THE STRUGGLE AND DIFFICULTIES OF EXILE: THE WELSH REPORT
The fact that I had found somewhere to stay in Swansea facilitated my contacts with Brittany and the continent, as well as with the condemned militants who had taken refuge in the Paris region and were also trying to leave French territory. The news of my presence in Wales had quickly spread around Brittany, and I had to discourage numerous candidates for immigration, and there were many of them, who had neither been sentenced, nor harassed, nor pursued and had no reason to imitate us. These were generally not amongst the more courageous ones. If they really wanted to become involved, the proper place to do so was in their homeland. But fear still reigned, hindering Breton activities from being taken up again. The psychological support of the Welsh press campaign was a reassuring factor, which showed the militants and public opinion in Brittany that we were not without friends, or support as regards the repressions of the French State.
The first to join me in Wales, who had been sentenced, was Gildas Jaffrenou: he had perfected the channel through which passports could be obtained, which I had organised with him before I left Paris. He had himself finalised over thirty dossiers: he had left all the documents behind him with all the necessary instructions so thatothers, who had been sentenced or seriously harassed, could use them.
In order to make up his own dossier, he had taken up the name of his maternal grand mother, and had thus obtained, just as I had, a “valid false passport”. For reasons of security and discretion, as it was impossible to know really how this would all turn out, I had not given him my address in Swansea. But thanks to Delwyn Phillips who, after the Plaid Cymru congress which I had attended, had been appointed secretary of the new Welsh Breton Committee, I was able to provide him with a letter from the latter, encouraging him to come and take on a position as textile designer in his business. Delwyn was a tailor by trade and lived in Birmingham. This letter had allowed Gildas to obtain an entry visa, still necessary then, issued by the British embassy in Paris. He had therefore turned up in Birmingham at Delwyn’s place, who had given him my address in Swansea. I took him to Le Diverrès who was expecting him: he subsequently remained there until the death of the latter a short time later.
The second one to arrive was Hervé Le Helloco, known as Bob, with whom I had kept up regular contact before I left Paris. After a botched trial, held in secret, he had been sentenced to death in absentia at the end of June 1946, shortly before I left the continent. It was certainly preferable that he should leave there, and place a border between his persecutors and himself. He was an ideal recruit, as he spoke and wrote English far better than I did. Within three weeks he had completed the English translation of the brochure, which I had written for Plaid Cymru. He had completed the work with the help of a Breton student called Robert Stéphan, who had contacted us. Whilst I gave my classes at the University, he dictated the English version of the French text to him.
It was probably purely out of curiosity, at least I would hope so, that Stéphan came to join us. He had no other reason for coming to Wales, no necessity at all. But he was from Douarnenez and knew Pierre Denis (Per Denez) well: a student of English and Celtic studies who later became professor of Breton at Rennes University. He had been, with the latter, to visit my wife, shortly after they had learnt of my presence in Wales. He had lived for some time in Egypt, where his father was one of the pilots for the Suez Canal. He really could not be considered a refugee, but stayed around for some months before disappearing again as suddenly as he had arrived. However he did maintain contact with Bob.
1946 – Booklet on ‘Breton Nationalism’, 85 pages – written by Yann Fouéré and translated by Hervé Le Helloco, for the Welsh Nationalist Party – Front cover designed by Dewi Prys – Preface by Gwynfor Evans. On the site under, Various Texts by Y.F.
The English text now finished, the three of us took it to J.E.Jones, general secretary of Plaid Cymru , who ran the party’s offices, situated in Queen Street, right in the centre of Cardiff. Under the title Breton Nationalism, the brochure was to be published in April 1947: with the help of other militants at the time, we saw to it that it was widely distributed. I used a large part of the text, which I expanded and revised, in my book ‘La Bretagne écartelée’ that was published much later, in 1962.
“The brochure, however, only provides those who are interested in the subject, with the essential basic information,” I told J.E.Jones, “therefore I feel it would be useful to fuel the press campaigns by periodically sending a sort of press bulletin to the main British and Commonwealth newspapers, as well as to a selection of personalities, keeping them updated on the developments of the situation in Brittany, of the sentences and the efforts of the Breton national movement to get back on its feet; But we cannot do this alone. Would it be possible for you to help us in carrying out this project?”
“If your little group can write this bulletin,” he replied, “it should be possible. I can find a Welsh militant with a duplicator, who will make stencils, print them and prepare them for posting to the list of addresses you will give him. We will take charge of the postage as long as it does not go beyond reasonable limits. For obvious reasons however, Plaid Cymru cannot take on direct responsibility for this bulletin.”
It was therefore decided that we would place the responsibility for the publishing of the bulletin in the hands of a Welsh Breton Committee, with an address at the Welsh Reception Centre in Cardiff where we could have mail forwarded.
The setting up of this sort of committee to come to the aid of Breton refugees had already been approved in Abergavenny after the exposé I had given there, on the situation in Brittany. Thus it was that this simple, four or six page, monthly press bulletin, often printed in a makeshift manner, which we named the Breton National News Service, came into being. The title was also repeated in Welsh, Breton, Spanish and French; but the text was entirely written in English by our small group. The first issue is dated December 1946: in it I made a relevant reply to the attacks of L’Humanité, the French Communist Party’s newspaper, against the British press, guilty in their eyes of picking up on the ‘persecutions’ of the Bretons. In order to illustrate the situation, the bulletin reported on the sentencing in Rennes of Yann Miniou, already sentenced to death in absentia, to six years hard labour. It emphasised that this was the most restrained sentence yet to have been passed on one of the members of the Perrot Breton legion. The previous July in Rennes, Léon Jasson and A.Geoffroy had been shot, both companions of Yann Miniou and accused of the same ‘crimes’.
Personally, I saw this as a sign that the campaign led by the British press was already bearing fruit. The French authorities could not continue much longer to oppose by authority the renewal of any Breton activity.
The first issue of our bulletin also announced that in order to circumvent previous banning, as still nothing could be published without an official permission from the French State, a group of ‘regionalists’, which was soon revealed to be led by Joseph Martray, had succeeded in buying Vent d’Ouest, one of the publications that the French resistance had created in Brittany at the Liberation. There had been a proliferation of these weekly, and even daily, publications at first. Victims of their immoderate language, as much as of their administrative waste and confusion, then deprived of subsidies from numerous illegal sources organised by the French Resistance, as well as from official State assistance available at first, they were all now in financial difficulties. Martray and his friends had made the most of this, thus overcoming the refusal they would have met with had they wanted to create a new publication in support of Breton claims.
The situation was such that Paul Le Gourrièrec and Ronan Huon had been obliged to publish the first seven issues of Tir Na Nog without any authorisation. They had wanted to create a new publication in the Breton language, a necessity after the abolition and banning of Roparz Hémon’s publication Gwalarn. Tir Na Nog was only officially published a year later in 1946. Its first official issue was in fact the eighth issue.
