THE TRAMPLED HARVEST
The Red Summer Of 1944
Between the solemn homage we offered to the memory of Jean-Marie Perrot at the Saint-Germain church in that month of January, and the arrival on 4th August of the American troops in Rennes, tragic months went by during which the assassinations of Breton militants continued. They reached their height after the allied landing in Normandy. Christian Le Part and Paul Gaic, Louis Stéphan and Yves de Cambourg, the bard Boscher and his brother, Hirguair, Le Padellec, Philippon and many other militants who were irreproachable victims of the ideals they held, all fell in turn. Some, like Madame de Guerny and her family as well as the Tastevin brothers, were horribly tortured beforehand. The latter were tied to tree trunks with barbed wire and were emasculated before finishing them off. It is always hard to imagine that such infamy and cruelty is possible. Some day a eulogy to these martyrs should be written. The only precedents in Brittany were the Convention’s massacres and the revolutionary period. These crimes will forever taint the memory of the French Resistance here, just as those of the Révolution are tainted. It was all carried out as if the Resistance was a partner to, and instrument of, a French recapture of Brittany, foreshadowing the second Girondins persecutions that had already started.
It was only from hearsay and a second-hand account, by word of mouth, often under the seal of secrecy, that it was known what was happening here and there. The German services enforced the strictest censor regarding these types of events, as also regarding the sabotage carried out by commandos of the Résistance. French and German police connived to prevent these being reported. The French radio in London and Algeria sometimes reported these and attributed them to French patriotism, their role being to exasperate instead of calming the minds of the people. As for the Germans, exposed to armed attacks from gangs of Partisans, they carried out severe reprisals when this happened, which were endured by an innocent population.
At the same time, communications were becoming increasingly difficult. An unreal atmosphere seemed to hover over everyday life. Everyone could feel that major events were about to take place. Some were in hope others were in dread, but everyone feared them. The hope of some was tinged with apprehension, and the apprehension of others was tinged with fear. Fear is always a bad councillor. It results in misjudgement and destroys willpower. Little by little the minds of people were being seized by it.
Rennes, Nantes and the main railway centres of Brittany and Normandy, as well as the coastal areas of the English Channel and the North Sea were being subjected to violent bombing, foreshadowing the imminence of battle. When we heard their sound approaching too closely at night, and the ringing of the alert, we went down with the children to the entrance of the cellar, under the little concrete steps where the door was, forming a sort of protected open trench. Rozenn was usually quiet, a little frightened by the explosions, with her blue eyes wide-open. Jean, who could not speak yet, was filled with wonder at the sight, not realising the danger as we did. His exclamations accompanied the fireworks of the rocket missiles and tracer bullets, the sudden and tragic fires lighting the sky. They echoed the dull sound of bombs exploding in the distance. Thousands of new stars lit up the dark background of outer space. It seemed like thousands of comets with glowing tails were all falling at once on the earth; an unforgettable, incredibly grandiose sight for those who could stop themselves from thinking of the tragedies that went with it. Marie-Madeleine refused to look, clasping her children to her bosom. One day, just after the end of an alert, after a bombing had hit the town early in the afternoon, I went down to the station in Rennes before going to the office. In the square, human fragments were still being shovelled into buckets. Rescue services were bustling around ruined buildings with survivors trapped inside. The tragic price that Brittany was paying for this European civil war into which we were being dragged, in spite of ourselves, and which could have been avoided by an international policy less burdened with imperialist selfishness and ill-will, between the two wars.
There was nothing much else that I could do but try imperturbably to maintain the running of the institutions that had been confided to my care. The Comité Consultatif and its standing commission held meetings on set dates. I continued my weekly visits to Morlaix, where my newspapers continued to be published regularly. It was only after the allied landing in Normandy, which brought the combat zone closer to us, that I decided to evacuate my family to Pacé, a calm little village near Rennes where our friends the Bassets had already taken refuge. The priest put at our disposal the School hall where I settled Marie-Madeleine and the children as best as I could. I usually cycled back there in the evenings to spend the night when I was working in Rennes. We had set up our bed in the large hall, which was our kitchen, bedroom and lounge. The children slept on the stage that was usually used for theatre productions. The peacefulness of the countryside stretched out around us, with only the cries of the owls to disturb the nights, and the days were only sometimes disturbed by distant sounds of crashing and banging when the wind carried them. The weather was glorious. Unfortunately there were some mice and rats that sometimes troubled us at night and undoubtedly gave Rozenn the fear she still has of them, whilst giant spiders and snakes around her African home do not seem to disturb her much.
As days went by, the political situation and civilian peace deteriorated and were practically out of control after the allied landing in Normandy. Public order was maintained in the towns, but it was not possible to travel around central Brittany without running the risk of being shot, whether voluntarily or by mistake and for no apparent reason, either by rival gangs of the Maquis or by the Germans. As for Darnand’s militia, under the leadership of an irresponsible brute who was a stranger to the country, they increased the acts of violence and arrests. The allied military command endeavoured to organise limited and precise operations, coordinating with those of their landing force, with units of the French Resistance which they supplied with food and arms. Their concern was to avoid an uncontrolled general uprising of Resistance sympathisers that would have inevitably generated severe reprisals by the German army on the civilian population. De Gaule apparently was not worried about this. Regardless of instructions from allied command and with his characteristic pomposity, he had inconsiderately launched an appeal for a general uprising. He probably did not want to risk being outmanoeuvred by the allied forces: he had always feared some sort of compromise or agreement between them and the men and administration of Vichy. He was in more of a hurry to put his own men and administration in place than to help the allies win the war and work effectively to help them succeed. Rushing to Algeria where he had been summoned by Churchill on the day of the landing, of which he had not been informed, he had obtained permission from the allied command to go to Normandy when the first bridgehead had been consolidated. Thus it was that on the 14th of June he made his entrance into Bayeux, the first town conquered by the allies. “In every part of national territory that has been liberated,” he proclaimed, “there will be no other authority but mine from henceforth.” Then he hastened to enthrone a new sub-prefect in charge of receiving the allied officers.
An indescribable and uncontrollable disorder in the guerrilla’s combat operations followed the inflamed appeals and proclamations of the general. Being linked to rival political clans with irreconcilable ideologies, the F.T.P. and F.F.I. refused to collaborate with each other and shot at one another. Subsequently, these calculated careless acts, whose motives were political and not military, led the few organised Breton maquis that the allies had endeavoured to gather into coherent commando formations, Sam West in the Duault Forest near Callac and Digson around Saint-Marcel, to swell their ranks excessively. In addition to those unwilling to join the work-parties, they were also suddenly joined by all the unruly elements of the population, attracted more by robbery and looting than by fighting. No longer able to pass unnoticed, even to the stage that large gatherings of the surrounding civilian population were witnessing the parachuting of arms, they were easily decimated by the German army. Thousands of unnecessary deaths were thus the consequence of these inconsiderate and glorious appeals made by the Free France leader. The rest of his career would in fact demonstrate that these thousands of deaths meant very little to him: they formed a suitable cortege for his ascent to power: de Gaulle was probably of the same opinion as Laurent Tailhade who wrote at the beginning of the century, at the time of the anarchist attacks, that the fate of some poor specimens of mankind was of no importance providing it was a noble gesture!
