The Eve of Battle
My activities and functions for the Comité Consultatif had considerably increased my work load. I imposed a strict discipline on myself in order to remain faithful to my rate of work and to the writing of my daily editorials. But I was more and more frequently obliged to interrupt the regularity of a routine that is nonetheless necessary in order to accomplish many tasks, if one wants to tackle them successfully at the same time. My journalistic work and the political management of the two dailies still absorbed much of my time. The latter also caused me a lot of worries.
The financial problems had certainly disappeared after concentrating the composition and administration of the two newspapers in Morlaix, and also after being granted the subsidy from the Ministry of Information in Vichy. The latter together with what we had been able to put aside permitted us to rebuild little by little the starting capital of “La Bretagne”. The financial equilibrium of “La Depeche” also gave me no cause for concern. But the political problems remained, and I had great difficulty in binding together two ill-assorted teams, the one I had inherited and the other I had recruited.
Coudurier had in fact never been involved in the editing of “La Depeche de Brest”, preferring to leave it, at least in theory, to the administration council and its president, Victor Le Gorgeu. As for the rest, the actual management of the editing as well as the dealings with the German censor, he relied on Marcel Collinet who had become his general factotum. The latter in reality was only a stop-gap. He had been hired to replace his brother Gabriel, imprisoned in Germany. He was no more Breton than his brother: both were originally from Le Mans. Short, aggressive and unmethodical, he was not very pleasant to deal with. The workers on the printing press, who refrained from making any comments in front of him, only put up with him because he was known to be the boss’s adviser and to see through his eyes. Moreover, he was very deaf, which made any conversation with him even more difficult. He bowed down to Schmidt, the German censor in Morlaix, and under various initials, wrote up articles that were outrageously pro-German, compensating for these by making declarations in the newsrooms, which no one believed and that were of a no less outrageous patriotism to France and of extreme Gaullism . He understood nothing of the Breton and “neutralistic” policies towards which I wanted to influence “La Depeche”. He took it as an insult that I had taken over part of his responsibilities, when Coudurier had not done so beforehand. He felt he had been pushed into the background when he had always considered himself to be in the forefront. He also felt he had some support in this attitude, and was probably encouraged by Coudurier, who did not consider it to be in his interest that too close a relationship be established between the two teams. On the other hand, there were never any difficulties with the other journalists from the central editorial office of “La Depeche”: Abgrall, Lannou, Gigout and others who were Breton and who understood straightaway where I was heading.
In order to modify the policies of “La Depeche” as well as to consolidate the Breton standpoint of the two newspapers, every Tuesday, in Morlaix, I held a press conference in order to do a review of the week’s newspapers, allocate the tasks and give the necessary instructions for the writing of the articles and for the orientation of the campaigns of Breton interest. In my absence, since I continued to live in Rennes and only spent two days of the week in Morlaix, Rouault was in charge of seeing to it that the instructions were carried out. I had confidence in him to choose, from the various texts provided by the press agencies, those compulsory articles dealing with international and general politics that were not as outrageous as those which Collinet would have written, which was not difficult . The atmosphere, however, did not improve. It was not until several months later that Jacques Guillemot and I finally found out that it was Rouault himself who was responsible. He was constantly scheming with one or the other, setting each one up against everyone, and everyone against each one. He probably hoped he would become an indispensable person without whom no one could manage. He was preparing a way out for himself at “La Dépeche”, which he had decided, and rightly so, was financially stronger than “La Bretagne”. All of which did not alter the fact that he carried out the instructions I gave him on our policy extremely well. Little by little “La Depeche”, whilst maintaining its own line which was more left wing than “La Bretagne”, had become a newspaper that was just as Breton as the latter, in its influence and policy as much as in its editing and articles.
But this situation could not last: It was as a result of the incidents and turn of events, which I related in the book I dedicated to the history of the daily “La Bretagne”, that Guillemot, Coudurier and myself decided, in autumn 1943, to part with Rouault. Fortunately, I had found a solid replacement in Joseph Martray. Even prior to Jean Quenette’s departure and for reasons still rather obscure in fact, Maurice de la Gatinais had been relieved of his post in the Regional Youth Delegation. Joseph Martray found it difficult to serve under his successor. I suggested to him that he take over the management of the editorial services of both newspapers. I knew that both on a political and personal level, though he was not a journalist by trade, he would be able to perform this task to perfection. He also had a gift for writing and under the name of Mauguet-Martin he was already one of the most forceful contributors to “La Depeche”. Though he expressed it differently than I did, he was also a militant for regional autonomy towards which we worked jointly. He also had enough personality to keep Collinet in his place, as well as enough diplomacy to bring the work of both teams into line and firmly maintain the Breton tendency of both newspapers. It was not long therefore before he moved to Morlaix bringing with him the review “An Eost”. From then on I was able to breathe easier, as order had been restored to that seat of intrigue and nest of vipers which the Morlaix editorial services had become.
It is true that Coudurier’s general attitude did not make things any easier for us. Reluctant to move around, he left it entirely in my hands to represent both newspapers on the Press Co-management Commission in charge of negotiating with the German authorities the quota of paper they needed for their printing. On that Commission I would meet up with the representatives of “Ouest-Éclair” and sometimes Job Jaffé and Yves Delaporte, mandated by “L’Heure-Bretonne”. Also on several occasions, because of these functions in Paris, I met up with Lieutenant Schott again, who had been appointed there, with his inseparable Mme Deschamps.
But as time went by Coudurier undoubtedly felt he was no longer fully in control of his newspaper. Moreover he had allowed himself to be compromised by Joël Branellec in obscure black market dealings in tyres, petrol and oil, materials necessary for the running of the fleet of cars used by “La Depeche”. It turned out that some of these materials had been stolen from the occupation forces! Joël Branellec was in theory the press photographer for “La Depeche”. But as Coudurier had very bad eyesight and could not drive, Branellec had become his chauffeur: but he had gained enough influence over him to also become his trusted adviser. Branellec had practically exclusively taken over the purchasing of car materials and equipment which had become increasingly difficult to acquire, except of course on the black market. Through this process he must have made some comfortable benefits on the side, which did not seem to bother Coudurier. Young, handsome and dynamic, Joël Branellec lived in grand style. He was never short of petrol, that it was rationed did not seem to worry him, nor was he ever short of fast cars, though an ever increasing number of our cars ran on gas from charcoal only. He had become quite a character in Morlaix . He frequently went hunting with the Feldkommandant in the neighbouring countryside: this was a well known fact and must have been very useful to him in his business dealings. But one day one of his suppliers was arrested for stealing from the German’s warehouses. Then Branellec was arrested a few days later and incarcerated in Saint-Brieuc. The German army even interrogated Coudurier himself and sent him away from Morlaix for a few months.
Because of these incidents and a few others the administration Council decided to make a serious investigation regarding this position of car expenses. My father was entrusted with the investigation. He accomplished it with his usual conscientiousness. It revealed nothing very precise except that all the repairs, replacements and running expenses for Branellec’s personal cars were settled from the newspaper’s funds. Coudurier took this intrusion into his management very badly. It added to the grievances he was nursing against Jacques Guillemot, my father and I. His general attitude towards us had changed rapidly. Though he had come to seek us out cap in hand, he had now regained his haughty upper-middle class arrogance. This arrogance increased as the German military situation became more critical. Shut away in his office, he hardly came out of it except to attend the administration Council usually held in Jacques Guillemot’s offices in Quimper. I would accompany him there and we would usually be driven by Branellec. My contacts with him were now very distant and virtually limited to those of an official nature. He has since said that he was at the time working on a “dossier” for the future, which undoubtedly was enough to keep him busy. He was depending on these “dossiers “to make it easier for him to disassociate himself from us later on. Thus escaping the prosecutions that he thought would be brought against us at the Liberation, and which logically should have included him also. I have related elsewhere that he only escaped from the latter thanks to the political intervention of Le Gorgeu, who himself was already preparing his own dossier behind the scenes.