A few weeks later on receiving the first issues of the new style Vent d’Ouest, I found it was a great help in compiling the Breton National News Service. In spite of numerous difficulties, I succeeded in producing it on a regular basis until early 1948, when I had to once again seek refuge elsewhere and leave for Ireland.
Its slim collection remains precious today for those who wish to study in depth this black period of Breton History. The bulletin was undoubtedly an excellent source of information and propaganda. It contributed particularly to enlightening the traditionally Francophile opinions of the Irish and Scots, the only two Celtic nations to have received, during the course of their history, military assistance from France against the English, on which they had based their superficial opinion of France, “Eldest daughter of the Church”, “Homeland of the Rights of Man”, of freedom and of the law. However, little by little, the bulletin also attracted the attention of the authorities to myself and my activities, and contributed to the French and British authorities exposing my anonymity. In addition, it was unavoidable that as a member of staff of the French section at the University, I was obliged to have some contacts with the cultural services of the French Embassy. The consul of the area, who strangely enough was called Langlais, represented the latter in Swansea. Also I made no secret of the fact that I was Breton. Thus it was that one day Langlais spoke to me of the French services’ concerns regarding the Welsh campaign for the Bretons who had been prosecuted and condemned.
Neither he nor the French Ambassador, Massigli, believed that the facts being reported by the Welsh press were authentic, and seemed to them to stem purely from spite against France and the IVth Republic.
“Monsieur le Consul,” I replied after some hesitation, “I believe personally that this campaign is based on an assessment of facts whose authenticity I have no reason to doubt.” Then on seeing his look of surprise, I added, “Why not ask the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for facts in reply to these attacks which you suspect are not substantiated?”
He followed my advice and, some time later, asked me to come and see him to discuss the report he had received from Paris. A couple of days later, I set off for the Swansea docks where he had his office. The long report he had received was mainly a list of names of Breton personalities who were suspected or sentenced by the special courts set up after the Liberation. These courts were still in operation. The list consisted of a jumble of names which included those of Mordrel, Raymond Delaporte, Célestin Lainé, Yann Goulet and others responsible for the Parti National Breton during the occupation, even Taldir Jaffrenou and Roparz Hémon. The report did not dwell on the motives for the sentences inflicted, but simply emphasized that these people had been or were brought before the courts and tried according to lawful procedures in accordance with the present administration, whose legality and impartiality there was no cause to suspect.
“The report also points out,” Langlais continued,”that a certain Fouéré,” – which he pronounced Fouaire – “sentenced in absentia to hard labour for life, is said to have taken refuge in Wales.”
I did not move a muscle. I thought of President Aguirre, first president of the Basque government in exile, wanted during the war by Franco and by the Germans who, armed with a passport issued by a SouthAmerican embassy, had anonymously met with pro-Franco Spanish dignitaries in Berlin.
“Have you any indication as to where this person may have taken refuge, Monsieur le Consul?”, I asked him.
“ None at all,” he replied. “He is probably somewhere in the north of Wales where the Welsh nationalists who support the Bretons, are far more numerous than here.”
The meeting ended on that note. However, I found out later that, having been advised of my true identity several months later, this honourable civil servant, for a long time, bore a grudge against me for having thus betrayed his confidence.
In the meantime, new refugees came to join us little by little. Some of them, however, now that the procedure for the passports had been perfected, headed directly for Ireland, which obviously seemed to be a more secure and easier refuge than Great Britain. The first one, who landed in that country, at the end of August 1946, around the same time as I landed in England, had not asked for help from anyone. He had managed on his own. Joz Yann Gourlet, knowing that they were looking for him, had first of all tried, unsuccessfully, to cross illegally into Spain during the winter of 1944. The irregulars of the Resistance, mainly those of the communist F.T.P., at the time still assumed the right of controlling traffic. At first, smiling and pleasant, Joz Yann succeeded in passing through all the controls in the net, joking with those who stopped him and asking them if they were going to put him in prison for having robbed from the Germans the old bicycle he was riding. He finally reached Bayonne, but had to abandon his plan, the border being very strictly guarded and the rivers being impossible to cross because of the severe winter. He went back to Marseille where, taking advantage of his qualification as a registered seaman, he was hired as a seaman on a boat. However, as he had obviously not been able to produce his seaman’s registration papers, the company requested the authorities in Concarneau to send it to him. The dossier was sent back to the police station in Marseille with an order for his arrest and that he should be brought back to Brittany. At first he was imprisoned in the cellars of a building, which had been converted into an interrogation center and prison. He found a number of other suspects incarcerated there, some of them covered in wounds, which had been inflicted during the tough interrogations that were common practice at the time. Others had their wrist tied to the radiators. The prisons of the Liberation were no better than those of the K.G.B. or the Gestapo.
He was transferred to Paris under guard, and left in the rue de la Gaîté police station’s cells for the night: these being the closest to Montparnasse station. He was short and slim, and during the night he managed to squeeze through the bars of the toilet window. The latter looked out on to Montparnasse cemetery, where he landed safely amongst the graves. He obviously did not linger in the company of those illustrious or unknown dead who inhabit the premises. His main concern was to avoid joining them in eternity.
He was in hiding in Paris for several months where, in the company of numerous other refugees like himself, he lived by his wits and small jobs, escaping from the raids and the controls. These ‘ illegals ‘ all called him Martolod, the seaman. Towards the end of 1945, he went to Le Havre with the intention of crossing illegally to Ireland. He had heard that a small French cargo ship, Le Penestin, regularly made the crossing from Le Havre to Dublin. He took a job as a casual laborer at the harbour, helping with loading and offloading the ships, keeping an eye on the comings and goings of Le Penestin, and making friends with some of the crew. There was a six monthly rotation turnover of the crew. After a while, he got into the habit of having his meals with the cook on board. The newcomers on board took him to be the cook’s cousin and were not surprised, when they returned from their holidays, to find him still coming around.
This went on for several months, until he decided to put an end to a tricky situation. Towards the end of August 1946, when the boat was about to get underway for Dublin, Joz-Yann hid in the lifeboat on the bridge. The lifeboat was covered with a tarpaulin, as usual, and he just had to undo the knots to slide in under it and into the boat. As it was a forty-eight hour crossing, Joz Yann had only brought with him a bottle of tea, a few tomatoes and a packet of biscuits. But it was only thirty six hours later that the ship eventually cast off. Therefore it was only four days and five nights later that, thirsty, starving, giddy, disorientated and practically dehydrated, he finally landed at Dublin harbour, where he found a place to hide until the gates which closed it off from the road leading to the town were opened. With no money, no papers and unable to speak a word of English, he wandered around for hours looking for a fountain where he could quench his thirst. Nobody paid any attention to this unkempt and unshaved tramp, in crumpled clothes, very like numerous other inhabitants of Dublin’s poor quarters. However, Dublin is not like Paris, or New York. Public fountains do not exist in that country, though there is no shortage of water. In general it is tea or beers that are preferred to quench ones thirst. He finally went into a bank and was able to exchange two or three French notes, for a few shillings. He then went into what he thought was a café, but which was actually only a pub, where normally no tea or water is served. He was served two glasses of Guinness, which he downed one after the other, before going back out into the street. With the help of the Guinness, he continued to wander aimlessly around, repeating to himself that he was in Ireland, a fellow Celtic country of Brittany, and that he no longer had anything to fear as he was now free.