Shortly after the allied landing in Normandy, Brittany had been virtually cut off from the rest of France. The trains no longer ran and it was practically impossible to obtain petrol, even with ration coupons that were issued sparingly. The bombings, requisitioning of all transport equipment and machine-gunning of the roads made all traffic movement dangerous. The post was still working after a fashion, with surprising regularity considering the circumstances. Letters reached their destination faster than they do in peacetime, in spite of the late 20th century’s “advanced technology”. The bicycle became a privileged mode of transport, the most reliable one anyway, but one had to be careful not to leave them unattended so as not to have them stolen.
I lost no time on the 8th of June, accompanied by Florian Le Roy, in making an official request to the regional prefet. The object of this request, as I explained in a circular letter sent the following day to all members of the Comité Consultatif, was to make known to the prefet: “in view of the fact that since the 7th of June, Brittany had been virtually cut off from the rest of France, the Comité Consultatif placed itself at his disposal as, owing to the circumstances and his position as regional prefet, he was now actually invested with the governing powers of Brittany”.
We added that the Committee offered to help him organise, on an autonomous regional basis, all the public services in Brittany, especially food supplies, transport and administration. We also indicated that we felt it would be useful if he could thus prevail on the support of some representatives of the population, present at his side, to defend the lives and interests of Brittany and its inhabitants. We took advantage of this interview to explain to M. the regional prefet that the Comité Consultatif of Brittany remained in any case faithful to the doctrine it had expressed many times, summarised in the following manner :
“ – Loyalty to any legitimate French government entrusted by public authority in Breton territory, whatever the structure or composition of that government might be.”
“ – The pursuit within the French framework of our claims for the freedom of Brittany, as well as political and administrative autonomy that the Comité has always demanded for Brittany, according to the principles set out in a draft of the Statutes for Brittany that it has developed.”
On receipt of this letter, all our colleagues from the Comité declared their approval of the request. They renewed their confidence in me at the last official meeting of the larger standing committee held as planned on the 20th July 1944. The last plenary session of the Comité Consultatif had been held on the 27th April last. Another plenary session should have been held in July, but when the standing committee met on the 29th June, it had put on record the practical impossibility of organising this plenary assembly, owing to the disorganisation in means of communication with the scarcity of trains and other modes of public transport that had followed the allied landing in Normandy. The larger standing committee on the 20th July was to replace it. Some of its members, like Commander Le Masson and René Daniel, cycled there, the former from Vannes and the latter from Saint-Brieuc. We simply took stock of the situation. I did not even have time to write the minutes.
On my return at the end of July from the last trip I had wanted to make to Morlaix, I was unable to get hold of Porcaro who had disappeared from the prefecture. I was worried about the situation of my newspapers. After the allied landing, the receiving of information and organisation of the distribution had become impossible and continued to be so until the end of June. We therefore had to suspend the publishing of both newspapers. Martray had made the most of this to disappear also. I was not overly surprised: I was convinced that he was attempting to set in motion the plan he had put forward to me and that I had approved. We had to try and rescue something to prevent the Breton movement from being weakened and disabled, deprived of any platform or any means of expression.
It had thus been agreed that, when the time came, he would join up with an underground group of lay teachers, affiliated to the Resistance, whom he was able to contact thanks to “An Eost”. The group would endeavour to take over the press of “La Dépêche” with him, and foil any attempt by Marcel Coudurier and the previous administration of the newspaper to take it over again. Personally I had no problems with that if this was the way we could stop the disappearance of the exceptionally important Breton platform that both these dailies had become.
Martray chose to disappear when the German services of the Staffel ordered the newspapers to start publishing again, after the two week interruption brought about by the allied landing. He had instructed Mlle. Gigout, one of our journalists, to take over the publishing in his place, leaving her with the same general instructions that I had previously given him. I certainly approved of his choice. This young woman had already proved her intelligence many times to us, as well as her capacities and political sense. But she was faced with a number of difficulties, both from within as from outside of the publishing services that Gabriel Collinet was planning to take over again. He had even considered transferring the paper, with the agreement of the German services, back to Brest where it would have been placed under the direct authority of the German army. They were determined, come what may, to hold on to the port of Brest and its hinterland. Coudurier was not there either. He had been exiled to Paris by the Germans, after his black market scandal. We were therefore also without news of the papers financial situation and of the organisation of the distribution services. Raymond Jegaden, whom I had put in charge of the latter, had also disappeared when the publishing of the newspapers had been interrupted. I only learnt much later that he had returned to Rennes on foot.
Two days after the session held by the Standing Committee, I set off on the road to Morlaix with my father. I had put together all my scant petrol resources for the trip and had taken the precaution of having the doors of our little Simca removed. Aerial submachine gun attacks were frequent on the roads and it was easier and faster, with the doors off, to jump out of the car and lie in the ditch. I had already done this when I had moved the family from Rennes to Pacé.
In Morlaix we found everything more or less in order. We went over our instructions: Mlle. Gigout was conscientiously performing her task; she had courageously and skilfully taken on responsibilities that her male colleagues hesitated to take. But the range of our distribution services had been considerably reduced through force of circumstances. The financial situation remained normal for the moment. In Brest, old Cauvin watched jealously over the till and the accounts. Later on, he would become father in law to Ronan Goarant, the secretary of the M.O.B. We were thus able to return to Rennes and Pacé with our minds at rest, particularly as we would be presented with more immediate problems in the following days.
During all of this time it became increasingly obvious that the Resistance politicians’ main preoccupation, be they communist or Gaullist, was to physically eliminate those they regarded as implacable political enemies, or even merely obstacles in their advance towards seizing power. The struggle against the occupying force was an ideal pretext to encompass this policy. The factors I had put forward in the report I passed on, care of Kergariou , were becoming increasingly topical. I could not help thinking of the horrible and dreadful sentence that I had heard on the French radio from London, shortly after the allied landing in Normandy:
-“Summary executions have now become a sacred duty and the only form of justice…”
I was horrified that an official radio under the Free French Committee’s direct authority who, with de Gaulle, declared itself to be France’s new legitimate government, could have broadcast such a sentence, an encouragement to the vilest crimes on the civilian population and it’s natural leaders and an open door to every excess as well as personal revenge. It did not augur well, coming from a Gaullist government to allow such irresponsible remarks!