Coudurier’s dossiers contained nothing else but gossip: he over interpreted the facts in order to distort them and attempted to forge himself a new reputation by accusing us of “crimes” we had not committed! Coudurier was as tricky as Rouault, even surpassing him in duplicity. In the meantime, he still had his faithful intelligence agent, Marcel Collinet, in the editorial office and press-rooms. I did not worry about it too much as, thanks to Martray, I had settled the editorial office problems and the political management, which was my function and which was all that mattered to me.
Life continued in our little house; rue de Fougères, where we had finally settled since the end of Spring 1941, just before the birth of our eagerly awaited first child. We were expecting a boy: it was Rozenn who was born. I had accompanied Marie-Madeleine to the clinic and therefore heard the first cries of our first daughter in the delivery-room. She had chosen to be born, like the roses, on the first day of summer: also the day when German troops entered Russia, putting an end to the German-Soviet alliance, whose shadow had hung heavily over Europe until then.
The birth of Rozenn filled us with happiness, especially as Marie-Madeleine had been already over six months pregnant when she had to be operated on for appendicitis. This had been the cause of some concern to us and to our parents and friends. Pierre Artur, managing director of ‘Ouest-Éclair’ had sent a magnificent bouquet of flowers to the clinic where she had been operated on, as if to mark the alliance between our two newspapers. My mother-in-law and my sister-in-law Yvonne had prepared the house for the arrival of Marie-Madeleine and Rozenn: the cradle had been ready for some time. The rooms of the house were decorated with flowers.
Less than a year later, our little blue-eyed, blond-haired daughter took her first steps in the garden.
Jean, the eldest of our sons, in turn had chosen to be born in November 1942, undoubtedly to light up our home in this “mez-du” or dark month when the war, which was devastating Europe, had just spread to North Africa. He came into the world a bit ahead of the day we were expecting him on. That Monday I had gone to Morlaix as usual. I was notified of the birth early on Tuesday morning which meant that I was able to return to Rennes by midday. I found little Rozenn alone with our domestic helper, looking bewildered, and seemed to be wondering where all the people from her world had gone. I drove her straight away to see her little brother and her mother at the clinic.
A few weeks before the birth of Jean, Marie-Madeleine was grieved by the loss of her brother, Jean-Francois. He was very close to her in age and she was particularly fond of him. He had died of tuberculosis in the little house in Louannec where my mother-in-law had nursed him devotedly. He often received visits from Edouard Olivro, a student at the time and his next door neighbour practically. He was also comforted by visits from Father Pierre Bourdelles, a teacher at St. Joseph’s in Lannion . It so happened that our son was born on Jean-Francois Mauger’s birthday, and so it was in memory of the latter that he was christened Jean-Francois. He was baptised, as Rozenn had been, in the little church of St. Laurent, which was in the middle of the countryside then, near the retirement home where Francois Vallée had gone. The bells had rung out in happiness amidst the sad sounds of war.
Paternity is a great joy. I feel sorry for those who intentionally deprive themselves of it. A home is not complete without laughter and children playing, without their awakening to the world and life, in spite of the worries they give you sometimes. They alone are your link to eternity. Though of course, without them one can pass on a message, an example or a resolution, but they are the link in the chain connecting us to future generations, just as we are the link that allows us to receive and assimilate our inheritance from previous generations. How sad not to be able ourselves to pass on these blood ties to those who will come after us! In the midst of the worries, sufferings and ordeals that have marked my adult life, my comfort has always been in the blond heads of my children, their expressions and their peaceful sleep. During my worst moments, their presence or their image has always been my link with hope, with struggle and with life. They have, what is more, later on given their mother and me in return the same affection and support which we have always given them. When I was once more imprisoned many years later, their actions, interventions and tireless campaigns in Dublin, Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris and elsewhere were decisive factors that set me free.
– “You are very lucky “, Francois Dausset told me at the time. “ There are many sons who would not have dared to do for their father what they have done for you.”
My political work and activities certainly absorbed me completely during this period of my life in Rennes. I gave it all I had, as it was in accordance with my vocation. I found in it a fulfilment that few people are lucky enough to experience in their daily work. It was in reality, the only time in my life that I experienced this deep harmony between work and life, the one complimenting the other, giving balance to the mind, satisfaction to intelligence, and a goal to life. I have always felt sorry for those who are put off by work and find in it neither the comfort that each one needs, nor that inner peace which comes with the feeling of a job well done, with that sense of achievement and of it being worth the effort.
But the joys of family life, the warmth of the home I had established were also the framework and support for this fulfilment. They completed and consolidated it despite passing storms, and in spite of the uncertainty in the events that were shaking up Europe. During rare moments of leisure, I found time to see to my small garden, to play with my children, to plant some potatoes and flowers, to chop up the wood in the cellar that was our heating for the winter. We entertained very little as the times were not conducive to it. I would sometimes have some friends around, mainly when we had the plenary sessions of the Comité Consultatif. The Abbé Perrot, Pierre Mocaer, Joseph Martray, Xavier de Langlais, Francois du Fretay and a few others were our guests from time to time. I also had some of them around one day with Charles, the assistant bursar for economic affairs in the region, who was an ex-student from the Ecole Polytechnique and was also a talented Breton poet. I was to meet him again a few months later in prison at the Camp Marguerite.
Nonetheless, it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to get away. I managed a few days of solitude in Callac after the birth of Rozenn and, when I could, I joined Marie-Madeleine and the children in Louannec where she went during the holidays to spend some time with her mother after the death of her brother. The calm of the fields, the hidden lanes and unknown pathways were always a necessity for me and the solitary stroller’s meditation. We were able to spend two weeks in the summer of 1943 in Trinité-sur-Mer. I needed a bit of a break to complete the manuscript of “La Bretagne devant le problème des provinces”, which summed up the essential elements of my political editorials. In la Trinité we stayed with a family and went down to the harbour for lunch. We had the beaches to ourselves and the secret coves and the flat stretch of river where the oyster farmers did their cultivation, and the harmonious little harbour which no one had yet thought of transforming into a monstrous marina. Here and there one came across a German uniform, incongruous in that calm and peaceful marine landscape where everyone quietly went about their daily tasks.
In Rennes, however, the countryside was not far away. The fields opened out practically from our doorstep. There were still some minor roads and pathways between Saint-Laurent and Les Gayelles, also between the Octroi de Saint-Brieuc and La Robiquette. The petrol rationing had given the streets back to the walkers and all the city centre streets were more or less pedestrian. On Saturdays, Marie-Madeleine and I sometimes cycled to Mme Sévin, in La Chapelle-Chaussée, where we would stock up on butter and other farm produce that had become scarce in the towns. She was the sister of my Aunt Eugénie who reigned over the Bas-Breil where she had taken over the running of the family farm from my Grandmother and my Uncle Constant. Césarine, as she was called, was a widow herself who, with her daughter Marie-Paul and her sons, worked the lands of La Meriennais: the entrance to the farm buildings of La Meriennais was easily recognisable then and can still be identified by the cluster of majestic lime trees that rise up by the side of the road, shortly after passing by the elegant residence of the de Genouilhac family and passing through the small village. Césarine, like my Grandmother, wore the traditional little headdress of the area on her smoothed down hair. She frequented the Rennes market with her daughter Marie-Paul and went there by cart. She often came to visit us, bringing us the produce we needed, worrying about her son who had been taken prisoner and for whose return we were making inquiries.
Rennes at the time was still an average sized city and the countryside was so close that none of those difficulties could be detected in obtaining food supplies, which the inhabitants of Paris and its region had. By posting parcels of butter and meat, Brittany and Normandy provided for a good half of French inhabitants and their capital. Brittany had once more become what it had been long ago: “The Peru of the French “. Any gratitude shown to her for this did not last long.