He decided to stop some passersby, drawing a circle on the footpath and repeating the word “Gaélique”. One of them finally understood and wrote down the address of the Gaelic League, which was situated in Parnell Square at the time. The caretaker of the building managed to convey to him that the offices were closed, as everybody was on holidays. Probably thinking he was German, he gave him the address of a Dr.Becker. The latter was away, but a young woman who was staying at the same boarding house spoke French. She waited until nightfall, and then took him to the house of French -speaking people, who were probably also German. The latter, horrified at the sight of him, promptly showed him the door. Joz Yann therefore spent his first night in Ireland, hidden amongst the shrubs in a garden. Owing to his exhaustion and weak with hunger, he slept for many hours. Fortunately, it was a mild night with no rain. What Joz Yann could not have known then, was that the Irish government, led by De Valera, was faced with constant pressure from the English government and the Allies, to hand over to them the German agents landing in Ireland during the war years. Wanting to maintain its neutrality, the Irish government had interned many of these, which they had been able to arrest during the conflict. When Roosevelt died, early in 1945, De Valera had ordered flags to be flown at half mast, and had presented the condolences of his government to the United States embassy. When Hitler committed suicide, a few weeks later, in his bunker in Berlin, De Valera again put on his jacket and top hat, once more ordering flags to be flown at half mast, and went to present his condolences to Dr.Hempel, the German ambassador in Dublin. He was thus conforming strictly to the proper diplomatic rules practiced by a neutral country. Likewise, he had ordered the liberation of the German agents who had been interned.
Germany, however, no longer existed: its government had disappeared and its territory was entirely occupied by Russian, American, English and French occupation forces. None of these ex internees could risk returning to their country. One of them, Dr.Goetz, committed suicide rather than be handed over to the Allies. They were all in a precarious situation, all, anxious about their future, in spite of the Irish government’s resistance to all sorts of pressures being applied by the English and the Americans. The latter wanted all those presumed guilty to be handed over to them. They were therefore all living a semi-illegal and precarious existence. Dr.Becker was probably one of those.
This is what the young woman, who had welcomed Joz Yann the day before, explained to him, when he finally managed to find her again the next day. On seeing that he could barely stand up and was in danger of fainting from hunger, she made him have a good meal: it was his first proper meal in six days…Having understood at last that he was a Breton nationalist and that his situation had nothing to do with that of the Germans, she took him that afternoon to Kathleen Murphy, a medical doctor, who lived with her husband, Dr. Farrell, in the suburb of Rathmines. She was an ardent Irish nationalist and I.R.A. sympathiser, and had no hesitation in giving him refuge for several weeks. However, she was herself under suspicion in the eyes of the authorities, as she had previously given refuge to an important member of the I.R.A., who was wanted by the police. Therefore she did not know quite what to do with her new guest. She finally gave him the address, with money for the journey, of L.V.Millardet, a Breton who had immigrated to Ireland in the early thirties. Originally from Guingamp and a Breiz Atao militant, Millardet was a potato merchant trader. In Ireland, he had set up a small import-export business between Brittany and Ireland. He had altered his name to Mil-Arden, which had more local colour. He had not hesitated in the past to help Breiz Atao and the militants who asked for his assistance. He was said to have been indirectly involved with the Rennes bomb attack in 1932, which caused the destruction of the monument to the Union of Brittany with France. A remark that was commonly made was, “What other explanation could there be for his emigration to Ireland around that same period? Breton nationalist circles were known for their imagination and often cultivated mysteries. Millardet had set up in Dublin first: but the war had interrupted trading with Brittany. He therefore had to make a change, and found a job as a waiter in a bar in Killarney, the tourist capital of Kerry, which the Americans continued to frequent. When the hostilities in Europe were over, he had gone to Cork, where he had set up his potato brokerage business again. He had married an Irish girl, which did not prevent him from advising his friends not to copy his example.
“Irish girls are too curious and want to meddle in everything”, he would say.
I had written to him from Wales, asking him to advise me of the situation in Ireland with a view to settling down in that country. I even went, at his request, in search of an Irish captain from the merchant navy, who had settled in an isolated spot of the Welsh mountain a few kilometers from Rhydd-y-Fro, overlooking Meath.
He welcomed Joz Yann with the rather abrupt, competent and slightly mysterious air he usually assumed. He confined him to a room in his house, and asked him not to move from there. The next day he advised him that he would be introducing him to some friends, who turned out to be Jacques de Quelen, Charles Le Goanac’h and Gwion Hernot, who had just sailed to Ireland in a small pleasure boat; Joz Yann naturally knew them already.
“We can’t keep you here at the moment,” explained Millardet to Joz Yann. “I already have the other three to look after. It would be better if you returned to Dublin to Dr.Murphy.”
She was surprised to see him back again, but with the arrival of new refugees, the situation was starting to normalize. A few days later, Joz Yann went with Dr.Murphy and Don Piatt to the Irish police and explained his situation. Don Piatt had been the interpreter of my exposé at the Plaid Cymru meeting in Abergavenny: he was therefore well informed on the situation of the Breton refugees. Don Piatt’s neighbours, Seamus and Roisin O’Tuama, took Joz Yann under their wing until such time as , thanks to them, he had learnt enough English, in exchange for the Breton classes he gave them, to be able to find odd jobs here and there. One of these was as a live model at the Dublin School of Art. But others were much harder, like the one working as seaman on an offshore trawler, which he did for some time.
All this provided him with a livelihood and a means to manage on his own now that his situation had been legalised in the eyes of the Irish authorities. Subsequently, Don Piatt and Roisin O’Tuama continued to welcome and assist various Breton refugees, being their life-savers by facilitating their first steps and more permanent establishment in the country.