If Jean Quenette had still been the Rennes regional prefet, instead of Robert Martin, I would not have hesitated to discuss my concern with him directly and look at what role the Comité Consultatif could play, with the local forces in charge of maintaining law and order, when the Germans departed. Robert Martin was unfortunately not cast in the same mould as Quenette. He was purely a senior civil servant and was careful not to concern himself with politics. Right from the beginning when he took up his post in Rennes, it was obvious that the Comité Consultatif bothered him. He preferred to dissociate himself from it as much as possible, and was wary of it, as it was independent and rebellious. The help that we had offered him seemed to him to be more dangerous than useful. He considered that he had enough to do representing the Vichy government and upholding their presence there: he certainly had plenty of all kinds of problems to deal with, even though it should have been a simple task, in the midst of such tragic events. He was simply trying to last out. Maybe he knew that his successor had already been appointed by the new government? When the allied landing was taking place in Normandy, local security forces had been placed under the authority of Commander Doher. He was a firm and energetic Breton, and did not hesitate publicly to declare that the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne was the only authority he would be prepared to defend in the street without failing in his duty as a soldier. I therefore discreetly had someone ask him if he could come and see me. I put forward to him at length what I had in general terms already put forward to Kerguézec a year earlier, and which Kergariou had called my plan for a “regional coup d’état”, in the event of the Vichy government’s disappearance and the collapse of its authority in Brittany.
-“From the point of view of Breton interests,” he told me, “the game is undoubtedly worth the candle and, should this happen; I would be prepared to play along with you and the Comité Consultatif. But there must be a combination of certain conditions beforehand. It will be necessary to act very quickly to contain the Resistance’s forces, to prevent them from disturbing the peace and establishing their authority. Of course in and around Rennes the Resistance forces are insignificant: there is only a “political resistance”, but as soon as the Germans have their backs turned, numerous disreputable rats will emerge from their holes. We must therefore have all possible means at our disposal. But, we do not have those means. My men do not have any more arms than the police officers and we barely have two or three bullets per carbine. We have practically no automatic weapons. Arms and ammunitions are only handed out to us in dribs and drabs. Both the prefecture and the Germans are very suspicious of us. They are afraid that we will give Darnand’s French militia a good thrashing, as we and everyone else are infuriated by their acts of violence and the tasks they are performing, which we refuse to do.”
-“If I understand correctly,” I said, “we must first of all secure the means you do not have. Which authority would be able to procure the necessary arms and ammunition for you: the regional prefet or the Germans?”
-“Theoretically the former,” he replied, “but in fact the latter. They are the ones we must get in touch with directly if we want to succeed. Time enough later on to obtain the prefet’s authorisation.”
Discussing this delicate matter with the Germans was not devoid of risk: but at that stage, with battles raging in Normandy, the risk was worth taking. Thus I decided to make an official visit to Grimm, whom I felt was the first person to contact. In the corridors whilst I was waiting to be received, I met the photographer Guillaume, well known in La Place de Rennes, for whom I had done some favours of an official nature over those last few months. Grimm told me that he was a regular visitor there. It was this same photographer however who, a few weeks later after the departure of the Germans, came to arrest me in the name of the new regional authorities! The latter were obviously not very scrupulous, at the time, regarding their choice of associates. They easily forgot the dishonourable behaviour of those who agreed to work for them, to highlight or even invent that of those they had decided to eliminate.
Grimm listened to me without batting an eyelid, but with a fixed expression, whilst I put forward the reasons for my visit and the object of my request. He hesitated at length before replying:
– “I can understand very well,” he said, “the reasons for and cause of your concern. But you must understand also that as far as we are concerned, we can not contemplate the eventuality of our troops being called on to evacuate Rennes. The secret weapons that the German army have at their disposal are not a legend: they are of a kind that could alter the course of the war. Therefore, even if we were to leave Rennes, it would only be to return again, and in the interval, I do not think that our army, who makes its own decisions, would be prepared to distribute arms to groups of the French police, who could at any moment turn around and use these against us. Nevertheless, I will make the request that you have asked me to make, and will let you know the reply I will be given.”
I only learnt much later that at about the same time, Otto Labetz was making use of the same arguments to Pierre Laval and to Edouard Hérriot as well as to Pierre Tattinger, the mayor of Paris. All of the latter wanted to save Paris from destruction and prevent the massacre of the civilian population both by the Resistance’s uncontrollable elements and the battles which could take place. They had asked him to endorse the establishment of a transitional government, capable of replacing that of Vichy. This government would have been placed under the authority of Edouard Hérriot. Otto Abetz had also referred to secret weapons and of a temporary evacuation of the German forces from Paris who would return at the latest for Christmas, before he finally had to reject, on orders from his superiors, the proposals made to him, and then to organise the forced departure to Germany of Pierre Laval, Edouard Hérriot and Maréchal Pétain.
The German authorities in Rennes replied to my suggestions in the same manner. It came swiftly. Four or five days later, with barely a few hours warning, Commander Doher and his men received orders to proceed towards the south-east of France to the Glières plateau. In Rennes they were replaced by a new and limited contingent. Vichy and the German army were just as suspicious of the Comité Consultatif as their successors would be. As an added precaution they had even given Commander Doher extended leave so that he would not be in charge of his men in their new posting. This was the reason why I saw the latter again, a few months later, at the Marguerite concentration camp, where he was also detained before being incarcerated in the Jacques-Cartier prison.
There was nothing else to be done but try to negotiate with the new authorities who would be replacing those of Vichy, in order to try and safeguard the existence of the Comité Consultatif; also to try and rescue all the reforms and concessions that we had obtained, especially those of a cultural nature. These were claims that had been made by the Breton movement since the beginning of the century and were not in any way due to the circumstances we were living through. At the Standard Committee’s last meeting we had decided, should the need arise, to try this approach. André Dezarrois, Pierre Mocaër, Florian Le Roy and I were chosen to carry it out. Our plan was for the four of us to meet in Rennes as soon as possible after the Germans had evacuated the town and new “Gaullist” or other authorities had been substituted for those of Vichy.
Events from now on would be moving very quickly. The maps of the Front Line, which the editorial office in Morlaix kept up to date, already showed the breakthrough at Avranches.
My father and I were on our way back from Morlaix to Dinan, as we had to stop off at the Bas-Breil where my father, fearing the bombings in Rennes, had stored most of his furniture.
We spent the night in Plouigneau with one of my father’s ex tutors, whom I later discovered was Catherine Latour’s grand-father. She has since become coordinator for the Bretons des Lilas and for Kendalc’h. Before going to sleep I spent a good while by the window to savour the pure fresh air, the silence and peace and quiet of the night. Close by, the church was outlined in black against the star studded navy blue sky. The silence was only broken by the grating of the crickets, which then always accompanied the lovely summer evenings. It was warm: the scent of grass and gorse, released from the heat of the day, rose up to me along with that of the flowers in the garden. From time to time the distant barking of a dog could be heard. I was compelled to think of the calm that invariably precedes all great storms. The storm was close by and everyone was waiting for it.
