paris whilst awaiting the trial date. As is customary in this type of case, I would not be imprisoned but be granted bail as from my appearance before the clerk of court on arrival. I was able to choose to stay with my brother in law, Paul Mauger, or with one of my friends. Paul had kept his apartment in Paris in spite of his departure for Johannesburg as representative for the house of Guerlain. My mother in law, who had remained in the apartment, had died two years earlier and my two sisters-in-law now temporarily occupied it. Pierre, my other brother in law, lived in Senlisse, near Rambouillet, very close to Paris.
I therefore made arrangements at the beginning of 1955 to go to Paris. I would have preferred it if the trial had taken place in April; this was not possible, however, owing to the overloaded case list of the military tribunal that only sat once a week. A provisional date was set for the beginning of June, but I had to appear before the tribunal at least two weeks before in order to complete the necessary formalities. I therefore arranged to leave at the beginning of May, after ascertaining that my ex classmate, Pierre Pouillot, who was then accounts court councilor, was able to receive me. I had taken numerous precautions to ensure that my journey would be kept as secret as possible and to avoid any eventual incidents in spite of the brand new Irish passport I carried in my pocket. It was for this reason that I did not want to stay at a hotel, nor go on arrival to my brother in law’s place where Marie-Madeleine and the two little ones, Benig and Olwen, were to arrive two or three days before me. The three older ones had already returned to their respective boarding schools. I was still, in fact, an “illegal” and an “outlaw”, until I had completed the necessary formalities at the military tribunal.
At the beginning of May, John O’Toole, who frequently drove the merchandise for export, drove us to Dublin in our car, in time for Marie-Madeleine to catch the flight to Le Bourget airport. I followed a few days later. The planes that flew to Paris at the time were Dakotas that only carried about twenty passengers and did not fly very high or very fast. It was a clear day; there was all the time in the world to see the view during the three hours it took to fly there at the time. It was, in fact, my first journey by plane, apart from a brief excursion over Lyon, before the war, in a small two seater training plane with my pilot friend Corentin Le Papa.
I had no difficulties passing through customs and the border police, in spite of the apprehensions I had harboured. I was soon in the bus from Le Bourget to Les Invalides. Paris, which I had not seen for ten years, appeared to have shrunk and to be dirty, crowded and overrun. We passed through suburbs teeming with people, traffic jams and decrepit looking rows of houses. The bus could only move slowly. But the Esplanade des Invalides, the perspectives of L’Etoile and La Concorde had preserved their harmonious lines and the splendor of their monuments.
From Les Invalides station, I made a phone call to Pierre Pouillot who, a half hour later, arrived to take me to his place, Place Denfert-Rochereau. His wife and daughters whom I had not met before welcomed me cordially. I phoned Marie-Madeleine to advise her of my safe arrival. She came for a quick visit that afternoon. I also got in touch with Jean-Louis Bertrand. We arranged to meet the morning after the following day, Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, near where he would be staying. We were to visit Maître Isorni before going on to the tribunal together. Isorni lived in a large apartment; rue Guynemer, facing the Luxembourg gardens. He had an aura of authority and the courage he had always displayed in his political actions since he had taken on, already ten years previously, the defense in court of Maréchal Pétain. His outspoken manner was accompanied by the necessary flexibility and diplomacy required for the functions he assumed. Thanks to Jean-Louis, he already knew the broad outlines of the case they would be defending together.
-“The procedures have been greatly simplified since the abolition of the special courts,” he told me. “Do not expect a trial that will go on for several days, like the one during which you were sentenced. The whole thing will be over in two or three hours during the course of a single afternoon. Only the essential elements of the case will be recalled and developed. I still do not know who will be the witnesses called for the prosecution. On your side, get in touch with the witnesses for the defense that you feel, with our approval, it would be useful to call.”
-“Is there not a danger of some kind of political intervention from the government?” I asked him. “After all, P.H.Teitgen who was Minister for Justice in 1946, and therefore involved in the cases against the newspapers, is now Minister for Defence in the present government.”
-“It is certainly preferable not to generate any prior publicity regarding the trial. There is no point playing with fire. But, believe me,” added Isorni with a little smile, “I can guarantee you that Teitgen will be very careful not to intervene.”