It is very difficult to explain clearly, forty years later, what the situation in Brittany was like during the occupation, what everyday life was like and the development of its public opinion. These forty years have drastically changed the way of life, the social structures and mental attitudes, and have seen the considerable growth and influence of the mass-media. During the occupation the old political parties had disappeared: most of their representatives were lying low, their militants had dispersed except however those belonging to the communist party. The organization of the latter had become accustomed to the clandestine nature of their party, ever since it had been dissolved and outlawed by the French parliament at the beginning of the war, in September 1939, and was therefore able to survive. Soviet Russia had, since 1939, been the ally of the Germans in their conquest and remained so until 1941. Molotov and Stalin had sent a telegram of congratulations to Hitler after his victory over France. From the 20th of June 1940 onwards, a week after the Germans entered Paris, the leaders of the communist party had received from them the authorisation to publish “l’Humanité” again. It was the Vichy government who opposed it as soon as the armistice was concluded.
The Germans entry into Russia had been opportune in allowing the clandestine P.C. militants to forge themselves a new reputation; a reputation greatly compromised since 1939 through the existence of the German-Soviet pact. These ex “anti-militarists” had ,from then on, set themselves up as French patriots and became, from 1942 onwards, the hard-core of what finally became known as the “Résistance”. But it was the only important exception, though it was virtually ignored, in the overall political picture at the time.
The great majority of the “notables” had rallied to the Vichy government and to Maréchal Pétain , whatever their previous political preferences had been, and even if the more progressive elements did not have much time for the “paternalism” and defence of traditional values carried forward by the new French State. To the latter as well as to others, it appeared that there was no other political direction possible in order to save what could be salvaged, maintaining the State and protecting the population as much as possible against the inevitable consequences of the defeat and collapse of France. What mattered at the time was to live, to keep going, and to survive. The vast majority of the population in Brittany and elsewhere adopted this attitude. The manner in which rural settlements were spread out, the multiplicity of smallholdings and extreme variety of their produce, meant that they were mainly able to evade the weight of German and French “requisitions”. An investigation we did for the newspaper revealed that, from the main Post Office in Saint-Brieuc alone, twenty to twenty five thousand family parcels a day were posted to the large centres of the Paris area, containing twenty or so tons of butter and other foodstuffs. We were careful not to reveal this, for fear of drawing too much attention to these figures.
Only a few large Breton towns suffered physically from the strategic situation of Brittany. The allied air forces pounded the industrial strip of La Basse-Loire, and the submarine bases of Lorient and Brest. Even in Rennes we were subjected to some lethal bombings. Here again, we could only bow under the weight of events over which the Bretons had no control. This was certainly not the time for ideological divisions, or for their discussion.
But though the old parties had disappeared, efforts to found new ones met with failure. The so-called collaborationist French parties had practically no following in Brittany, whether they were considered right wing like Doriot’s P.P.F. or Bucard’s francism, or claimed to be left wing like Marcel Déat’s R.N.P., himself an ex militant from the socialist party. All these parties had been given permission to hold public meetings in Brittany, a right which Vichy and the Germans had persistently refused to grant the P.N.B. and its militants. These collaborationist party meetings only drew those that were inquisitive.
In reality, only two “activisms”came forward on the political level in Brittany during the occupation; one illegal, pursued and condemned, which was that of the French Résistance; the other, tolerated because nothing could be done about it, which was that of moderate or more extreme Breton provincialism or nationalist activism. Both of these activisms, that of the Breton movement as well as that of French resistance, had several points in common. They were both minority groups, in a population that longed for peace and were troubled by war, in addition, they were both composed of dynamic and disinterested militants, from all social classes and from all parts of Brittany, as well as from all the ideological and spiritual families who, in other times, would have probably been opposed to each other in elections. Activism apart, the population accepted the Vichy regime just as it had accepted the others, even if a certain part of this opinion hoped for a Gaullist victory. These two positions were not in any way contradictory and co-existed in many people. It was commonly thought that there was a secret and tacit agreement between Pétain and De Gaulle, who were linked to each other through known personal connections; the former just concentrating on maintaining the essentials and negotiating with the occupier, whilst the latter was taking out insurance for the future. The whole thing would have been logical and avoided many subsequent problems, had there not been De Gaulle’s extreme pride and his wish for single-handed power. But at the time, those salient traits of his character were not yet commonly known. The bulk of the population were not hostile to either Vichy or Gaullism, or else rejected them both, oscillating between these two poles, at the mercy of events, and gradually swelling the ranks of the latter as the turn of events following the landing in North Africa took shape. Is it not human and always safer to fly to the assistance of victory? It has often been said since, the crowd who had acclaimed Maréchal Pétain in Paris just a few weeks before the allied landing in Normandy, was the same one who had acclaimed Général De Gaulle in the same place a few months later.
The bulk of the Breton population and its local representatives were otherwise quite pleased to welcome the Breton renewal. The French politicians had driven them to collapse and defeat: they had not been able to protect them from war and invasion. The old regime and politicians of the 3rd Republic remained deeply unpopular. All that was left for the Breton population was a return to the underlying source of its Bretonness, which was exactly what the Breton renewal was carrying out.
It was left with the practical defence of its particular problems, its interests and its rights, the asserting of its personality. Breton opinion on the whole was indeed still hostile to separatism, especially inasmuch as the latter had appeared to be supported by the Germans at the beginning of the occupation: the enemies of Breton activism and the administrative circles did not fail to fan the flames and deliberately aggravate that point. They had to substantiate the idea that all Breton activism was suspected of Germanophilia. The ignoramuses and those among the masses, who were lacking in discernment or deceived by propaganda, believed this in the end. But not everyone was taken in. This confidential propaganda, calculated and insincere, did not stop the claims we submitted to the town councils in favour of provincial autonomy from being adopted, persevering slowly but relentlessly. The project for Statut du Comité Consultatif continued to collect the signatures of a number of important personalities from all walks of life. We even received requests from town councillors after the allied landing in Normandy. True, they were written and addressed just as much to the new masters of France as to those who then reigned in Vichy.
The last Congress of the Celtic Institute was held on the 21st of May 1944, under the presidency of Roparz Hemon, just before the allied landing in Normandy. It brought together a considerable number of personalities who, far from being restricted to the Breton movement, were from all social and cultural circles. Again, around the same time, when we celebrated the 10th anniversary of Ar Brezoneg Er Skol and the founding of the B.A.S., in Vannes, a large crowd filled the sports field where the Celtic event was held and which I addressed over the microphone. Moreover, weakened by events and internal disagreements, Vichy did not possess the means to deal with this Breton activism, as all their predecessors had done, even though it may have wished to do so. In any case, the Germans, anxious to avoid any political complication, would probably have objected if they had tried. In spite of the deep-rooted hostility of its senior civil-servants – of which I had no illusions – towards our claims, it had to “compromise” and try to “limit the damage”. Thus, an element of repression that had until then contributed in curbing mightily the development of the Breton movement amongst the masses had disappeared simply through using the balance of power. In addition, a reassuring element had been added to the Breton action: the cultural and moderate movements had the support of the official Regional authorities. They were accepted and recognised by them. Everything Breton was back in favour. People believed in the renaissance of Brittany. Members of the local population, dignitaries and local councillors were aware of this realisation, even though it did not feature as a priority in the current problems and concerns. The loss of interest, along with fear, only came when the wind turned and when Vichy collapsed.