We set off again in the early morning, the road, bathed in sunshine, climbed over the Arrée foothills with the blue line of the altitude on our right. Our little Simca without its doors laboured at times on the steep hills. We stopped for a few minutes at one of its highest points around Plounevez-Moedec, not far from Menez-Bré. A vast horizon of sloping moors and fields could be seen from there. A whole section of the Trégor-Maritime, its vast expanse dotted with church steeples, was spread out before our eyes. We had not seen a sinner on the road and had not met a single car, nor spotted a single German uniform, nor even a single farmer leading his animals or horses. Life seemed to have withdrawn from the countryside. One felt as if it were flattened while waiting for some formidable event that bows down the backs of the bravest.
The warm breeze of summer came from the east. By listening carefully a continuous muffled noise could be heard, shaken by tremors, similar to those of a distant storm that had not stopped booming.
-“Listen:” said my father, “the battle. That’s the cannon we can hear. The foot of the Cotentin is over there in a straight line, less than two hundred kilometres away.”
Carried by the wind and crossing the sea nearby with no obstacle in its way, the crashing of the titanic struggle taking place in the south of the peninsula reached us. The fate of the war and unfortunately also of Brittany depended on this battle.
After Vildé-Guingalan, the military camp just outside Dinan was completely empty. The Germans seemed to have disappeared as through a theatre trapdoor. We avoided the town and after our stop at the Bas-Breil we carried on to Pacé. The village was calm and peaceful: there had been no incident to disturb its peace since we had left it a few days previously.
The following morning I cycled to Rennes and spent the next night at my place. I had given shelter there to Alain Le Berre and one of my secretaries, who had been chased from the centre of town by the bombings. Having heard that I was back in Rennes, Raymond Delaporte came to see me.
-“The Americans will soon be at the doors of Rennes,” he said, “The Germans are preparing to evacuate. Laîné and the Formation Perrot will be retreating with them. There is of course no question of our leaving with them, though some have suggested it. As a precautionary measure, I am at present having the archives and card index of the P.N.B. burnt. I think that it would be wiser if those of us who are better known should avoid showing ourselves in Rennes, at least for a couple of weeks to see what will happen. We have prepared a temporary refuge on the borders of Brittany. You can share it with us until you make some other arrangements. A certain number of our general staff have already dispersed in different directions.”
-“Thank you for your offer of help and I am grateful to you,” I replied, “But I have no intention of leaving Rennes. I do share your concerns regarding the immediate future and I imagine that reprisals and general disorder can be expected during those first few days after the departure of the Germans, and the arrival of the Americans in Rennes. All it needs is a provocateur, an irascible neighbour or ignorant militant, or member of the Resistance with malicious intentions, to provoke absurd reactions, even to cruelty and massacres. But this should not last more than a couple of days. In any case I can not abandon my family or my political work. My position vis-à-vis the French government has always been perfectly clear and legitimate and no one can reproach me for it.”
I put forward to him then the arrangements we had made to try and safeguard the Comité Consultatif, and the reforms that we had obtained.
-“In my opinion you will not be able to safeguard anything,” he replied,” You know very well that your enemies, ours also I could say, are political enemies and not personal enemies. Their first concern will be to eliminate us, politically at least if they can not manage to do so physically, just as they did with Father Perrot. What they wish to eliminate is the strength of resistance to the Jacobin order that we represent. The odds are that they will refuse to listen to you. It is not for what you have done that they will reproach you, but for your way of thinking.
-“You are probably right,” I said, “but I can not seem to fully convince myself of it. After all, we are not talking about a revolution but only a change of government brought on by circumstances. The Regional Prefet has received orders from Vichy to remain at his post. A number of people in Rennes know that his successor, appointed by de Gaulle, has just arrived here; it is therefore probable that the transfer of power will take place peacefully.“
It was in fact already becoming known in Rennes that Victor Le Gorgeu was the successor who had been chosen by Robert Martin to run the regional prefecture. But only a very few knew that he was waiting, not for the departure of the Germans but, as a precaution, the arrival of the Americans before appearing at the prefecture. He spent most of his days with the briefcase which contained his orders and his toothbrush, in Saint-Melaine church by the entrance of the Thabor. He just had to cross the square to take possession of his new abode. History has not recorded whether this notorious anti-cleric took refuge in the appropriate shadow of the confessional whilst awaiting his hour. There was in any case plenty of time for meditation.
-“I am still convinced that you are wrong to trust them,” concluded Raymond Delaporte as he was leaving. “True, legally you are above reproach: you have always carried out your struggle with respect for French Unity. But I do not think that legality or respect for the law will be France’s new master’s first concern. You are a legal expert like myself, and you know very well that the laws in France are often termed to suit given circumstances. Remember the excesses of the French Revolution and those of the Commune repression. There is no shortage of examples.”
I only saw Raymond Delaporte again nearly two years later, in 1946 in Paris, when I in turn had to reconcile myself to joining him and going underground, as he had done since leaving Rennes. Our conversation had given me food for thought, but did not alter my determination to remain at my post. It seemed to me that I should carry out my responsibilities for as long as I could do so. It was necessary to try and retain the first fragile Breton institutions. They needed to expand. They were the first stage in the recapturing of our freedom. Even though the struggle was hopeless it had to be carried on. I also knew that, given time, a single seed is sufficient to fill a field with wheat! Was it possible that the new French government would abandon all the principles of civil rights, and that it would trample on the might of the law on which the rights of man were based, freedom of opinion, respect for others and the fundamental rights of its citizens? I still hesitated to believe this. The Third Republic had indeed put its extreme-right or extreme-left opponents in prison at times. The liberal conditions that had been applied to the latter when they had been incarcerated for a few days or a few weeks should not frighten anyone. A temporary political detention did not frighten me. It was only later that I realised, after my first weeks spent in prison, that it was Raymond Delaporte who was right not to trust the new authority, offspring of Gaullism and of the Resistance. In place of legal guarantees, laws, respect for the freedom and opinions of the individual, there would shamelessly be substituted the offence of opinion and finally, a basic system of “move out of the way that is my place now”, to use the words that Edouard Hérriot would utter in the National Assembly a few months later.
I continued to go to my office every day and decided not to sleep at my home any more but to return to Pacé every evening. I prepared a back pack with the essential change of clothing and toilet bag. I could take to the road at a moment’s notice if it became necessary. Moreover, the crossroads of Rue de Fougères, where I lived, were very vulnerable: there was no guarantee that fighting might not take place there. Durand, one of my young office employees, lent me his room on the top floor of a building on the Quai Lamennais where he stayed. I could go there if it was necessary.