Jacques de Quelen, Gwion Hernot and Charles Le Goanac’h, who had, like Joz Yann, arrived by sea, were practically the last to arrive without papers, or rather without the ‘ valid-false passports ‘. In 1946, they had crossed over from Pornic to Cork in a pleasure boat. François Goasdoué, a representative of the P.N.B. in Loire-Atlantique, had hired the boat in Nantes. Goasdoué had escaped the arrests, which had taken place all over the administrative region of the four departments from Rennes, spurred on by the commissioner of the Republic Le Gorgeu. These did not apply to the militants domiciled in Loire-Atlantique. The owner of the boat knew the nature of the people he was dealing with, of course, and was aware of the purpose of the journey, knowing full well that it was not just a fishing trip. But the skipper knew nothing about the identity of his passengers. The boat had weathered a strong storm in the Bay of Biscay, and had therefore been obliged to put in at Concarneau. The three passengers, who in any case had been sea sick, took care not to show themselves during the stop over. After passing through the straits of Sein the sea was not too rough. But the skipper was not surprised when his passengers, having suffered during the crossing, advised him on their arrival in Cork that they would definitely prefer to return to France by some other means; Millarden had previously been advised of the likelihood of their arrival, and thus it was that they had landed on his doorstep.
The three accomplices only possessed their old identity cards, and Madame Millarden accompanied them to Dublin in order to sort out their situation with the police authorities, and to obtain temporary residence permits until their position as political refugees had been settled. Gwion Hernot and Jacques de Quélen remained in Dublin. Dr.Kelly took in the former at first. Charles Gaonac’h returned to Cork where Millarden, who put him in charge of a small shop, retailing potatoes and sweets, employed him for a couple of months. The business did not work out and it was not long before he also returned to Dublin at the beginning of 1947, where Oscar MacUilis, a regular participant at inter-Celtic Congresses, took him in on a temporary basis.
It was also early in 1947 that Yann Goulet, sentenced to death in absentia in March of that same year, accompanied by his wife Yvonne and his two children, Armelle and Hervé, landed in Ireland after crossing England. Thus Raymond Delaporte, having organized a safe place for his lieutenants, and having himself been sentenced in absentia to twenty years hard labour, lost no time in also making his way to Ireland, early in April of 1947.
“I was the Captain,” he told me later, “so it was my duty to be the last to leave”.
He found those who had already arrived in Bray where, on the 11th June1947, he married Madeleine Kouig, originally from Audièrne, who had joined him there. The two witnesses at his wedding were Charles Gaonac’h and Jacques de Quélen. The valid false passport procedures were working very well. It was thanks to these that Yann Goulet and his family, as well as Raymond Delaporte, had been able to reach Dublin without any difficulties by crossing Great Britain. Thus, from the middle of 1947, the first bridgehead for the Breton outlaws had been established in Ireland. From then on it was preferable to go directly to this country where the obtaining of a political refugee status was not an insurmountable problem. The difficulties that I would soon encounter to stay in Wales were certainly not favourable to the prospect of settling in Great Britain.
Feutrenn, followed by Yann L’Haridon, had arrived in the meantime to join me in Swansea, thanks to the same procedures. The former had been a member of the Formation Perrot; the latter was Yann Goulet’s lieutenant in the P.N.B. youth groups and a loyal militant of Delaporte’s P.N.B. They had had some disagreements in the past and there was no love lost between them. However I was obliged to have them both sleep in the same bed for a few days. Bob Le Helloco had been able to settle more or less permanently with the Phillips in Cenarth, near Newcastle-Emlyn, where he delivered, in all weathers and in a hand cart, cans of milk from the farm where he had found refuge. I went to visit him with L’Haridon, shortly after the latter’s arrival. It was a rustic spot in a pastoral setting. The harmonious outline of green, partly wooded hills overlooked the river, alongside where the house and the buildings around it were nestled.
Feurtrenn finally found refuge, first with Dr. Jones in Swansea and then with the Daniels in Bangor. Miles, one of the few young Plaid Cymru militants who had refused to join the British army welcomed L’Haridon in Aberystwyth. These families were all active members of the Welsh party, over which Professor Daniel had presided for a time. Both Feutrenn and L’Haridon, confronted with the difficulties of obtaining a renewal of their residence permits, which I also came up against, finally decided to head for Ireland as well.
During 1948, Célestin Lainé also left for Ireland after a spell in Wales with the Daniels, where he had come to join Feutrenn.
The help of the Welsh families had been particularly valuable during that period when our small ill-assorted group of refugees, centralised around myself in Swansea, was in Wales. Thanks to my new address and the new name I had adopted, a contact through written messages, easier and free of any immediate danger, had been established with a number of outlawed, exiled and dispersed Breton militants. I refrained from discrimination: any help that we could give them was in any case justified by the love of our common homeland, as well as the dangers they were threatened with from the persecutions by the new French State.
Europe was still full of outlaws, in hiding and fleeing from their countries. Most of them had known uncertainty, misery and hunger. Bob Le Helloco shared my views on this score. Before and after my departure from Paris, he had been the discreet and efficient central organiser of this help, which had been simplified by the new procedures for the valid false passports that I had set up. When he left to join me in Swansea, his assistant and friend Jacques Bruchet, who helped him in this task, had remained in Paris. Various channels of communication and assistance were built up which intertwined and complemented each other. Those who benefited from this help were not always themselves aware of where it came from, seeking mainly to get away from prosecution and persecution. Jacques Bruchet and Paul Perrin, in hiding themselves, were devoted and efficient intermediaries between them all.
After Gildas Jaffrenou and Bob Le Helloco, Jacques Bruchet was the next to obtain a “valid false passport” with which he was able to undertake several trips to Wales without attracting attention. He kept in close contact with Bob. In August 1939, he had been one of the crew on the sailing boat Gwalarn, with which Bob Le Heloco had been able to successfully carry out the illegal landing of arms at Locquirec for the Breton nationalists. The Gwalarn had taken delivery of this compromising cargo out on the high seas, off the coast of Jersey, and at the same time of Célestin Lainé who was escorting the cargo. But the British authorities, who had found a crate of posters and leaflets that had fallen overboard during the transfer at sea and stayed afloat because of their light weight, had alerted the French police, who had arrested some of the crew after they had beached the Gwalarn. By then, there was no trace of the cargo, as André Geffroy, Patrick Guérin, Jacques de Quélen and a few others had already taken it over on the shore. Le Helloco, Bruchet, Le Louarn and Guy Vissault who were still on board had been arrested. Imprisoned in Brest and then in Nantes, they were all released during the war, in January 1940, and no charges had been brought against these peaceful holidaymakers. Throughout the Occupation, Jacques Bruchet and Bob Le Helloco had kept a low profile in Rennes. The latter, who was a member of the Kuzul Meur, had set up Galv, a publication in Breton. He had inherited a substantial fortune, allowing him to lead a life of leisure at the time, which he devoted mainly to intellectual pursuits, where politics was of secondary importance. Bruchet had followed le Helloco to his exile in Paris, shortly after the Liberation. A warrant of arrest, which was never enforced, was issued against him and a number of other Breton militants who were known for their nationalist opinions and cultural activities at the time of the Allard-Le Gorgeu raid in 1944. This did not prevent him from getting married in Paris, in 1945, under his own true name. When Le Helloco, condemned to death in absentia and his property confiscated, came to Wales, Jacques Bruchet had continued the work of assistance and liaison, which he had always carried out alongside the latter.