On witnessing the scant consideration given by Breton opinion to their propaganda, the French collaborationist parties of the right as of the left, sought acceptance by “Bretonising” their doctrines , just as the French left-wing parties did, many years later, on the eve of the 1981 elections. Charles Maurras, Jacques Doriot, Marcel Bucard and Marcel Déat redoubled their reassuring declarations as regards Brittany and the Breton movement, accepting and supporting their cultural and administrative claims. Jacques Doriot made a special trip to Rennes, accompanied by some of the Bretons of Saint-Denis, many of whom were on his general staff. He requested meetings with the cultural and political leaders of the Breton movement. He met Mordrel, Debauvais, Rparz Hémon and Delaporte. I also had a fairly long meeting with him. I had never before met the “Great Jacques” , but I knew Tony Guédel from Sarzeau since the meetings for the World Youth Congress in Paris, as he was one of those responsible for P.P.F. youth organisation. Doriot was a fine figure of a man with a presence that left the rather insipid Colonel de La Rocque far behind. He was open to our problems and even in favour of the federalisation of France into provinces enjoying considerable freedom. We know that, later on, he had Mordrel join the French shadow government that he put together in Germany, just before its collapse: but none of this got very far.
Nevertheless, these calculated overtures of the collaborationist French parties did not prevent the “French Youth” organisations and those of the P.N.B. from taking to the streets of Rennes, engaging in pitched battles and wrecking their respective premises. Breton activism remained faithful to itself: It refused to listen to the sirens and remained focused on the struggle.
On the other hand, the activism of the French Resistance in Brittany had little by little changed character over the past few months. The first “Resistants” in Brittany needed no reason to take action: they rose up spontaneously against the presence of German troops on their soil, just as the first Chouans had risen up one hundred and fifty years earlier, against tyranny and the government representatives’ soldiers on a mission from Paris. They acted alone or in small groups, helping the allies as best as they could. They had not as yet been integrated under the control of any centralised authority or French politician. The period of “politicised resistance” had not yet arrived. But it was not long in coming, once the landing in North Africa and the defeat of the Germans at Stalin grad had reassured political authorities on the outcome of the armed conflict, they had separated from Vichy and had reconstituted apart from it. As the wind changed, French resistance in Brittany became progressively more politicised, just as it did elsewhere: it changed character little by little, under the influence of leaders who had arrived later on the scene and were not exposed to as much danger. In 1944, just as the royalists did in 1815, they took advantage of the instinctive rebellion of the first militants.
They were joined by large numbers of militants and leaders of the Communist Party, which included many foreigners to the country, and virtually formed a State within a State by the creation of the F.T.P., who did not recognise the authority of either the F.F.I., or that of the F.F.L. Their objective was to seize power. In an effort to co-ordinate these disparate elements, the Gaullist authorities from London and then from Algeria sent remunerations to some, at times not even stopping at murder to achieve their ends. For the French “politicised” resistance, and also those in Brittany now integrated under the control of politicians from central authority, it was not so much a question of attacking “the enemy” as to prepare for the change of regime that would follow their departure, and not so much to win a victory, which it was becoming obvious the allies would do on their own, as to eliminate and remove the men and the administration of the Vichy Government. Therefore not only all those who supported Vichy would be condemned but even those who tolerated or accepted Vichy, or were tolerated and accepted by them. Maréchal Pétain’s policy of provincial reforms was no exception to the rule. The French politicised resistance went back to the secular politics of centralisation and standardisation, against which the Breton national movement was a powerful force and which therefore had to be eliminated. Are the French resistance and the Breton resistance compatible? And as usual, that concept of political and government standardisation did not allow for any nuances: it purposely confused the defence of non-French cultural values with separatism. It sought to change the government but not in any way to change the State. Whilst on the contrary, as far as we were concerned, the government mattered very little: it was the State and its structures that it was important to change: sole condition for a valid change. Just as in 1793, “Federalism” and “superstition” once more became major crimes in the eyes of the Resistance’s politicians, which it was advisable to punish with the full rigour of reprisals or of the laws.
The French radio from London became the most powerful instrument of this policy and these ideas. Even though “L’île de Sein” was at one point “half of France”, according to de Gaule, Radio France Algeria and London did not hesitate to present during their broadcast of the 9th June 1943, the creation of the Auguste-Brizeux college , in a very significant manner: “A college has just been opened in Ploërmel, intended for Breton teachers, in order to favour racist and autonomist intrigues”. Thus it was that these tendentious broadcasts of false ideology depicted a cultural struggle whose permanency nonetheless had been maintained for over a century. It was therefore not surprising that, shortly after, the assassinations of activists and Breton militants began. The activism of the French Resistance and that of the most forward thinking faction of Breton nationalism would continue until the end to have a common character in Brittany, not only by remaining as a minority but also by turning to violence and war.
I had felt these growing perils at an early stage, all the more so since I had ceased to believe in a German victory when the German troops entered Russia. With the entry of the United States in the war and the landing of the allies in North Africa, all that could be hoped for was a shaky peace or a compromise: an illusion that events would dispel. Early in November of 1942, the Comité Consultatif held a meeting at the préfecture. We had, just the day before, learned of the allied landing in North Africa, and the presence there of Admiral Darlan, Vice-President of the Vichy Council. In the room where we had gathered was an imposingly large photograph of Admiral de la Flotte. Florian Le Roy saw to it. He rose stealthily and turned the picture around to face the wall. He had taken on his most serious look and with a straight face, from the corner of his mouth, he provoked much hilarity by saying:
– “You understand of course, it is better that way for the Prefet”.
In fact, the following day the picture had officially disappeared: The German army had invaded the “Free Zone”. Only the town of Vichy and its hinterland had escaped the occupation. Diplomatic relations between France and the United States, which had survived until then, had been broken: the French fleet in Toulon went down to avoid falling into the hands of the Germans. The political landscape of the French government had been dramatically disrupted once more, further testimony of its growing weakness. Nonetheless, it remained. It had not collapsed as could have been foreseen. It still remained in the eyes of the world and international society, whether they were belligerent or not, the legitimate government of France. The London French committee and General de Gaulle had not been advised, nor consulted regarding the preparations and implementation of the “Torch” operation, which had resulted in the American and British landing on French possessions in North Africa.
I had no reason for not understanding the French Resistance’s struggle. Any struggle that is disinterested and sincere is respectable, and that of the French Resistance was eminently so, at least at first: but it was not my struggle, in as much as what mattered to me above all else was the struggle to acquire for Brittany its own institutions, enabling it to control its own destiny as they developed. It should no longer remain a pawn in the games of others. It should no longer be used without first being asked. The German occupation was but a passing phase in its life. One day this occupation would have to end: it was only a temporary affliction, irritating and painful, which could only last for a limited time. That was not the primary affliction that had to be fought against: the principal enemy, in order of emergencies, was the ideological, political, economical, administrative, cultural and intellectual centralisation of France. Inexorably, it destroyed the body, soul and spirit of Brittany, its sense of identity and its position as a specific nation. This was not a temporary affliction: it was permanent. It could only be cured by continuing the struggle we were engaged in. That was the struggle of the Breton Resistance. Throughout our history, men had risen up to carry it on. All we were doing was to continue it. Vichy had inherited the governmental legitimacy over France: we could only hope that what we had succeeded in obtaining from it, our ancient rights, would be respected by the government which would in turn inherit governmental legitimacy, benefiting from a correct and peaceful transfer of State powers.
The French Resistance’s progressive “politicising” since the allied landing in North Africa, where the French Freedom Committee had established its headquarters, had asserted itself. It was henceforth from Algeria that preparations were being made for the government or governments who had declared their intentions to replace Vichy. But in Algeria they no longer had a peaceful transfer of power in mind. The Jacobin ideologies and centralisation traditions were being taken up again there. The few politicians who gravitated around General de Gaulle were happy to set themselves up as pompous followers of the great ancestors of 1793, with the slight difference that they were being manipulated by a general playing Bonaparte. De Gaulle’s personal ideas on government and politics differed little from those of Maréchal Pétain’s. But Paris was worth a Mass. Lost in his starry dream; the only thing that mattered to de Gaulle was the historical role of saviour of France. Apart from that, the mass of corpses, respect of institutions, of laws and of the setting up of a State respectful of the people and nations That make up that State did not count for much.