Jean-Louis Bertrand came with me to the barracks in Reuilly, where we had an interview with the president of the military tribunal, before going through the formalities with the clerk of court. The scenario unfolded as predicted. Placed under arrest, I was then immediately granted bail. The hearing, in view of the fact that there was no need to proceed with a further investigation, was set for the 3rd of June. One or two other minor matters were set for the same date. A few days later, I received the summons to appear. Those in charge of the indictment for collusion with the enemy were listed on it, and the penalty incurred: death. It is not a pleasant thing to receive and invariably sends shivers down ones back.
Jean-Louis had been given a copy of the file’s main documents, which we were both already familiar with. He handed me the lot so that I could study it at my leisure and make any remarks and observations if necessary. There was nothing different between these condensed documents and those that had been used to sentence me in 1946, during the trial that I have written an account of in the book: Histoire du Quotidien” La Bretagne”. I was able to ascertain this during the two or three days that I devoted to reviewing them in the peaceful countryside of the little hotel in Senlisse that my brother in law managed. Anguish and vile acts, suffering, betrayal and slander, gossip and hatred, sordid motives, mean-spirited actions, cowardice and lies came back to me. It was not reassuring reading. It was time to turn this page once and for all. I had only contacted a few faithful friends of whose discretion I could count on. From Yves Briand’s place, I phoned Joseph Martray to ask him to help me with his testimony at the trial. He came around straight away to Yves’, who had recently helped him in writing for Vent d’Ouest and Peuples Bretons. Martray accepted without any hesitation: the testimony he had already given in 1946 to the special courts in Rennes had been highly regarded at the time. He was the closest witness to the facts that I could find, having been for several years my closest assistant in the political management of my newspapers. My two personal friends, Pierre Pouillot and Raymond Deugnier, the latter prefet for l’Indres at the time, both senior civil servants, also accepted without hesitation to be witnesses to my “moral standing”, their support being appreciated by Isorni. Budes de Guébriant was unfortunately unable to free himself for that date. But he sent a written testimony to the military tribunal. Jean Quenette, ex regional prefet for Rennes and deputy for Lorraine, founder of the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne, did likewise. I paid him a visit in Paris, where he had retrained and gone into the oil industry. He told me he had definitively turned his back on politics and the administration.
I had been through a number of tests and exams, both in my student days and in my professional life. I already knew the ordeals of waiting and the inevitable apprehension that accompanies it. But I had never before faced, at least physically, the judgement of a court. Naturally, I felt the pangs of apprehension that mark the approach of battle: as that is what it was, in fact, even though the outcome was much more favourable that it had been in the summer of 1946.
The summons to appear was dated the 3rd of June 1955 and I was to report to the clerk of court at thirteen hundred hours. Long before the time, after a light meal, I reported to the barracks in Reuilly. Marie-Madeleine accompanied me. My father joined us a little later. The clerk of court’s office was still closed. When it opened, I learnt that two other cases were on the list for that day. They were both minor ones. I only remember that one of them was concerning a defendant who had become a shoe salesman in Caracas where he had sought refuge after the war. When the Lawyers arrived, Isorni and Tixier-Vignancour, counsel for one of the two other defendants, they began discussing as to which one of the three cases should be heard first. Mine was certainly not as easy as the others: it would therefore be the last one heard, they finally decided. I had to wait, alone in a small room reserved usually for prisoners. I had under my arm a thick file with various documents, in case I needed to refer to them during the hearing. There had been no publicity at all, in accordance with the decisions we had made, and only a few friends and two or three onlookers had gathered to attend the hearing.
The hearings for the two preceding defendants had just lasted an hour. Shortly after, I was brought into the large room where the court sat. The ceremonial and procedure of military tribunals have remained different from that of civil or criminal trials in ordinary courts. After an identity interrogation, I was told to sit on a bench in front of my lawyers, facing the government commissioner or prosecutor wearing an army captain’s uniform. On my right, facing the public, was the tribunal; A senior civil law judge presided over it, assisted by two assessors who were also civil law judges and four military judges in uniform: one of them was a field officer the other a non-commissioned officer.
The president questioned me on the reasons which had prompted me to leave the administration to found the daily newspaper “La Bretagne”, and on the circumstances that led to my also becoming political director of “La Dépêche de Brest”. I therefore had to give him a relatively short account of the political reasons that had prompted my actions, after the armistice and during the occupation, as also on my dealings with the Vichy government. I had thought of a number of points that it was important to bring up. I used few of them and never once had to refer to my notes. Considering the atmosphere in the court, it would have been inadvisable to tire the judges. No use can come of trying too hard to prove something. I dwelt mainly on the purely political nature of my action in the service of Brittany and of a regional reform of the French administration. I also dwelt on the neutrality that I endeavoured to maintain in the newspapers that I directed, in spite of the interventions of the German censor.