As for Paul Perrin, he had already been arrested and imprisoned shortly after the Liberation. He had escaped from the law courts in Rennes during one of the court inquiry sessions for his trial. The incredible circumstances of his escape were widely talked about. He came to visit me in Wales in the autumn of 1947, in Tregyb, and told me the story. He had been relieved of his handcuffs to go to the toilet and had been able to climb out of the toilet window which looked out onto a narrow and infrequently used street behind the law courts, which is still called the rue Salomon-de-Brosse.
Climbing out of the window, he had been able to reach a drainpipe and slide down it to the street that was five or six feet below. Admittedly he had already reconnoitered the area during a previous inquiry session. Having regained his freedom and allowed the excitement his escape had stirred up to calm down, he took the train to Paris, disguised as a woman with some make up on, and in the company of his fiancée, Melle Le Breton. The latter, being a social worker, found work in Paris at the B.N.C.I. Bank, through Monique Bruchet, Jacques’ wife, who was herself a social worker.
Bruchet and Perrin were the ones who acted as intermediaries for the setting up and passing on of the true-false passports to a number of condemned Breton nationalists, who were in hiding in Brittany, Paris and elsewhere.
In Brittany, there were various intermediaries, all members of the Breton movement. It was through these channels that we managed to have a passport sent to Olier Mordrel in Rome, where he was in hiding as an illegal immigrant, with neither funds nor papers, which was the more serious problem. He learnt, through one of his correspondents in Paris, that Doctor Moger had an address in Swansea, and wrote to me around the end of 1946. We had kept in touch ever since.
Thus, little by little, many years later in Ireland, through his visit there and discussions with his sons, I was able to reconstruct the odyssey of their flight. He wrote an account of some of his adventures and his comments on them in a text in Breton entitled ” An noz a skedin”, which was published in J. Quatreboeuf’s La Bretagne Reelle . Its special feature is that it was written in “Mordrel” spelling. In Brittany, since the end of the war and the upheavals in every field which followed, even in the field of writing, a number of Bretons were obsessed with the creating of their own spelling which was naturally not that of others. Mordrel, whose mind was open to a wide range of topics, was no exception to the rule.
He had left Paris by train with his wife and children, around the middle of August 1944, and finally reached Baden-Baden. They had been provided with accommodation in a requisitioned hotel, which was already crowded with senior civil servants, journalists and various personalities of the Vichy government and of the politics of collaboration with Germany. Owing to developments in the military situation, they were obliged to move to Fribourg in December, and then to Donaueschingen and Mengel, where the general staff of the P.P.F., Parti Populaire Francais, had gathered around Jacques Doriot. It is common knowledge that the latter offered Mordrel a symbolic place in the phantom French government that he had created, shortly before his tragic death during an allied air strike on the roads.
Urged on by the advance of British and American troops from the Western front, the family headed for Innsbruck, mingling with the fleeing crowds of refugees of all nationalities. There they met up with some members of the Bezenn Perrot , which had broken up in April 1945. Traveling through the Brenner Pass, they finally arrived in Bolzano or Bolzen, where they were when the hostilities ended shortly after.
“There was an enormous contrast,” Tanguy Mordrel told me later, “between the situation that existed in Italy and that which existed in Germany. The Germans were lacking in everything. There was nothing in the shops, closed most of the time. In Italy, on the contrary, life seemed normal, the shops were well stocked and the restaurants open.”
Completely destitute, the family tried, together with hundreds of other refugees, to cross into Switzerland by Murano. Meanwhile Mordrel decided to introduce himself to the American general staff, hoping to make the Americans understand the Breton problem and to also explain his personal situation to them. It was highly unlikely that such “negotiations” would work. As it was, the Americans understood nothing of the problems in Europe: how then could they possibly understand those of Brittany. 99% of them never knew it even existed, and would have been incapable of finding it on a map. Mordrel was therefore first imprisoned in Verona and then in an American camp situated in Ancona.
In the meantime, his family, who had no idea what had happened to him, made their way to Milan by train. Madame Mordrel and her three children were taken in at a reception centre organised by the church, then sent on to Rome by truck. There they were given shelter in a college or convent belonging to the Holy Cross order. The members of the order had also organised a soup kitchen, which helped them to survive. As for Mordrel, after the numerous interrogations and discussions he managed to have with the authorities of the camp, he had been placed in an internment camp, which was directed by the Intelligence Service and situated at Cineccitta, near Rome. Sensing that he was about to be handed over to the French authorities, he decided to escape. Making the most of a foggy night and digging the earth under the lowest strand of barbed wire, he managed to escape and headed on foot for Rome, by following the railway tracks. It was by then already the summer of 1946, around the same time as I arrived in Wales. He had no idea that his family was also in Rome: but they met up with each other by chance in the gardens of the Villa Borghese.
The family had found lodgings in a room, which had been placed at their disposal by a French family living in Rome, who were grateful to General Mordrel (Olier’s father) for having saved the life of the head of their family during the 1914 war. He had gone deaf under the bombing and the General had him evacuated from the front line as he could no longer protect himself owing to this handicap. General Mordrel died in 1942. He left behind him a reputation as a leader who was very humane towards his troops during the colonial and European campaigns. In Rome, the “physical” well being of the Mordrel family was taken care of, thanks to the free meals that were provided by the motherhouse of the Christian Brothers College, in exchange for various domestic tasks. Madame Mordrel died in Rome in 1947, as much a victim of the precarious conditions of life and of illness, as of exhaustion. I had only shortly beforehand made contact again with her husband.
He had already put their names down on the list of those who wished to emigrate to Argentina. He advised me that he wished to move far away in order to give up politics and to stick to writing. In reality, he had first of all contacted the Irish embassy in Rome, where he was not well received; probably an over zealous civil servant, taking into consideration the delicate situation between the Allied governments and the Irish government because of its neutrality during the hostilities, refused to help him in any way. It is well known that Pierre Laval also came up against the refusal of the Irish and Spanish governments to allow him entry onto their territory and to give him refuge. At that time in fact, the Irish “embassy” was simply a diplomatic delegation comprised of just one diplomat assisted by a secretary. It was also closely watched by the ‘ red-caps ‘, the name given to the British military police from the colour of the their Kepi.