By the end of 1940 I had already organised a report to be sent to the French committee in London, setting forth our position and specifying the extent and nature of our claims that could be met within the framework of French unity. But I was only too familiar with French administration not to imagine that it had probably ended up being filed away. Although there were some Bretons amongst the French Freedom forces in London, who shared our ideas, they were mostly ordinary soldiers or fighters. We had not been able to find any one of them with enough political personality to make anyone listen to them. In any case they just lived for the moment, involved as they were with their present adventure. It was practically the same thing with the French Resistance’s sympathisers and militants in Brittany. They also only thought of the present, even though a number of them could be found with sincere Breton sentiments. But it was never possible to get beyond the level of a basic militant or secret plotter. At first there were neither “leaders” nor any dialogue. Later on when the first organised networks were created, those responsible for them were extremely wary of Breton circles, considering them to be suspect, since the events of 1940 when they were sympathetic towards the Germans. When even later still, in 1943, the activism of the French Resistance led to the creation of commandos or armed groups, these were nearly all under the leadership of minor local communist leaders, often strangers to the country, all obeying obscure anti-Breton orders: an easier target than armed German soldiers had to be found to give heart to the troops!
The few conversations I had with Presto, a young militant from “Défense de la France” and friend of Alain Le Berre, had quickly convinced me of this. Alain Le Berre, with my permission, had allowed him the use of one of his cupboards in the office next to mine, to store bundles of the illegal newspaper he had been assigned to distribute. Dr.Hervé Delaporte, Raymond’s brother, told me later, when we met up in the St.Charles prison in Quimper, that he had also come to similar conclusions. He had been treating the wounded from the Maquis(French Resistance movement) in the area around Chateauneuf-du-Faou, towards the end of the occupation.
But even though we were unable to do anything about setting up a network that would have quickly been swallowed up by moving quicksand, could we at least do something from the top? We had to find a political militant who carried some weight, capable of explaining and convincing, sufficiently familiar with English to be introduced through British friends to the leaders of the London French Committee. I had spoken of it to Hervé Le Helloco, known as Bob, one of our Kuzul Meur colleagues, founder of Gwen Ha Du and ex Captain of the Gwalarn. He fulfilled all these requirements. He had painfully felt the failure of the 1940 separatist attempt and had blamed the Germans. He was far from hostile to the project I had put forward to him: the practical aspects still had to be organised and it had to be done with the required caution for this type of operation. My friends from the Basque government in exile assured me that they would have no problem getting our delegate through the Spanish-French border illegally. In addition he would be taken under the wing of the Basque nationalist militants on the other side of the border, who had an important ship-owner on their side, enabling him to cross over by sea to England.
But all of this took time and events were happening quickly. We were informed that certain German services were also looking for a militant from Breton nationalist circles that they were planning to put ashore in Ireland, in order to make contact with the I.R.A.
A number of the agents that they had already put ashore there had been arrested and imprisoned by the Free State government, who wanted to scrupulously respect the neutrality they had decided to maintain throughout the war. A Breton militant could have given the I.R.A. all the necessary assurances of sincerity and security. But inevitably it would have led to confusion between intermediaries on different and largely contradictory missions. Therefore, though it might be purely from precaution and security, it was better to cancel both plans. Then when the London French Committee transferred its headquarters to Algeria, the mission we had planned was no longer possible. French territory in Algeria was not neutral. The Jacobin style repressions had already begun, with a series of political or judicial murders. At the same time, political dissension within the P.N.B.’s general staff was deteriorating, between what was the official policy of the party in favour of neutrality in the Franco-German quarrel, led by Raymond Delaporte, and those in favour of a privileged support for Germany, led by Célestin Laîné. The latter wanted to convert the Special services he directed into an armed volunteer force, whose object was to fight alongside the Germans against the “French Resistance”. As far as he was concerned, not without cause, it was the latter that was “France”. Therefore it was the enemy that had to be fought against first.
Raymond Delaporte was firmly opposed to this political tendency. From my point of view it was also the same position of neutrality that I had taken in the Franco-German dispute and that had inspired the Comité Consultatif, as well as the policy of the newspapers I directed. Our goal was to rebuild and defend the country that was ours and which, in the course of history, had been left to us by those who had defended it before us.
The Kuzul Meur was a victim of these quarrels and internal dissensions, and practically ceased their meetings. All I could do was to try and maintain personal contacts with some of its members, in particular with Le Helloco, Raymond Delaporte and Roparz Hémon. Besides, Debauvais had been forced for health reasons to leave Brittany, where he felt he no longer had an active role to play at present. I regretted his departure and the advice of that pragmatic mind that was not distorted or narrowed down by any ideology, and who was devoid of any pre-conceived ideas on the setting up of the future Breton State. Mordrel on the other hand, had returned from his exile in Germany, and though he had taken over the direction of “Stur” again, the journal he had founded before the war, his visits to Rennes became less and less frequent.
The prospects of civil peace became darker by the day, as much for the French as for the Bretons. The French Resistance in the field was increasingly controlled by the “Political” resistance, with strictly internal political aims.
It was now from Algeria that news, orders and propaganda were broadcast by the London French radio. It was heard particularly clearly in Brittany and in the northern and north-western regions of France. The call to civil war became increasingly frequent. Gangs of armed Maquisards on one hand and later those of Damand’s French militia, on the other, were swelled by disruptive elements: Towards the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, acts of violence and looting escalated in the countryside where the former had taken refuge.
Although it seemed too late at present for any hope of influencing from the top the policy of centralisation and Jacobin repression towards which the political Resistance, both internal and from Algeria, seemed to be heading, was it not at least possible to protect Brittany from the civilian violence which could accompany the handing over of power of the Vichy government to its successors? Would it be possible for a Breton authority, offering guarantees of impartiality and political representation, to protect Brittany during this intermediate period from these civilian disturbances?
A few weeks after the landing in Algeria, I spoke to Kergariou about it. He was no political genius: but he was one of those Breton parliamentarians who knew Vichy government circles the best, and also one of those who had solid Breton roots. The Comité Consultatif meetings, including those of the standing committee, provided us with the opportunity to meet more frequently than before.
I put forward to him that I thought Vichy was sure to collapse any day and that it was even surprising it had not happened after the landing in Algeria, subsequent to the defection of Admiral Darlan who was Vice-President of the government.
-“The question”, I added “is to know how the transfer of government power from Vichy to its successor will take place. If this transfer is done in a peaceful manner following on a legal and negotiated solution, then we can hope to retain a representative assembly for Brittany, of which the Comité Consultatif is the forerunner, as well as the cultural rights that we have obtained, thanks to Jean Quenette, and all those we can subsequently acquire. If this negotiated and legal transfer does not take place and if the new government only takes over after a revolutionary uprising and violence of a civil war, which is the solution now openly advocated by certain politicians and senior civil-servants of the old regime, using the French Resistance in an attempt to take over control of the State once more, we may see being swept aside the policy of decentralisation and provincial renewal intended by Marechal Pétain and his immediate entourage, to be carried out once the hostilities are over. In other words, the political and administrative reform of France, not to mention our Breton policy, would once more be postponed indefinitely.”
Kergariou admitted all of this without difficulty.
–“ On the other hand”, I added, “if once Vichy collapses or Brittany is cut off from it by a military incident, a Breton authority assisted by the Comité Consultatif acting as a guarantor to the population could be set up, taking in hand the administrative and governing powers over “the region”. Should this happen, that authority could take advantage of its representative quality when the time comes for the handover of power to whoever it is, whether American, British or French , it could negotiate the future status of Brittany. It would be a case of taking advantage of an eventual and possible hiatus of power like the one that occurred at the time of the German invasion, and which the separatist leaders had not been able to take advantage of because of the Franco-German armistice accords, and the support given by the occupation forces to the Vichy government authority.”