Ironically, I thought bitterly during those decisive days, that the only Breton militant who could have acted at the time was Célestin Laîné. To leave Rennes with the Germans, which was the solution he had chosen to adopt, with no immediate personal risk, could only lead to an inglorious adventure with no future. As soon as the German forces had departed he could, with a hundred well armed men, have seized without any difficulty and without firing a single shot, the Prefecture, the Post Office where Radio Bretagne’s transmitter was, even the nearby press offices of “Ouest-Ëclair”, locked themselves in these solid buildings, hoisted the Gwen ha Du and proclaimed the Independent Republic of Brittany, thus repeating the symbolic and desperate gesture of Patrick Pearse and his comrades of 1916 in Dublin. It would certainly not have been the French Resistance, who only had a skeleton strength in Rennes of mainly political intellectuals, who could have stopped him. A further hundred diehards would probably have joined him in this ultimate battle. With the Germans gone he could certainly have held out for more than a week, in the face of a force far superior in numbers before, in the worst scenario, being buried under the ruins with his men.
Who knows if the Americans, who would have been the only ones able to oust them, might not have preferred to negotiate rather than crushing this pocket of resistance, the tactic they had used in Lorient and Saint-Nazaire? Rennes was no longer of any strategic importance to them. Supposing that they had preferred to leave behind them this armed resistance, leaving it up to the few intellectuals and civil-servants, who made up the Resistance’s representatives in Rennes, to deal with it, the struggle would have been clear-cut: it would have been that of the Breton Resistance against the French Resistance and the power they had seized. Of course, the centre of Rennes could have been partially destroyed just as that of Dublin was in 1916: But it would not have been destroyed much more than it was when the retreating German army blew up the bridges of the Vilaine. Nonetheless, that challenge and historical gesture would undoubtedly have left a profound mark in history. Who knows what echoes it could have reawakened? Patrick Pearse’s struggle had no more chance of succeeding than that which Laîné could have carried out during that first week of August 1944. It would not of course have changed the fate of the armed conflict: but through its effect it could have changed the course of events and reawakened the forgotten echoes of past struggles for independence. To die for the sake of dying would have been better while fighting in his own country than under the bullets of a French execution squad, and the ignominy of a public opinion stultified by the propaganda of its enemies. Did Laîné think of that? – Probably not. This visionary’s intuition undoubtedly did not go as far as to spur him on to making historical or desperate gestures. He continued to be obsessed by his fixed idea of maintaining his “army” intact, for as long as possible, so that it could continue to fight with its “allies” against France. He had also placed his hopes in the secret weapons of the latter. Meaven it seems had thought about it, before resigning himself to accompanying Laîné with his lieutenants and his men in their flight to Strasbourg. It is certainly difficult to advise someone to sacrifice his life, if one is not prepared to accompany him in this supreme sacrifice. Even if one was, the person concerned or the “leader” must understand why and not back down in front of him.
Looking at the human consequences that such a gesture could have had, very different from the historical consequences, there can certainly be no regrets that this struggle did not take place. But the events that followed proved that, in fact, it would probably not have altered much the extent of the repression that was about to begin. It would probably not have aggravated it. It might even have been able to reduce the extent of it.
We have since learnt that it was on the evening of the 2 August that the Formation Perrot, joining the bulk of the German troops and services, had left Rennes. That night I slept in Pacé, and Marie-Madeleine cycled with me to Rennes early the next morning. Then barely half an hour after I had arrived at my office, rue de La Monnaie, a new type of bombing began. It was not an aerial bombing in spite of the clear blue sky. A characteristic whistling preceded the impact of the missiles: it was quiet obviously light artillery shells. The firing was sporadic and long minutes went by between each impact. One of these shells landed in the courtyard of the building opposite ours and at the same time blew out the windows of my office.
Alerted by the noise, Marie-Madeleine rushed in, not knowing what was happening.
-“You must return urgently to Pacé,” I told her, “I will accompany you as far as the main road where there is less danger than here. I will then go by rue de Fougères: don’t be surprised if you do not see me in Pacé this evening. Do not move from there until calm has returned.”
I also advised Alain Le Berre, and those few members of my staff who were there, to go down to the cellar, to disperse and go home if they could. I accompanied Marie-Madeleine practically half-way back, long after the old tax office on the Saint-Brieuc road. On my way back to Rennes I met Commander Thomas, a member of the P.N.B. general staff that I had known for years. I stopped for a few minutes. He was dragging a small trailer with one or two suitcases in it and was planning to walk to his home in Erquy. Unfortunately he never made it as he was seized by the Germans and executed in Broons, where there was a local Maquis.
In Rennes the bombing continued sporadically. I decided to leave my bicycle at the office and to walk back to my home in the rue de Fougères. The streets of the town, even the main ones, were deserted. The population had taken refuge where it could. There was no police officer or any kind of police services in sight. The members of the police had taken refuge in the cellars and the ground-floor of the building they occupied at the beginning of rue d’Antrain. I happened to go in there to shelter in the corridor for a few minutes from what seemed like a brief intensification of the artillery bombing. A good soul had put on a table, a fairly large packet containing red white and blue armbands embossed with the cross of Loraine. No one seemed to want to touch it or have any interest in it. The German military Command was close by in the ex-Arts Faculty building. It appeared to be abandoned. In the Place Hoche and the gardens of the Faculty which run along its northern side, there were a few small divisions of German soldiers dressed in combat outfits, their helmets covered in foliage and the heavy necklaces of their machinegun straps around their shoulders. I made sure I did not delay. Some fires started by the bombing were burning in the Fougères and Antrain suburbs. Members of the civil defence services in combat outfits and white helmets, assisted by a few volunteers, were trying to fight them. There was no one around them. The whistling of the shells continued to be heard intermittently, sometimes moving away, sometimes coming closer.
I arrived home safely. I found my secretary there, Madame l’Heveder, faithful to her post but worried about the deadly silence between the intermittent whistling of the shells and the complete absence of any apparent life in the street or at the crossroads. Alone in the house, she was starting to be afraid; but she had a sound spirit: she had not lost her self-control. She was a courageous woman who brought up her son alone, after her husband deserted her. The boy was at present with his grandmother in Plounévez-Moedec. As I had virtually nothing else for her to do for the past two or three weeks, I had asked her to start doing an inventory of my collection of books and a card index of them. We shared a quick frugal meal, and I advised her to get back to the centre of town where the cellars and shelters were stronger and more numerous, and where she would no doubt find some human presence again. I put on some strong walking boots and strapped on my backpack already prepared. We walked together through a network of side roads to the centre of town, taking advantage of some prolonged lulls in the bombing: the Americans only seemed to be maintaining it on principle. But the advanced guard of their army was close by: as we passed by a group taking refuge in a doorway, we got the distinct smell of American cigarettes.