In order to carry out his Argentinean project, Mordrel had to have some kind of identity document. I informed him therefore of the existence of the “true-false passports” network in Paris. He sent me some passport photos and some documents in the name of Costa, including the fictitious registration of his father and mother, supposedly born in Saint-Lo, a town which we knew had lost all its registration records during the bombings and subsequent fires as a result of the battles fought there after the allied landing in Normandy. He also gave me the name and address in Paris of a priest from the Sacerdotal Fraternity who made frequent trips to Rome and who could bring him the passport on one of his trips.
In Paris, Jacques Bruchet and Paul Perrin acted as the intermediaries taking the documents to the Police station. On collecting the passport, Paul Perrin contacted the Argentinean embassy, which was to stamp it with the visa authorising entry to their country. Everything had been arranged and planned beforehand in Rome: Mordrel had given me the name of an Argentinean diplomat, who had been advised by his colleagues in Rome and was to stamp the visa on the passport. The Bretons were certainly not the only ones wanting to flee from France. The eldest son, Malo, left for Argentine first, as their scout, joining a convoy of Croatian refugees. It was only in July 1948 that his father followed. Yola, the eldest daughter, and the second son, Tanguy, had been repatriated beforehand to the care of their paternal grandmother, la generale Mordrelle, who was then living in the south west of France. They subsequently joined their father in his new exile. Malo did not remain for very long in Argentine: He returned to France in 1952 to do his military service, voluntarily. He studied in the military academy in Strasbourg, fought in Korea and Indochina. Imprisoned by the Vietnamese, he was only able to return to France at the end of that final colonial war. Meanwhile, his brother Tanguy had also returned to Europe. Yola, on the other hand, remained in Argentina and married there.
At around the same time as my contacts with Mordrel, Auguste Menard and Goulven Jacq also contacted me in the same manner. They had finally managed to find refuge in a Spanish monastery, after their illegal crossing of the Pyrenees border. The former had been a member of the network established by Vissault de Coetlogon to fight the French Resistance He had previously served his apprenticeship of Breton nationalist within Breiz Atao in Saint Servan, alongside Yves Casteret, Le Landais and Raffig Tullou. Jacques Bruchet had worked in Saint Malo, one of the team in Yves Hemar’s firm of Architects, involved in the reform of modern Breton architecture. Menard had been on the run after the Liberation and had gone into hiding, firstly in the Saint Malo area, where Father Herve and his presbytery in Roz-sur-Couesnon had been a great help. Shortly after, he had gone to Paris, where he had found Bob Le Helloco and Jacques Bruchet. They had provided him with the necessary information to make his way to Spain, thanks to Yvon Lannutzel who was already there. Yvon was a jeweller from Quimper, an active Breton militant and ex shareholder of my newspaper “La Bretagne”.
Lannuzel had decided to leave Brittany shortly before the Liberation, and at first had taken refuge in Paris. He was a born dealer and lived mainly off the black market where he excelled. He had finally settled in Bidart, in the Basque country, close to the Spanish border, a good spot for illicit trafficking with Basque smugglers who had been engaged in this sport for a thousand years. Subsequently, he established another jewellry business in Bayonne.
In the summer of 1946, the network of true-false passports had not yet been perfected, as I was the first to try it out in July. At the beginning of September, Menard arrived without any problems as far as Lannuzel’s place in Bidart, where he was joined a couple of days later by Rene Guyomard, originally from Guingamp and brother of Yann. The two brothers had joined the formation Perrot. Lannuzel had been relying on the Basque smugglers to smuggle his protégées over the border at night, but as they had not turned up he decided to drive them on his moped, he had no car at the time, to a place near Saint-Jean-de-Luz, at the foot of the Rhune, the mountain that marks the border between France and Spain. The two Bretons climbed up the mountain and in the afternoon found themselves on the other side, reaching a small Basque village on the Bidassoa at nightfall. They spent the night there, then planned to head for Pamplona, and on to the Benedictine monastery of Santo-Domingo de Silos, in the heart of old Castille. They were to ask for Dom Coizen, the Abbot of Solesmes, who was a cousin of Yann L’Haridon, Yann Goulet’s lieutenant in the P.N.B.’s Bagadou Stourm. There were close on a hundred members, priests, brothers and oblates. French Benedictines, who had been obliged to flee from the anti religious persecutions of the French government, had rebuilt the monastery of Silos at the beginning of the century. The Abbeys of Kegage and Solesmes therefore continued to exercise some power over the monastery of Silos and maintained certain privileges there.
Unfortunately, Menard and Guyomard took a long time to reach the monastery. They had the misfortune of being stopped long before arriving in Pamplona by a border police inspector, who on seeing these two rather suspicious looking backpackers passing, got up from the terrace of a café to ask for their passports. Neither of them could speak Spanish. Arrested and searched, they were taken under escort to the border police at Irun, where a more zealous Superintendent wanted to hand them over to the French police, declaring that there were no longer any persecutions there, in spite of their protest to the contrary. This is the same old story, which continues to be used unfortunately, on both sides of the border that separates the Northern Basques from their Southern compatriots. The Superintendent was probably not entirely convinced he was right, as he calmed down when he discovered a missal in Breton in Guyomard’s camping bag. He therefore sent them to a residence, which was under military guard. A couple of days later, they were joined there by two Germans, one of whom had already been imprisoned twice by the allied army and had escaped each time, then by a young Dutchman who had joined the Waffen SS. A few days later the five refugees were taken under escort to Miranda internment camp.
This camp was situated on the border between the Basque country and Castille. Our two Bretons had the pleasure of finding M.Le Toiser, at one time in charge of the P.N.B. in Lannion , who had been in the camp for a couple of months and had already learnt to speak Spanish, as well as Goulven Jacq who had been there nearly two years already: a member of the Formation Perrot, he had also previously gone to Germany with the Bezenn. (according to reliable information received after the publishing of the original text)
Miranda camp was a veritable league of nations. The French, ill-matched, were in the majority; ex members of La Legion des Volontaires Francais against Bolshevism, members of Darnand’s French Militia, Doriotists, deserters from the French army, of whom some were Algerian, ex common law detainees who had taken advantage of the general chaos to escape from their prisons, and ex looters from the French Resistance who thought it safer to put some distance between them and the scene of their crimes. They mixed with ex German SS, Flemish and Walloons. Amongst the personalities were the Deloncle brothers, de la Cagoule, Commander Carteau of the L.V.F. The German refugee contingent was constantly increasing, ex soldiers or prisoners escaping from French camps or from a ruined and destitute Germany under occupation after the collapse of its armies.
“At first”, Menard told me much later, “the kitchens and the administration were in the hands of the French. But those who had taken it over were the most dubious ones, ex crooks and common law detainees. The food was horrible and insufficient, as they sold a part of the supplies, provided by the Spanish army, on the black market in Miranda. The situation did not improve when the Germans, who became the majority in the camp as there were over six hundred of them, claimed the kitchens and threw out the French.