-“But that would be a sort of coup,” objected Kergariou.
–“It would be more like a conservative measure of order and authority to try and protect Brittany from French internal quarrels rather than a coup. If there was a coup, it would be limited in space and time, as it would only concern Brittany and the negotiations necessary to protect it as much as possible from the consequences of a new situation. In fact, as the Comité Consultatif is already in place, it would only involve replacing the Vichy Regional Prefet, and henceforth assuming the authority and powers he held at the time over the region’s services. But only a personality not suspected of too much sympathy towards Vichy, a parliamentarian or ex parliamentarian, and therefore elected from Brittany, could be representative enough and have sufficient authority to take on this role.”
Kergariou thought for a while before saying:
– “Do you have any objections to our discussing it confidentially with de Kerguezec?” he asked.
I myself thought for a while. Kerguezec? Why not? Though considered to be a left wing parliamentarian, he was in no way suspected of any particular sympathy with Vichy, towards whom he had kept his distance. Neither could he be suspected of any pro-German nor autonomist sympathy. He had publicly taken sides in parliament against the Breton and Alsatian “autonomists” during the Colmart trial towards the end of the 20’s and again more recently at the time of the attack against the Rennes Monument in 1932. He was not of the same political persuasion as Kergariou: but the two senators had become friends. The Senate tones down standards and diminishes political antagonisms. The needs of departmental “electoral wheeler-dealing” had done the rest between the two men. Both were Mayors of towns that were geographically very close to each other. Kerguezec was also a much smarter politician than Kergariou, and I could well understand that the latter looked to the former for advice. Besides, I knew that Kerguezec was a strong politician: he did not hesitate to take risks and uncompromising positions, as his lively political career had demonstrated since the beginning of the century.
A couple of weeks later, Kerguezec treated us to an excellent lunch in the small private dining room of a restaurant near the Tréguier Town Hall where he usually went. His intelligence sparkled like the cider we were served. When the time came he listened attentively to what I had to say, asking for clarification of certain details and certain aspects of my thinking. At times, Kergariou joined in the conversation. I thought it a good thing also to bring up the Treveneuc law, bearing the name of another parliamentarian from Brittany, which according to French legislation foresees the case of a central power incapable of exercising its authority over the whole of the State’s territory.
-“You both know full well,” I said, “that there is hardly any need to request this law for legal cover of a take over of power on a regional level.”
-“Certainly,” replied Kerguezec. “But with this type of initiative what matters most is to succeed: it is always easy to legalise what is successful, but much less so what fails.You are a legal expert, and you know as well as I do that it is easy to become sceptical of how well legality and politics go together, especially in the midst of exceptional events such as the ones we have just been through. But I hasten to add that if everyday politics is the art of the possible, great politics can only be the art of risk taking. It is not something I am afraid of.”
–“I do not doubt that,” I replied. “After all, one of your ancestors who had a seat in the Etats de Bretagne distinguished himself by his steadfast opposition to monarchic arbitrariness, and his vigorous defence of Breton institutions and freedom. He was one of the most courageous “bastions” of our claims to a right of autonomy, and in defending our finances from the greed of the king of France.”
Kerguezec smiled at this historical recall, eyes lost in the distance. I could see already in his expression the growing blaze of the old dream of independence that haunts the memories of many Bretons…
-“You are a tempting devil”, he finally said. “If only I were thirty years younger, I would have been your man without hesitation and I would have followed you immediately. But at my age and in my condition, I feel it is hardly possible for me to take on this role and these risks, which does not mean to say that we should not prepare to act along the lines that you have indicated, providing of course that circumstances permit it and that there is an opening for reasonable prospects of success. It is not easy to bring together all these conditions and you know that just as well as I do.”
What was also bothering Kerguezec, as well as myself, was to know if we could be reasonably sure of the support of the peace keeping forces in Brittany, in case Vichy’s authority was to disappear, in order to bring them into action before its successor established itself. At the moment that was the major unknown factor.
I was not a “military leader” and had none of the qualities necessary to become one. I also knew that we could hardly organise a third military force between the one that Breton extremists seemed to now want to assemble under the direction of Célestin Lainé, and the one that was gradually being assembled under the aegis of the French Resistance. The third military force had to be the existing one, which was answerable to Vichy, though its powers, functions, arms and means were limited. Here again everything depended on the way the transition was carried out. It was as yet impossible to predict that at the time of my conversation with Kerguezec.
Also as time passed, what seemed to me to be the most important should this happen, was that the transitions take place at least without any major disturbances? It was becoming clear however, that the gangs of armed Maquisards, mostly communist being manipulated by the French political Resistance, wanted on the contrary to get rid of the old regime entirely, in order to substitute it with a disorder that would be favourable to acts of violence, and the elimination of all those they considered as implacable political enemies and therefore obstacles in the way of their own takeover of power. The circumstances were such as to facilitate the physical elimination, with impunity, of these enemies. There was then no point in hiding from the fact that event, circumstances and prospects in favour of the setting up of a Breton power, were far less favourable than they had been in June 1941, before the conclusion of the armistice.
In 1940 there was no French authority left: it had collapsed and had disappeared; and was only saved by the armistice, just as it saved French unity. Today, another French power was gradually taking shape, ready to immediately take over from the former, moving it’s pawns around on the political chessboard, already nominating it’s future leaders, making political use of the armed forces that were to some extent the gangs of Maquisards, to whom they were parachuting arms and money, thanks to the help and complicity of the allied general staff. It was not yet known then that an ample proportion of the latter disappeared into the pockets of a few minor local leaders, whose arms assured them of impunity. De Gaulle, who was disliked by the Americans, was aware that they were preparing an allied military administrative structure that would have replaced the Germans when the time came. Because he was generally kept in ignorance of any military operation, he had to quickly win over the Americans and try to install his own administration. We might have been able to come to an understanding with the American administration: it seemed increasingly doubtful that we could do so with the French administration.
At the beginning of 1944, Pierre Baudet-Germain had informed me that Vichy’s confidential instructions to its Prefets was to remain at their posts in the event of an allied landing, in order thus to insure a French presence right up to the end, avoiding any vacant period that could be detrimental to public order.
These were but vain wishes: it seemed to me that only the foreign troop’s military presence and their active intervention could minimise public disturbance and avoid massacres. I had not waited any further to prepare a confidential report on the prospects of the political situation in case of an allied landing. I dictated it and had it typed by Suzanne Mauger at my home, to prevent any leaks. I described the specific position that Brittany was in, together with its aspirations, and concerns we might have on the prospects of civil peace in the case of an allied landing. I suggested that the administration and the keeping of order should be ensured for a period to be determined and afterwards, in the event of a “liberation”, by an Allied military administration who, I felt, was the only one capable of preventing the “settling of scores” which the French Resistance was preparing to execute. I entrusted the report to our colleague Edgar de Kergariou, who had just been appointed by Maréchal Pétain, as French Ambassador to King Boris of Bulgaria. The latter had until now succeeded in preventing his country from falling into the hands of German troops and Sofia was still a neutral capital. Kergariou agreed to deliver my report by hand to his colleague the British Ambassador in Sofia: he shared the concerns I had expressed in it. I knew that I would never receive a reply: but that coming directly from Brittany, this report could have a role in presenting our situation under a new light, more realistic and less biased than the one portrayed by the French Resistance. I would not see Kergariou again. He returned to France when Bulgaria was finally invaded: communications were rapidly cut off with Brittany. He was in hiding in Paris to avoid the prosecutions of the “purges”, when death caught up with him in a Paris clinic.