The prosecution had only called on two main witnesses: Marcel Coudurier and Victor Le Gorgeu. The former had been director of La Dépêche de Brest and had continued in this role under our political control, after having done so also under the control of Le Gorgeu, president, at the time, of the newspaper’s administrative council. The latter, having been removed from the office of Mayor of Brest by the Vichy government had, at the time of the Liberation, become Commissioner of the Republic for the four departments of the Breton administrative region.
At present, Coudurier was still in charge of La Dépêche, which had become Télégramme, whilst Le Gorgeu had become a member of the Conseil d’État. Both of them had played an important role at the time of the first trial held in my absence in 1946 that had lead to my being sentenced in absentia to hard labour for life and the seizure of all my “present and future” possessions. This was the verdict that I was now asking to be revoked. Both men had been closely involved, directly or indirectly, with the main factors of the case.
Marcel Coudurier made a point of not appearing. He had sent a medical certificate to justify his absence. Courage was not his strong point. He had become an expert in the subtle art of foisting onto others the responsibilities that were his. He had absolutely no wish to find himself face to face with me again. At the Liberation, he had used Le Gorgeu to escape from pursuit, to have us eliminated and sentenced by the courts at the time. He had thus safeguarded his own situation. Ten years later, he probably did not want to face Le Gorgeu either. Thanks to clever, deceitful maneuvers and various legal subtleties, he was in the process of doing away with Le Gorgeu also, and in turn eliminating him also from the finance company of Télégramme de Brest. Gratitude, let alone generosity, was not his strong point any more than courage. He could only have presented an even more pitiful attitude in 1955 than the one he had presented during the trial in 1946, which Youenn Didro gave an account of in the book I devoted to the story of the daily newspaper La Bretagne.
Le Gorgeu, in spite of his flexibility, certainly had more backbone than Coudurier. He had answered the summons of the military tribunal. He was therefore called to the witness stand. In the antechamber, he had met my friend Raymond Deugnier whom he knew well for having carried out prefectoral duties in Finistere, and who was there in answer to a summons, but for the defense and not for the prosecution.
He began by explaining that, if in his capacity as regional commissioner of the Republic, he had me arrested shortly after the Liberation, it was not solely on the request of the Comité de Liberation of Illle-et-Vilaine, but also because he considered that I had placed myself at his disposal by writing, in my capacity as general secretary of the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne, an official letter, asking him to convene the Comité, which was ready to assist the new regional authorities, just as it had done so for those of Vichy, in defending the cultural values of Brittany and the interests of its population. And also my exact role during the Occupation had to be clarified. Le Gorgeu, although he did not say so, was certainly not prepared to admit and accept the action of some assembly to the Breton council, be it consultative or not. This would have created an unacceptable breach for all Jacobins to which he belonged, in the defense of the One and indivisible French State. But there was no question, in all of this, other than a simple difference of opinion of which I was guilty.
In addition, it was now well known, in 1955, that one of the main activities of the Liberation committees had been to arrest those who did not think as they did. All of this did not escape Le Gorgeu, any more than it did the tribunal. It was a far cry from “collusion with the enemy”, which was supposed to have been the reason for my indictment.
-“But you yourself, Monsieur le Conseiller d’État,” Jean-Louis Bertrand then threw at him, “you were, before the arrival of Monsieur Fouéré, the one in charge of La Dépêche de Brest. Your newspaper was the first one in Brittany to be published again under the Occupation and this even before the signing of the armistice. Under your direction, this newspaper had certainly been as “collaborationist”, if not even more so, as it had been when it was later on under the political direction of Monsieur Fouéré. Why have him arrested, when you had, at least on that point, the same responsibility as he had?”
In support of this statement, Jean-Louis then handed out copies to the judges of La Dépêche as it had been when Le Gorgeu was in charge. I have reproduced some of these front pages in the book I have already mentioned on the newspaper La Bretagne. The judges, in particular the military ones, buried themselves with interest in the reading of these old newspapers. They practically forgot the debate that was going on. Le Gorgeu finally accepted in good faith that there were no differences between all the newspapers that were published under the Occupation, and that at the time there had been certain constraints that journalists were unable to escape from.