Before the end of the afternoon I was already settled into the refuge prepared by Durand at Quai Lamennais. He joined me there in the evening. The whistling of the shells continued to be heard at intervals. All of a sudden we heard one that seemed to be very nearby. We both dived for the ground and a few moments later were covered in dust and rubble. The shell had just exploded in the adjacent apartment of the next building, making deep holes in the walls and ceilings. A water pipe had been cut and water was flooding into the apartment below. When the smoke and dust had settled we realised that the room was no longer habitable: we had to leave there. Night was beginning to fall. I decided to go to my parents who had rented a furnished apartment on the Boulevard Sévigné. The building opposite had been abandoned by the Formation Perrot detachment who had occupied it. It had strong cellars where some people from that district had already taken refuge since the previous day, using the straw-filled mattresses and the blankets that had been left there. I picked up my backpack again and, accompanied by Durand, walked around by the back of the post office and rue de Pré-Botté to Avenue Janvier and the bridge at the end. A German sentinel, alone on the deserted bridge waived us quickly across. The bridge was already wired with the explosives which destroyed it a few hours later. At Rue de Paris, on the corner of Boulevard de la Duchesse Anne, several shells ricocheted and suddenly whistled past our ears. We decided then to run across all the crossroads. Luckily the distance was a short one.
In spite of our straw-filled mattresses and our blankets, we found it very difficult to sleep that night. The cellars were smelly: some of the temporary occupants of the previous night and days, seemed to have converted one or two of the cellars into urinals. Shortly before midnight, we distinctly heard the sound of the huge explosion which destroyed the bridges of the Vilaine. The bombing had stopped. By going upstairs to the upper floors, we could see the red glow of several fires outlined against the blue black background of the night, in the midst of a calm clear sky studded with stars. In the early hours of the 4th August, the first detachments of the American army’s vanguard infantry had taken Rennes without any difficulty, practically without firing a shot and without a fight. From the window of the apartment where I had gone at daybreak, I witnessed the arrival of a detachment of the main body of the troops in combat uniforms, proceeding indian file along the footpaths on each side of the Boulevard.
Shortly after, I went to rue de Fougères. The house was intact and had not suffered any damage. Only one of the glass panes of the front door had been broken. The remains of a German machine-gun battery still lay at the crossroads. In the street, where small groups had formed, there were signs of life again. The main reason for the latter was the looting taking place of the building, which had previously been occupied by the services of the “Gestapo”. Some were already leaving with, either a typewriter under their arm or an armchair on their head or chairs on their shoulders. Others had brought wheelbarrows and pushcarts, which they filled up with more disparate articles. Near my place, into the garden of the house occupied by the photographer Guillaume, baskets and large bundles of sheets, towels and all sorts of linen were being offloaded. I met the bursar in charge of regional economic affairs who was leaving on a bicycle for the office, and who abruptly cut short the conversation I had started with him.
I was obviously already someone to be avoided, with trouble ahead. The armbands with the cross of Lorraine had surely disappeared from the police station at the end of rue d’Antrain, judging by the number of people wearing them as they went in and out of the building. Wearing them was no longer a risk but an advantage. I did not look any further and returned to Boulevard Sévigné.
Towards the end of the day, Alain Le Berre and Durand who had gone for news came to report that the hand-over of power, from Robert Martin to Victor le Gorgeu, of the Regional Prefecture had taken place peacefully, as becoming between people of good company, the latter settling into the armchair of the former and requesting him to pack his bags before sending him with his family under house arrest to l’Hotel de France. Robert Martin actually only remained there a few weeks, as Le Gorgeu had subsequently decided to send him to prison. As far as the streets were concerned, they were rapidly in full turmoil, led on by yelling people, college students and young people brandishing arms, which they had obviously no idea how to use and sometimes, with shouts and threats, escorting the odd German soldiers forgotten by their units, parading them with hands on their heads, and at times making them move along with kicks and punches. My mother, who had stayed in town the previous evening, reported that the “pétroleuses” or female arsonists, a term that reminded her of the bloodthirsty “tricoteuses” of the guiilotine, immortalised by Dickens, were at the head of the chorus of obscene clamour. Some women, stripped naked and their heads shaved, were already being paraded around the streets; they were accused of receiving the German’s favours. The Americans had obviously not had time to succeed the latter in dispensing their favours. But of more concern was the news that arrests had begun, but no one knew who was being arrested or by whom, nor what was happening to those who were being arrested, nor in the name of what authority these arrests were being made. Dozens of minor leaders had surfaced who, having sewn a tricolour armband for themselves or some imaginary stripes on their sleeves, assumed all kinds of powers including that of arresting, searching homes and requisitioning without warrants.
The new Regional Commissioner of the Republic who was a member of the upper middle class and a well known radical socialist, full of a strict sense of republican order, which he was now in charge of maintaining, could not possibly approve of these excesses. Less than forty eight hours after he had taken over, police cars with loudspeakers drove around the streets of Rennes for days, threatening to prosecute those who assumed the right to arrest anyone without a proper warrant. It was high time: a sort of latent anarchy had established itself in Rennes and all four Breton departments, over which Le Gorgeu exercised the government’s authority entrusted to him by the Comité d’Alger. The speed of the American’s advance was the only thing that had stopped an even greater deterioration of public order, which had practically ceased to prevail as soon as the German troops had disappeared.
The extent of the anarchy that had taken place in Brittany, firstly during those weeks after the American landing and then the breakthrough in Avranches, only became known later, in bits and scraps, when communications were easier. Lootings, robberies, armed aggressions, rape and all kinds of brutality had become widespread. The Liberation had not stopped political assassinations or the rivalry between the F.T.P and F.F.I., the Maquis’ armed groups, who each wanted to usurp authority and install the rule of the machine gun, and who actually included a number of foreigners to the country. The disappearance or withdrawal of the German units had facilitated all kinds of violent acts now taking place in broad daylight. They spared no town or village and were especially harsh in central Brittany, which had been cut off by an undisciplined and savage Russian contingent, incorporated into the German army, who had been more or less left to themselves and had redoubled the hostage taking and hangings of the Maquis fighters they seized.
In Dinan as in Morlaix, several unfortunate women considered to be collaborators were hung by their hair from the balconies of the town. One respectable woman from Plouvorn was hung naked from a beam: while two of her torturers spread open her legs, a third slowly inserted a burning candle into her vagina. The latter probably did not realise they were repeating the atrocities committed by the Convention’s troop’s diabolical columns who, in 1793 and 1794, had set about executing women in the rebellious villages of Brittany and of Vendée, by filling their vaginas with cartridges which they then exploded. The women who were arrested were often stripped before being interrogated: burning cigarettes were stubbed out on their breasts to make them talk. The merest kitchen maid, whose only crime was to have peeled potatoes in German canteens were labelled “collaborators”, locked up in camps, prisons and improvised torture chambers. Even the official prisons were invaded by armed gangs who beat up the inmates and sometimes assassinated them. Gang rapes took place in Redon, Morlaix and Jugon. In Redon one or two unfortunate women, who had undoubtedly not been docile enough, were knocked out with bicycle chains and still alive, had been thrown into the canal.