I do not know how it came about that Hermann Bickler, our Alsatian ex colleague from the team of writers responsible for “Peuples et Frontières”, became concerned about the rifts within the Breton National Party. Bickler had an important position in the German occupation’s administration in France. Mordrel had told me that he had maintained fairly frequent contacts with him. He also probably knew about the problem from the reports he must have received from his Rennes services. I had been very surprised to hear that when he had been mobilised into the German army, just like all other Alsatians, that he had been given the rank of Colonel in charge of military administration. I should have remembered that in all revolutionary armies, the ordinary soldier always carries a marshal’s baton in his cartridge pouch. Apparently this was the case in the German army at the time, just as it had been the case in French armies under the French National Convention and under Bonaparte, and as it would also be in the armed forces of the French Resistance. Uniforms and stripes always give those who wear them a certain prestige, and the State consolidates its power when it awards them. Recently, when a “state of war” was proclaimed in Poland, after “Solidarnosc” was banned, even the Television journalist had been put into uniforms in order to impress the public a bit more!
Be that as it may, I met up again with the Strasbourg lawyer that I had known and had not seen since the war, but who was now wearing the full uniform of an SS Colonel. He had asked to see me, through Grimm his counterpart in Rennes, and also Célestin Lainé, Raymond Delaporte and Marcel Guieyesse, in order to talk about the position of the Breton movement, in particular that of the P.N.B. and the rifts within it. I had no reasons for refusing to see him as I already knew him for years and also felt his request stemmed from a good motive. My memories of him were of a man who was steadfast in his opinions but whose humane feelings showed through his cold exterior. He had not asked Mordrel to join us: he was wary of the latter’s bold turn of phrase and brilliant improvisations.
-“He is far too intelligent to have a sense of moderation and is too fond of outshining everyone”, he had confided to me during one of our conversations before the war.
In fact, having seen Mordrel several times again recently after his long exile in Argentina, I could not help thinking what an amazing lecturer he would have been for E.N.A.! Combining intelligence and verve for assimilation and synthesis, he would also have been able to teach the pupils of this State seminary the art of not taking oneself too seriously which, as far as most of them are concerned, is not the least of their faults.
Bickler probably counted on my presence as an impartial element, likely to display sound judgement in a discussion, though very difficult for me to influence the outcome. But I felt it was necessary, in view of the post Bickler held, that we should have some conversations amongst ourselves, such as Raymond Delaporte, Célestin Lainé and myself, before meeting him. We had therefore agreed to meet near L’Étoile, and not far from the offices Bickler occupied. When the time came Raymond Delaporte and I were the only ones there. Lainé did not come: he had gone ahead to Bickler’s office, probably expecting to see him alone before the planned meeting. We found him still in the antechamber. Bickler having avoided receiving him before we had all arrived. Marcel Guiyesse and his daughter arrived shortly after us: we were first served with a simple meal, no doubt to provide us with an opportunity to get to know each other again. Bickler, accompanied by Grimm and another officer, was a pleasant host. We recalled memories of before the war and of the French national minorities committee we had all been involved with. We only broached the subject of the meeting later on in Bickler’s office.
Unfortunately there was no practical result to this discussion, each one holding on to their point of view. Bickler, probably because of his post, felt that Lainé, who had Marcel Guiyesse’s support, should be allowed to go ahead with his plan of setting up an armed defence force, whilst Raymond Delaporte maintained that this force should then be recruited strictly outside of the P.N.B. and its militants. He maintained that membership of both was reprehensible and impossible to accept: a public political action, in view of events and the sensitivity of public opinion, should be kept strictly separate from any military action. I quickly realised that a reconciliation of the two points of view was impossible and that there was no point waiting for Lainé to accept the advice of anyone. A few months later the first assassinations of Breton militants precipitated the crisis. Towards the end of 1943, Lainé, Guiyesse and a few other militants broke off from the P.N.B., which continued to be directed by Delaporte. They founded a second P.N.B., claiming to be more directly in the uncompromising traditions of Breiz-Atao, making the armed struggle alongside the Germans against the French Resistance their prime objective.
In the meantime the assassinations of Breton militants had begun: that of Yann Brickler in his office in September 1942 found me in Louannec, where I was spending a few days, resting with the family. That of the P.N.B. militant Kerhoas , from Chateauneuf-du-Faou, was to follow. I met up with his father later in the Marguerite concentration camp in Rennes: He had been arrested because his son had been assassinated by the Maquis and, in view of that fact, the “purgers” decided in principle that he was under suspicion. Finally, on the 12th December, feast of St.Corentin, Jean-Marie Perrot on his way home after saying mass in a chapel dedicated to the patron saint of Cornwall, was assassinated in a cowardly manner along a low laneway.
Early that morning, Joseph Martray had already been alerted by our local correspondent there and immediately telephoned me from Morlaix with the tragic news. I was appalled and my first reaction was of anger. I felt a deep sadness at the loss of Father Perrot: I could hardly believe that such villainy and cowardice was possible and it filled me with consternation. Indisputably, the murder had a specific political significance. After the first moments of astonishment had passed I, in turn, alerted Raymond Delaporte who immediately came around to see me at my house.
We agreed that this assassination, because of the personality of the person who had been its victim this time, was truly a declaration of war by the French Resistance against the Breton movement as a whole, cultural as well as political. There was no doubt that a second persecution of the “Girondists” was being organised. It was the French Jacobin, intolerant, one and indivisible, who had armed the hand of the murderer. We had practically gone back to the reign of the “representatives on missions” who had mounted up the most atrocious crimes on our territory, one hundred and fifty years earlier.
Jean-Marie Perrot was a revered figure of our struggle; to most of us he was apostle, friend and spiritual father. He could not have been reproached for any base political action and whoever had decided to attack him, had decided to attack us all. The French Resistance wanted to convince public opinion that we were all indiscriminately to be placed in the German allies’ camp and, in this atrocious manner, possibly forcing all those of us who had not as yet committed ourselves to do so.
But though we all felt threatened, we were not all of the sort who, through fear or cowardice, abandon the struggle. As far as we were concerned, there was no question of our changing one iota of our policy in defence of Breton values. We had to continue to express them in the same neutral way we considered the Franco-German quarrel, as well as all the other French political and ideological disturbances. I was fully convinced of this as, in Scrignac’s little church, I followed the funeral service for Father Perrot, conducted in person by Monsignor Duparc, Bishop of Quimper.
A car from the editorial office of our newspapers had driven me from Morlaix to Scrignac with Pierre Mocaer and André Dezarrois who officially represented the Regional Prefecture and the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne. We all followed the funeral procession on foot. It was composed of friends and parishioners of Jean-Marie Perrot from Léon and Cornouaille, who accompanied him from the village of Scrignac to the harmonious Koatkeo chapel nestled in the little wooded valley, where he would lie alongside his predecessor, Jegou , the resistant priest who had not bowed to the French constitutional organisation of the church, and in 1793 was also assassinated.
It was on one of Brittany’s cool, damp mornings under a grey sky. The trees along the side still bore a few withered autumn leaves and the moors were the colour of rust. Every important personality in the Breton movement, irrespective of their tendencies, who had not been prevented by some major reason, had gathered around the modest coffin. Herri Caouissin’s grief was painful to see. Most of the congregation was pale, resigned and resolute with closed expressions. Pierre Mocaer in Breton and André Dezarrois in French, echoed our common grief before the tomb was closed over the body of the apostle and martyr of “Bleun Brug” and “Feiz ha Breiz”.
Though I was determined to tirelessly and unflinchingly pursue the policies and action that I had undertaken, I was not one of those who would have accepted to run the risk of being assassinated one day by faceless killers, blind instruments of a policy they were misleadingly being made to carry out. I resigned myself to requesting permission to carry arms, which I had no difficulty obtaining in view of my functions. The important thing was not to be forced into using the small pistol that belonged to my uncle Liégard and that I had obtained, but that it would be common knowledge that I was armed. The killers of the French Resistance did not like taking risks: it was less dangerous to attack unarmed civilians than the occupation army’s soldiers.