Joseph Martray, first witness for the defense, with his usual sober and careful choice of words, then repeated the exposé he had already made before the special courts in Rennes in 1946. He explained clearly that, under my instructions, he had tried to bretonise and regionalise La Dépêche as much as possible in order to align it with the political trend that the newspaper La Bretagne already followed. In order to do this, it was necessary to reduce as much as possible the excessive space previously devoted to news and articles concerning the war, international politics and German-French collaboration. This he devoted himself to achieve, through various technical devices and more judiciously chosen titles, articles and news.
In order to demonstrate the neutrality I had always practiced in the German-French quarrel at the time, Jean-Louis Bertrand had summoned a young schoolteacher, from the St.Malo area, which he had located. She had been a member of a Resistance movement affiliated to “Défense de la France”. She disclosed to the military tribunal that she was aware the illegal newspaper of the same name, which she distributed, was deposited in one of the cupboards in my offices; rue de la Monnaie, in Rennes and that I had authorised Alain Le Berre, the secretary of Ar Brezhoneg er Skol, to store it there until she came herself to take delivery of it.
The proceedings as such were closed, the President declared that he would accept the disqualification of the original charge, “collusion with the enemy” and its replacement by that of “undermining the external security of the State”. The government commissioner’s arraignment followed. He was very brief: he simply requested the application of one of the provisional terms of imprisonment provided for under article 79 of the Penal Code. Jean-Louis Bertrand whispered to me that this article only provided for prison sentences of between one to five years.
It was then my defence’s turn to speak. Jean-Louis had known me for a long time: he had no problem striking the right note to bring out the fact that this was purely a political matter. It was not possible to maintain or to inflict any kind of sentence for what was simply an offence against opinions at the time when the sentence in absentia was pronounced. The military judges were moved to hear from Isorni of the trouble I had taken, during the time I was sous-prefet of Morlaix, to ensure that the small contingent of Germans who occupied Maréchal Foch’s property treated it with respect and did not use the office that contained his personal souvenirs. Had not some of my political ideas, as defended in my newspapers, become prophetic in this day and age as the States of Europe begin to unite?
The President asked if I had something to add. I simply replied with feeling that my reason for not appearing at the special court in Rennes in 1946 was because I felt that the conditions for true justice were not apparent at the time.
The Republican guard then escorted me out of the courtroom to return to the small waiting room where I was still theoretically a prisoner. The tribunal adjourned for deliberation, while the audience awaited the verdict. At the military tribunal, the verdict is first announced to the public without the presence of the accused. The courtroom is then cleared before bringing in the accused, alone, accompanied by an armed military guard. I was not left waiting for very long: all that was needed was a quarter of an hour for the tribunal to agree on a verdict of full acquittal. (See French site under 4. Archives, for a copy of the official document).Then it went into session to read it out officially to the public. One of my guards listening on the other side of the corridor, near the half open door into the courtroom, rushed over to advise me of it. The public was then asked to leave before I was brought in again to hear the verdict, alone. Half a dozen Republican guards were already there in full uniform, arms by their sides. The government commissioner instructed me to face them, and ordered them to stand to attention for the reading of the verdict. He shortened the formalities and I was ceremoniously escorted out. Marie-Madeleine, my father and Jean-Louis Bertrand were waiting for me. Their feelings and the depth of their joy were evident. Mine were no less so.
It was already the end of the afternoon. We decided to meet again in two hours time at La Coupole to celebrate the event. Yves Briand and Pierre Pouillot were to join us. Deugnier had already left to return to his prefecture. I could not delay in Paris. The fishing season in Ireland had already started. Marcel Samzun was temporarily laid up after a prostrate operation. I had to pick up the reigns of the business in Cleggan again. Marie-Madeleine would join me two or three weeks later, in time for the children’s holidays. I also needed to think about the future and required the summer to do so. In the autumn I went to Paris and Brittany, carrying out the extended visit I had wanted to make in order to take stock of the situation, see which way the wind blew, feel and breath again the land and air of my homeland.
Two days after my appearance before the military tribunal, I was at the helm of my launch, off Omey head, on a relatively calm sea, picking my way between the reefs. A consignment of lobsters and crayfish was waiting to be collected on the small island of Inish Turk, the one where my deaf-mute friends and suppliers lived. Would my acquittal change my lifestyle or not, now that the way was open again for a return?