Apart from the raping, male prisoners were not treated any better. Some were buried up to their necks: others tied up so they could not return the blows being directed to their face and body. Torturers went to loot the private houses whose owners had just been arrested, or else tried to go there to rape their wives and daughters. The F.T.P. on one hand and the F.F.I. on the other, had each appointed a Prefet in Vannes and two Liberation committees had formed, each claiming to be the sole authority. In Finistère, a gendarme had set himself up as leader of a group of volunteers who attacked and robbed tax offices and tobacconists. Just about everywhere, German soldiers taken prisoner were shut in or extracted from their prisons and executed in cold blood. In Plouyé, Berrien, Poullaouen and Scrignac even the wounded were executed, but first offered a last cigarette by the leader of the torturers. There was even a case in Vannes of a wretched priest, white with fear, who refused to hear the confessions of civilian prisoners of the Maquis, whom the hotheads of the latter were preparing to summarily shoot down in public, on the square. The “tondeurs”, or improvised hairdressers, continued to shave the heads of presumed “collaborators”. In Chateauneuf, they also forced their victims, with threats and blows if necessary, to remove their pants in public so they could also shave their pubic hairs, a process that undoubtedly gave them a particular pleasure. None of the canton’s administrative centres, nor any important town were exempted from these disturbances and excesses. The village inhabitants were lying low; the farms were barricaded; the women were in hiding. American troops were often called on to intervene. The civil affairs officers, who witnessed these acts of violence and disturbances, seriously contemplated, during those first few days, taking on the administration of the country, in spite of accords passed between the allies and General de Gaulle, who had boasted that law and order would be quickly restored.
No in-depth, documented and impartial study has yet been done of this tragic episode in the life of Brittany. The archives concerning it have frequently and voluntarily been destroyed by the new authorities derived from the French Resistance, so that their public image which they wanted to maintain would not be tarnished. Very soon after it started off, the Fourth Republic amnestied criminal acts, assassinations and violent acts, which were committed during that period, under the pretext of French patriotism. Yet it should be emphasised that public order was more rapidly restored in Brittany than in some other regions. For the new French authorities derived from the “Resistance”, this necessity to control without pointless fighting, to surround and isolate pockets of Germans that remained for nearly a year around Lorient and Saint-Nazaire, was an ideal opportunity to monitor and restore their authority over the disparate and rival armed gangs and fighters of the Maquis. Their mobilisation and incorporation into the regular army, by distributing here and there a few stripes, made it possible to bring them under control and at the same time put an end to violent acts and wrongdoings that many of them were guilty of. The few impartial historians of that period, and it still needs courage to be so today – which undoubtedly explains why there are still so few of them – consider that about half of the violent acts committed in Brittany: robberies, rapes, lootings, illegal arrests, murders, assassinations and violence were committed by suspicious elements who used the Resistance as a pretext. Some of them only sought to appease personal revenge or to eliminate political enemies and the rest were mostly motivated by a spirit of looting and destruction. It was enough for one farmer, even under duress, to have sold butter to the Germans for his farm to be looted and burnt down and sometimes his family and himself summarily executed.
Christan Bougeard, a local historian from Côtes-du-Nord, estimates that there were over 260 assassinations and summary executions of pseudo political or economical collaborators by the Maquis in the Côtes-du-Nord department alone. I myself have estimated that according to official statistics there were at least one thousand and eleven summary executions in the five Breton departments, a figure just about equal to the number of those who were shot by the Germans, which rose to 1262.
Gangs of looters who had an accumulation of wrongdoings were still being judged after nearly two years. A number of books could be written about this period, both heroic and horrible, with its irresistible enthusiasm and the unleashing of its worst instincts, which would have nothing to do with the official history. But endeavours are still being made, at the cost of many deceptions, to make this official history the only history. How can one forget that this official history is not the true history and that in many ways 1944 in Brittany strangely resembles 1793? The French have become past masters of this kind of historical falsification. Those who turned twenty between the two wars have seen before their very eyes history both being made and being falsified, at the mercy of fashion and political fluctuations of the day. That is why cowardice and public lies are for them, as they are for me, detestable and intolerable.
It was not long before I realised that what I had thought should have been a simple change of government was in reality, despite official affirmations, a genuine revolution. It lacked neither the excesses, nor the hypocrisy, nor the pompous declarations, nor the bloodthirsty instincts. With the Germans’ disappearance and the American troops deliberately set aside from the task of maintaining law and order, even though that is one of the responsibilities and duties of an invading and occupying force, the responsibility for the violent acts and crimes that marked those few months rests entirely on the still rebellious government of de Gaulle and on the new authorities he had hastened to put in place, in his hurry to get rid of the Vichy civil servants in authority. But the latter were still, in the eyes of French and international law, the legal representatives of authority. The legality of de Gaulle’s government was only recognised by the international community the following October.
Victor Le Gorgeu thought it opportune, undoubtedly as a concession to the frame of mind at the time, as also to the achievements of his predecessors and our own, to point out in his first public statement, the day after he was installed, that “Breton like the rest of you, and proud of my origins, I will always be at your side, you can be sure of that, so that Brittany receives her due, all her dues, but we must not forget that it is within a France that is one and undivided.” For my part, I had lost no time in having a letter sent around to him, couched in more or less the same terms as those I had used for his predecessor in the Regional Perfecture. I pointed out to him that the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne and myself as it’s general secretary, were at his disposal to help him accomplish his task on a Breton level and I suggested he call a meeting of this assembly without delay.
Having done this, I just had to wait for my colleagues Pierre Mocaer and André Dezarois to be able to join me, in order to carry out the collective approach we had decided to make to him. Florian Le Roy, for his part, was already there as he resided in Rennes.
It was already the 6th of August and that evening Jean-Louis Bertrand came to see me to tell me it would be preferable that I did not remain at Boulevard Sévigné in view of the foolhardy arbitrary arrests taking place in town. He offered me his hospitality in a building of rue Poullain-Duparc where he had together his office and living quarters. I decided to follow his advice. He also told me that Florian Le Roy had been arrested, sacrificed at the altar of the “Purge” of newspapers and journalists. His literary talent and outspokenness, which contrasted sharply with the mediocrity of most of his colleagues and awakened their jealousy, had designated him as the expiatory victim among the small army of journalists who, considering the turn of events, were in a state of fear regarding their fate. Jean-Louis Bertrand and one of my employees, who was also present, gave me an account of the farcical ceremony for the handing over of authority at Ouest-Éclair, similar to what had taken place at the Regional Prefecture. Paul Hutin, who lost no time in officially joining Desgrées to his name, had been solemnly established as director by Henri Fréville and Jean Marin. The former had been declared Director of Information Services for Illes et Vilaine and afterwards for the whole of Brittany and the latter was in the full uniform of a Free French officer. White as a sheet, Étienne Aubrée had the courage, in public, to remind the staff of the newspaper gathered together for the ceremony in the large press hall of rue du Pré-Botté, to remember that it was thanks to the former management that they had been able earn a living during the last four years. After which, Paul Hutin had simply settled into his brother-in-law, Pierre Artur’s chair and asked him to go home. They waited a couple of weeks before arresting him, as well as Jean des Cognets.