During the first few months of 1947, Miranda camp was done away with and its inmates divided up between other camps and prisons. The small Breton contingent was sent to Valladolid camp, where they spent about ten days before being liberated. However, to be completely free, they had to provide the authorities with an address of a person willing to take them in. Le Toiser had a prisoner’s “godmother” from Castille, living in Barcelona, whom he went to and subsequently married. The Abbot from the monastery of Silos finally appeared with a safe conduct. Menard and Guyomard reached the Santo Domingo monastery, where Goulven Jacq joined them a few days later. It had taken them over a year to achieve their goal.
Apart from the monastery in Silos, there were only a few houses, a school and a gendarmerie with two gendarmes. The abbot welcomed the three Bretons and gave them odd jobs to do around the monastery. But he did his best to get Guyomard and Menard to enter the order and increase their numbers. Neither of them felt they had any vocation. Guyomard finally joined Le Toiser in Barcelona: they were both from Tregor and the solidarity that exists between people from the same region is very strong in Brittany. As for Menard and Jacq, they remained for over a year in Silos. It was from there that they wrote to me asking me to forward mail to and from their families.
The mother of the former and the wife of the latter had no news of them and were unable to communicate with them, as the French government, in a zealous display of “anti-fascism”, had just forbidden any contacts of whatever nature between France and Franco’s Spain. There were no longer any trains crossing the border. All business, tourist and postal contacts were forbidden between the two countries. Letters would be sent to me and I would post them from Great Britain, in a separate envelope, to either Spain or Brittany.
Letters, newspapers and press cuttings sent by family and friends reached me with no difficulty from the end of 1946. Through the university, I was also able to obtain complimentary copies of publications such as “Documentation francaise” and the “Courier de presse”. These were all very useful with the preparation of my news bulletin, in order to reply to criticism leveled against us and to sustain the Welsh press campaign. I was also able to have a better idea of the state of mind which continued to predominate within French political and administrative circles regarding our claims and that of other nations. The unexpected and unnatural alliance of the P.C. and the M.R.P.’s popular Democrats for everything connected with the repression of what was termed the intrigues of “collaboration”, persevered during 1946 and 1947. Comparisons were made between the claims of the Bretons, Basques and the people of Alsace, which were not even a consequence of the war and went back to over a century ago. The French administration carried out, even more rigorously than before, a policy of systematic ‘ Francisation’ as regards employment in Brittany, sending Breton civil servants away from their country. This policy was not only carried out in the field of education, where it was most frequently applied, but in all fields of administration. In the prisons, Breton prisoners were forbidden to read Breton books or books in the Breton language. Solitary confinement or similar punishment was inflicted on those inmates who used any Breton word in their correspondence. All this appeared incredible, but was however true.
It was also becoming known that France was rigorously and cruelly repressing nationalist movements and rebellions in Algeria, Madagascar and Indochina, conducting thousands of summary executions, and slaughtering the civilian population. Only a British veto prevented Syria and Lebanon from suffering the same fate.
It was not surprising that a climate of fear, induced by the repressions and the “intellectual terrorism” at the time, predominated in Brittany as regards anything Breton. The Scotsman Ian Mac Kinnon, who visited Brittany during the summer of 1947, wrote to us on his return that during the course of his conversations with Bretons, not politically motivated, the reply was that there were noBreton nationalists left in Brittany.
“All those who had been active during the occupation are either dead or in prison”
He had found no one, even culturally motivated, who dared admit to being a Breton nationalist.
Nonetheless, there had been a few courageous voices protesting against the manner in which the “purges” were being conducted. A few newspapers that were in opposition and outside the “resistencialiste” camp, which dominated the press stemming from the Resistance, began to come forward, condemning the inhuman manner in which political prisoners were being treated by France, describing the crimes which had been committed using the “Resistance” as a pretext. Now the war was over, international opinion was beginning to pay attention. Our cause could be strengthened. I made a point of echoing the courageous articles of Hugh Delargy, Labour deputy for Manchester, which had been published in the British press, on his return from a visit to France during the summer of 1947. In these articles, he did not hesitate to assert that there were many more political prisoners in French prisons than there had ever been in Franco’s prisons, that according to American statistics, a hundred thousand summary executions had taken place during the months preceding and succeeding the French Liberation, and that over 600 000 French people had been deprived of their constitutional rights and their right to vote.
What is more, we echoed Delargy because his statements corresponded fairly accurately with the documentation we had. Even, before my departure from the continent, Le Figaro of 6th April 1946, indicated that a million French citizens had been arrested at the Liberation and over 60 000 of them executed. From 1948, official statistics indicated that 900 000 sentences had been passed down by courts of law and constitutional courts. The administrative purges had affected over 120 000 officers, magistrates and civil servants. Later on, a report from the U.N. dated 1951, indicated that the purges amongst professionals, politicians, trade unionist and journalists had hit around 300 000 people. Furthermore, a man killed or simply sentenced or dishonored, drags down his whole family with him. In no time, the figure of 1.500.000 victims of the purges is reached, which is one French person in every thirty.
Within the first few days of 1947, we had been advised that the French Ambassador in London, Rene Massigli, had invited a delegation of eight members of the Welsh national Eisteddfodd to visit Paris and Brittany, and “to meet professors and intellectuals, particularly in our old University city of Rennes”. The motive was obvious, though at first it was not expressed. It was an attempt at replying to the Welsh press campaign in favour of the Bretons, which sometimes spilled over into the British and even into the international press. The Ambassador thought, probably in good faith, that the Welsh personalities would be able to see for themselves how “ill-founded” were the criticisms expressed by the press, running counter to the government he represented.
The leaders of the Eisteddfodd were not duped. Some of them were not in favour of accepting the invitation, fearing, as they stated later on in their report published after the visit, that they would be “used” by French propaganda. The French authorities’ intentions of exploiting this visit to Brittany for the best interests of their propaganda, was unequivocally confirmed shortly after and even before the departure of the delegation, at a press conference held in Rennes on 18th April, by Monsieur Le Nan, the director of the delegation for the Ministry of Information. An official representative from the French Embassy in London also unequivocally confirmed this intention, a few days later on 21st April.
The danger was certainly a real one: but I was convinced that none of those Welsh personalities, chosen amongst those who had defended or illustrated Welsh culture and language could be “bought” by a French campaign of disinformation. Their intellectual honesty and moral integrity would certainly not lead them to state the opposite to what they thought, nor to hush up what they had been able to observe for themselves.
My first concern was to send each one of them a copy of our little bulletin “Breton National News Service”: from this as well as from letters, which continued to be published in Welsh newspapers, the Welsh personalities and militants could hardly be unaware of what was happening in Brittany. They could not ignore the sentences and banning orders forcing them to stay out of Brittany, which had been imposed on a number of well known militants and personalities, the seizures of property and the “loss of citizenship rights” which they continued to suffer. Neither could they ignore the annulment of all the cultural concessions obtained from the Vichy government by the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne, or the reverting to a ban on the teaching of Breton language and history in educational establishments.
