It's almost two years since Secret WW2’s co-founder Martyn Cox recommended to Delphine Isaaman that she should contact Cardiff University’s Hanna Diamond regarding the Franco-Welsh heritage of Delphine's extensive family archive.
In the late 1800s her forebears had made the Welsh capital their home, and Paul Barbier became the University’s first Professor of French after coming to the city to take up the post of lecturer at the newly founded University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire.
Paul Barbier’s eight children had all been educated in Cardiff. During the First World War, his sons Paul and Georges had joined the French army and become interpreters for the British Expeditionary Forces; and during the Second World War, the Franco-British background and fluent French of their nephew, Jacques de Guélis led to him being recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to serve in occupied France.
Hanna Diamond is Professor of French at the Cardiff School of Modern Languages, but she’s also an eminent historian specialising in wartime French resistance and is currently involved in the creation of a brand new Jean Moulin museum in Paris - and so it’s no wonder that she was so interested to hear more about the Barbier family archives.
Delphine Isaaman had also told Martyn Cox that as well as wishing to find an appropriate home for the family archive, she’d spent the previous ten years researching a book about her couisn's wartime career. Martyn was able to help again by putting her in contact with Ryan Gearing at Unicorn Press, with whom he and the Charity had worked on the publication of three special books in November 2016.
Meanwhile, the contact established between Delphine and Hanna had also reached fruition with some very special outcomes - the gifting of the Barbier family's wealth of diaries, letters and photographs to Cardiff University's Special Collections and Archives, and the university announcing its intention to install a blue plaque in memory of Jacques De Guélis MBE, MC, CdeG.
No. 3 Museum Place in Cardiff is where de Guélis was born on 6th April 1907, and it happens to be on the University campus. He died in 1945 and his ashes were interred at Cardiff's Cathays Cemetery.
On this year’s D-Day anniversary, Wednesday 6th June, the university officially celebrated the donation of the Barbier archive, while also remembering Jacques De Guélis by unveiling the blue plaque.
Martyn Cox was very disappointed that he was unable to attend these events in person, but was certainly there in spirit and the following day he said -
“I was already happy to have been the 'joiner-up of the dots' by enabling Delphine to realise her aspirations for the family archive, and then also get her biography published ... but the blue plaque has been a superb bonus.
"I’m sure its unveiling will have added to the sense of occasion on the big day, but such a visible reminder of the Jacques de Guélis story will also help promote ongoing local awareness of all those involved with SOE.
”There are in fact quite a number of Franco-Welsh links with the clandestine aspects of WW2, although these have not been widely known. Thanks to recent research by the descendants of a few of those involved, who've been helped by local historians, some fascinating events and relationships are coming to light.
"There are currently plans afoot for next year, so that local communities can finally and fully appreciate these wartime French connections with Wales - so stay tuned!"
The photos in the gallery below feature one which includes the Barbier/de Guélis family with, in front, Mrs Claudine Ripert, Conseiller Culturel at the French Embassy; Delphine Isaaman; Paul Barbier, Marie Navarro, French Honorary Consul from Cardiff: and Professor Colin Riordan, the Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University.
Delphine Isaaman is also seen in one photo accompanied by Professor Hanna Diamond and Alan Vaughan Hughes, Head of Special Collections at the University.
The significant role in the two World Wars of a prominent French family who made the Welsh capital their home is being celebrated at Cardiff University.
Paul Barbier became the University’s first Professor of French after coming to the city to take up the post of lecturer at the newly founded University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire in 1883. The family’s continuing strong links to Cardiff have recently led to relatives donating a wealth of diaries, letters and photographs to the Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University.
Paul Barbier’s eight children were all educated in the city, and two of his sons, Paul and Georges, were called up to join the French army during the First World War, and were seconded as interpreters to the British Expeditionary Forces.
During the Second World War, their nephew, Jacques De Guélis, played a crucial role as a spy in the secretive Special Operations Executive (SOE) due to his Franco-British background. His fluent French allowed him to go behind enemy lines unnoticed no less than three times and he was hailed a hero for his efforts. Following a car crash shortly after the war ended, he was buried at Cathays Cemetery in Cardiff.
Relatives Delphine Isaaman, Paul Barbier and other family members will attend a special event to launch the archive on Wednesday June 6, the 74th anniversary of D-Day. There will also be a blue plaque unveiled at 3 Museum Place, the house on the University campus where Jacques De Guélis was born on 6th April 1907.
Mrs Isaaman, a cousin of De Guélis, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that these documents will now be available to scholars and the wider public. There is an enormous amount of social history in the archive about the first 50 years of the twentieth century. It’s right that its new home is the Welsh capital, where we have such strong ties.”
Professor Hanna Diamond, of the School of Modern Languages, an expert in French history, said: “This is a hugely significant collection, which will give the public, students and academics the chance to learn about a family with an incredible story. It also gives us an insight into what life was like for people in Cardiff during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. It’s sure to become an invaluable resource and a fitting legacy for Paul Barbier and his descendants.”
Alan Vaughan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives, said: “We are delighted to offer this remarkable archive a safe home for the people and students of Cardiff. The richness of the archive offers a magnificent insight into Cardiff’s rich cultural and civic heritage and we are excited to be making it available to the public as well as academics and students.”
UNKNOWN WW2 SECRET AGENT BURIED IN CARDIFF CEMETERY