Accompanied by Jean-Louis Bertrand, I set off again through the centre of Rennes, still with my backpack and wearing my walking-shoes. Smiling American soldiers had just finished building provisional bridges over the Vilaine. People were bustling about repairing or blocking up gaping holes in the front of buildings along the embankment, which had suffered from the destruction of the bridges.
-“You will be taking over the bed after another friend,” Jean-Louis told me, “one of the leaders of the “Resistance” in Brittany whom I took in for a few weeks until the Germans left.”
It was not the first time that Jean-Louis’ eclecticism and his loyalty to personal friends, irrespective of political beliefs, delighted and refreshed me. That person was in fact Henri Bourret who had just left Rennes to take up an important post in the new Ministry of the Interior and who later on became prefet. He had thought of trying his hand at politics in the Côtes du Nord but very rapidly became disgusted with it and retired from it. Undoubtedly “combatants”, the true ones, are not made for the games, subtleties, underhand methods and betrayals of the political politics. After taking me in, Jean-Louis left me there go to his home town, Dinan, for a couple of days. He had also thought at the time, like Bourret, of trying his hand at electoral politics. But he quickly abandoned the idea in the face of René Pléven’s rising star. He was not the kind of man to do anything underhand by taking advantage of a circumstance, and profiting from the political void, which the Liberation’s politicians had deliberately created by the compulsory exclusion of previous personalities. The “electoral” concerns of these politicians were already quite obvious.
The room I slept in was as narrow as the bed. The apartment itself was not very big and I found it rather confining. Alain Le Berre came everyday with news and essential supplies. Marie-Madeleine who had been notified also came to see me there: I told her she could now start to prepare her return to Rennes with the children and that we would agree on a date. On the 7th of August, the day after I had arrived at Jean-Louis’s place, Alain Le Berre brought me the first issue of Ouest-France, the first newspaper to be published since the press and services of Ouest-Éclair had been taken over by Henri Fréville, Paul Hutin and their team. The unsigned editorial was a hymn to “Our beloved France…as the Bretons are French, French first of all…French precisely because they are Bretons”. As regards Brittany, there was not a word, not even what Le Gorgeu had said about it. This was taking us backwards at least twenty years, to the time of the “Chambre Bleu-horizon”! This did not lead us to expect much from the new government’s position regarding Brittany’s claims which had still not been met. Le Berre also informed me that Florian Le Roy had been incarcerated in Jacques-Cartier prison which, having been emptied of its previous occupants was now filling up again. There was still no sign of Pierre Mocaer and André Dezarrois. I had helped the former to move earlier, thanks to the “La Dépêche” motor vehicles, as he lived in Carantec. But the circumstances had to be taken into consideration: the respective positions of the American and German troops either in Brittany or in the Loire were not clearly known. As for André Dezarrois, he lived in his property of Monts, near Tours.
The morning of the 10th August, Le Berre arrived for his daily visit. He had been keeping a faithful eye on the office of rue de la Monnaie.
-“Guillaume has asked to see you,” he told me, “he did not find you at home.”
-“How come, did he not leave with the Germans?”
-“No: he is very restless and is often seen in town. Apparently, he has replaced his “ausweis” bearing the swastika with a pass bearing the cross of Lorraine.”
I had no major reason for distrusting Guillaume. Jean-Louis was absent from Rennes and I did not have the wisdom to await his return and ask for his advice before following up this request. I decided to walk with Le Berre to my home rue de Fougères. On the way we stopped at Guillaume’s house but he was absent. I left a message for him saying that I would wait for him at my place early in the afternoon.
I was glad to be back in my house with my books and my study. Alain Le Berre had settled into one of the rooms with his wife, so as not to leave the house unoccupied during these uncertain times.
Early in the afternoon Guillaume arrived. I told Alain le Berre to show him upstairs. At first sight, Guillaume seemed uneasy, embarrassed and uncomfortable.
-“You have been in touch with Le Gorgeu, the new Regional Prefet.” He finally said.
-“Yes I wrote to him, as general secretary of the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne.”
He then launched into an embarrassed and confused speech which involved the change of government, the setting up of the new authorities and the different policies launched by them.
-“That is exactly what I want to discuss with M.Le Gorgeu,” I told him, “together with some of my colleagues.”
-“You will probably not be able to do so,” he replied, “as you will undoubtedly be arrested.”
-“Are people still being arrested just like that, for no valid reason and with no explanations, purely for political motives?”
-“Yes,” he said, “for the past week, it has happened to many people.”
-“And when do you think that it will happen to me, seeing as you are so well informed?”
-“Well actually, straight away – I am sorry but there is a police inspector downstairs waiting for us.”
-“Does he at least have a legal warrant?”
-“No one is bothering too much about that at present,” he told me, “But I suppose he does have one and, if he doesn’t, he will certainly have one made out, as we both have received our orders from the new commissioner of the Republic.”
A police inspector was in fact waiting for me on the ground floor. He advised me that he would take me to the police station of rue d’Antrain where they would show me the warrant for my arrest. This was actually done a few hours later. Before leaving my home, I asked Le Berre, who was understandably appalled, to collect my backpack from Jean-Louis Bertrand’s place and bring it to me as soon as possible at the police station.
From that moment onwards, my communications with the outside world, including my family, were completely cut off, therefore I learnt only later that Pierre Mocaer had made no effort to come for the meeting we had arranged. On the other hand, two days after my arrest, André Dezarrois came and knocked on the door of the office rue de La Monnaie. He had worn his French army uniform of Officer of the Reserve in order to pass more easily through the police and military cordons. Le Berre having filled him in on the situation and as there was still no sign of Mocaer, he decided to go ahead and do alone what we had planned to do together. His position as Fine Arts Inspector and his uniform made it possible for him to be received by Le Gorgeu. He protested against the arrests of the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne’s general secretary as well as others of his colleagues, asking the Regional Commissioner to call a meeting of the latter without delay. He added that I had in fact officially requested this in the letter that had been delivered to him and which he had received. Le Gorgeu, embarrassed, asked him to come back the following day by which time he would have made enquiries and studied the files. When Dezarrois arrived at the Regional Prefecture, still in his uniform, at the appointed time the following day, police officers were waiting for him. He was arrested on the spot, on orders of the Regional Commissioner, without being able to see the latter again, and was escorted to the Marguerite camp, a concentration camp set up hastily in the buildings of an old army barracks south of the city. Just like the prisons, this camp was rapidly filling up. That is where I met up with Dezarrois again a few weeks later.