The directors of the Eistedfodd had consulted Dyffnallt Owen, Morgan Watkin, the Welsh university’s deputy W.J.Gruffydd, and a few others, regarding the opportuneness of this visit and at the same time invited them to be part of a prospective delegation to Brittany.
After obtaining the agreement of his colleagues, Morgan Watkin confidentially spoke to me about it.
“Neither you, nor I, had anything to gain by refusing the invitation from the French.” I told him. “To refuse it would have led them, right from the start, to accuse you of a partiality in favour of the Bretons. From our point of view, we feel that the facts we have already brought to your notice and the information which has been published on the repressions inflicted on the Breton movement, both cultural and political, and on its militants, by the French authorities are as irrefutable as they are verifiable. The only thing you will have to establish, in my opinion, and this preferably before your departure, is that the “guide” who will be provided to accompany you, can not prevent you from meeting, without witnesses if necessary, the people and militants already imprisoned, sentenced, or punished for any reason, for their action during the Occupation or their membership to the Breton movement during the war. We can in case, “I added,” furnish you with a list of them”.
It was with this in mind that we decided to ask each of the refugees, as well as those militants that we could contact in Brittany or in the Paris area, who had been interned, imprisoned or sentenced, to send us a brief résumé of their case, indicating the motives for the imprisonment, banning order or sentence which had been inflicted on them. When the time came, each one of these résumés would be confidentially handed over to members of the delegation going to Brittany, with details of the people we advised them to contact, as far as it was possible for them to do so.
Following on which, I met Morgan Watkin and Dyffnallt Owen several times and verbally completed the information I had given them. In the meantime, the directors of the Eisteddfod had accepted the invitation, requesting that, in view of the ‘ unease ‘ which existed in Welsh public opinion regarding the behaviour of the French government in Brittany, the delegation be granted complete freedom to make inquiries regarding the situation of the Bretons and Breton culture in the educational system in Brittany and secondly: that they be allowed to meet with Breton personalities whose names were known in Wales, and be able to discuss with them freely.
In his reply of 24th March, Monsieur Masigli granted, unconditionally, both these requests, adding: “I am convinced that this visit of your delegation to France will enable your representatives to dispel the misunderstandings which seem to have been created in Welsh public opinion regarding Brittany”.
The visit took place from the 21st April to the 1st of May 1947. The Welsh delegation’s report on their visit to Brittany was only published a few months later, in June 1947. The writing of it had been particularly difficult to finalise, both in the Welsh text and in its translation into French. But the report had been able, in terms that were measured, well considered and impartial, to clearly set the record straight on the manner in which the “purges” had taken place in Brittany.
1947 Report on the visit to Brittany of the Welsh Delegation.(see complete text under ARCHIVES on the site)
Certainly, nothing had been spared by the French authorities so that the Welsh personalities they were receiving would be left with a good memory of their visit. Even before the departure of the delegation, Rennes University had awarded their President, Professor Gruffydd, an honorary doctorate. The guide they had been provided with, Xavier Trellu, who was a Breton personality of the French Resistance in Finistére, remained impartial. The only thing the delegation was not allowed to do was to visit militants in prison, such as Taldir Jaffrenou, whom they had asked to meet. After a tour of Brittany, which took them to Rennes, Saint-Brieuc, Paimpol, Morlaix, Quimper, Vannes and Josselin, they were welcomed to the Town Hall and the theatre in Paris, with the strains of the Marseillaise and the Welsh national anthem. The French authorities who welcomed them probably did not know that the Welsh national anthem is the same as the Breton one and that it was still eminently suspect at the time, and dangerous to sing it in Brittany, as well as to display the Breton flag.
The Breton militants that the delegation had been able to meet did not hide the situation from them. However the psychosis of fear that prevailed in Brittany regarding any Breton activity had prevented some of them from meeting the delegation. But we only found out about this at a later stage, long after the return of the delegation.
The publishing of the Welsh delegation’s report had the same effect as a bomb in diplomatic circles and French government spheres. The impartiality displayed by the delegation could not be questioned, nor the measured terms in which it had described the situation in Brittany. It was certainly particularly important for our common cause, as well as that of the whole Breton movement, that the delegation had not hesitated to write: “It is difficult not to conclude that the simple fact of having any Breton activity of whatsoever nature, had, for the French government, been a sufficient motive for persecution.” And also, “It seems indisputable that the French government used as a pretext the actions of a few extremists, who really did collaborate with the Germans, to try and discredit the whole Breton movement and to persecute people who did not in any way deserve it.”
This opinion was shared by the Secretary of State to the Foreign Office at the time, Hector Mac Neil, when he wrote to a member of the House of Commons, before even the publishing of the Welsh report, that it would seem: “the French government had used the acts of collaboration by a few extremists, to discredit the whole of the Breton movement. According to information from the embassy of Great Britain, more than 900 Breton nationalists were arrested immediately after the Liberation.”
It was also important on a different level that the Welsh delegation had been able to observe and, without beating about the bush, declare that the French government was “implacably opposed to the teaching of the language and history of Brittany.” His report also publishes a letter from the national Ministry of Education, written on the very day after the delegation returned from their visit, in which that standpoint is clearly expressed, as it says: “primary public education is uniformly in French”. The Welsh also wrote that the minister himself, Monsieur Naegelen, came to Rennes shortly after their visit and did not hesitate to declare: “Some people seem to think that we should have special rights for Alsace and Brittany. We believe that the same rights granted to other French people are sufficient”.
Shortly after the report was published, the French embassy in London organised, on the 6th August 1947, a press conference where their spokesperson tried to respond to it. But, bombarded with questions, the latter let slip that France considered guilty of Collaboration with Germany all those Bretons who “during the war or before had carried on a nationalist or separatist policy”.
There was no better way of admitting to the peculiar conception of human rights and freedom of opinion that inspired the French government at the time. Whilst as regards the questions put to him on the teaching of Breton and of the history of Brittany in the schools, the French embassy spokesperson could not confirm the ban that had been imposed and that was underlined in the Welsh report.
The report had been published in French and in Welsh. In order to widen its impact, we quickly set about publishing shortly after, with the permission of the authors and under the umbrella of the Council of the Bretons abroad, an English translation in the form of a small brochure with the title The truth about the persecutions in Brittany.
I was convinced that from the time when the Welsh delegation’s report was made public, it would become practically impossible for the French authorities to persevere with their anti-Breton policy of repression and violation of human rights that we had been the victims of. But its publishing would soon after have direct repercussions on my personal situation and be the cause of new difficulties for me.