I had rented a room in Morlaix for the nights I spent there every week, to attend the editorial staff office conferences and the administration councils meetings for both newspapers. It was in a peacefully situated detached house, where a retired navy man lived with his family, alongside a disused railway line and not far from the “La Dépêche” offices. This nice man usually brought my breakfast to the room. I was careful to leave the small pistol quite openly on my bedside table and, as his wife was one of the gossips in the district, I was sure that word of it would be quickly spread around.
I also began to take certain elementary precautions, which I subsequently perfected later on when I went underground and was being sought after by the French police. I no longer took the car to go to the offices as there was no petrol. I did the same in Rennes as in Morlaix and did the trip either on foot or on my bicycle. I was careful never to leave or return at the same times and avoided taking the same route every day. In spite of this, in Rennes I nearly always passed Foulon, it was difficult not to notice his clean-shaven chubby face with his trilby hat pulled down over his eyes. He lived near my place and a few months later became president of the committee for the Liberation of Ille-et-Vilaine.
Only once, during this period, was I searched at the station in Rennes by a brigade of the Darmand French militia: that day my permit to carry arms prevented me from being held by them. Fortunately, I never had to use my small pistol.
In January 1944, a plenary session of the Comité Consultatif was held. We stood listening to the tributes for our assassinated comrade and then appointed Canon Favé, who would later become Bishop of Quimper, as his successor. It was decided to close the session as a mark of respect to Jean-Marie Perrot, leaving the current affairs to be dealt with by the standing committee, so that we could all attend the solemn service held in his memory at the Saint-Germain church. Once again, it was all the main leaders and militants of the Breton movement’s cultural and political organisations who filled the church alongside us. The Rennes-Radio orchestra was there. Mona Peker with her captivating voice accompanied the principal stages of the service. Father Barbotin took the rostrum and gave the eulogy for the deceased in Breton. It was an emotional moment for us all. It had already been a month since the assassination of our friend! Alongside me, Jean des Cognets said the rosary.
– “I do not like to see people killed”, he had whispered in my ear as we entered the church.
Marie-Madeleine had accompanied me. She was radiantly beautiful, happy and fulfilled by her first two pregnancies. Shortly beforehand, she had carried Rozenn, daughter and last child of Xavier and Annig de Langlais, to the Baptismal font of that same church. In the small square in front of the church, a crowd of us lingered after the ceremony. . Meavenn, who had lost nothing of her tall fine figure, and had become my friend Coulouarn’s sister-in-law, came up to our small group.
-“What are you doing to your wife to keep her looking so beautiful?” she asked me as she gazed at her.
The assassination of Father Perrot had galvanised and hardened the small extremist minority within the executive committee of the P.N.B., who supported Célestin Lainé’s efforts to form an armed force of nationalist Bretons and would be called on to fight alongside the Germans against the French Resistance. Lainé was supported by Marcel Guieysse and by some other members of the party’s governing council who, tired of only dealing with matters of propaganda, were not without some sympathies for the Special Service leader’s theories. Raymond Delaporte, supported by his brother Yves and the majority of the governing council’s members, remained inflexible on this point. There were incidents between Yann Goulet who directed the party’s youth organisations and who, in spite of his normally extremist positions, remained faithful to party discipline, and the supporters of Célestin Lainé whose only scope for recruitment was amongst those militants who were supervised by the former.
I observed from a distance this power struggle that in no way concerned my own policies, and in which it was not my place to intervene directly or other than discreetly. As the Kuzul Meur no longer held any meetings, I only heard about it from the few nationalist militants who came to talk to me about it and ask for my advice. Most of them did not seek to make contact and I, for obvious political reasons, tried to avoid them as much as possible. Marcel Planiol, who had no specifically official function within the P.N.B., except for the very vague one of judicial councillor, came one day to ask me what I felt about it all. He supported Laîné’s plans as did his inseparable Ronan Pichery. Plainol was certainly a sincere militant. He had inherited his father’s urbanity and great mind as well as his distinction. But Pichery was another matter, as he possibly had other reasons for wanting to add fuel to the flames: at the time, he was sheltering two English wireless operators in his attic, who seldom ventured out in Rennes and only under the cover of darkness. I willingly agreed with Planiol that Célestin Laîné had good reason to believe that it was the French Resistance and not Vichy’s France who, towards the end of 1943, had finally been the ones to embody a France that was conventional, Jacobin, nationalist and centralising, intolerant and unitarian, closed to diversity and profoundly hostile to Breton claims. From that point of view, he was right to consider the French Resistance as the very embodiment of that one and indivisible, and of the concept of the State against which we all struggled, which was in fact the main enemy of all our people, the continuing obstacle to their emancipation.
-“But,” I said to Planiol, “the difference between Vichy’s France and the communist Gaullist Resistance should not be exaggerated. The senior civil servants of the former are just as fixed on centralisation as the mentors of the latter, which is why I agree with Raymond Delaporte on this point. At this moment in time, these are purely French quarrels regarding two separate international political concepts and not two concepts of the State. We have no cause to take sides in this quarrel, any more than in the Franco-German dispute. These are matters that go beyond the Breton problem, and over which we have no control. There are also many questions to be considered regarding the opportunity of conducting a political offensive, carried out with German help, against the French Resistance, whilst a Gaullist France may tomorrow have replaced Petainist France in government.”
-“You forget,” objected Planiol, “that it is the French Resistance who took up the offensive against the Breton movement. Are we going to allow our militants to be struck down without doing something about it, without creating a military force to protect them?”
-“That is a different matter. If it is a question of creating groups for personal security, to defend the lives of those that are being threatened, I am entirely in agreement. But these self-defence groups must be absolutely independent of the German forces, and should make known their independence and neutrality on this point. I would be happy if that were possible but I do not believe it is. Psychologically, it is no longer possible to say that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. On a purely political level however, I can see all the advantages of an extremist nationalist scission within the P.N.B., which is at present divided and paralysed by its internal quarrels. With the extremists gone and having left the P.N.B., Raymond Delaporte’s moderate nationalist policies would then stand a better chance of progressing, in more affirmative political and ideological neutrality, both with the Franco-German quarrel and that of Vichy-Algeria. This would even facilitate, in the near future, a larger gathering of the advanced regionalist forces that are at present represented within the Comité Consultatif, and of the moderate nationalist forces that Raymond Delaporte would keep under his leadership. There is not much left that separates them today, apart from the vocabulary.”
I repeated all of this to Bob Helloco, and other militants closer to Laîné who came to talk to me about it. At the beginning of 1944, shortly before Debauvais died, Laîné succeeded in obtaining his blessing for the policies he was pursuing. The scission had become inevitable: it rapidly came into effect. A second P.N.B. was founded; “Breiz Atao” appeared again as a bulletin. An armed militia was formed. At first it was to have been called Bezenn Cadoudal but then it was misguidedly decided to call it the Bezenn Perrot, bearing German uniforms and under the direct orders of the German police force in Rennes. At the time, only a vague idea could be conceived of the tragic consequences this would have for both cultural and political Breton militants in general, through the shameless exploitation of it, during the repression that was blindly instigated against them all at the Liberation.
During the first few days of August, when the German forces evacuated Rennes, they took with them C.Laîné, Marcel Guieyesse with his wife and daughter, his assistant Ange Peresse with his family, Roparz Hémon and some Breton separatist militants, as well as the soldiers of the Formation Perrot in their German military uniforms. A number of the latter threw their uniforms into the nettles and had defected before the troop, who survived bombings and ambushes as well as being driven away from one refuge to another, finally crossed the Rhine at Strasbourg a few months later. A painful and tragic Odyssey, about which its leader should have written before he disappeared in the autumn of 1980, in Ireland, nearly forty years later.