Several members and supporters of Secret WW2 were recently invited to be among some 200 attendees (from France, Britain and the USA) at a ceremony at Fort Mont-Valérien in the Suresnes suburb of Paris on Saturday 29th September 2018.
The first French Section SOE agent to be executed, Lieutenant André Bloch, was shot at Mont-Valérien on 11th February 1942.
The ceremony and visit, led by Jean-Baptiste Romain and Antoine Grande of the French Government’s Office National des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre (ONAC VG), took place at the sombre Mémorial de la France Combattante.
Prayers, and the RBL exhortation, were delivered by Father Aidan Troy and David Bean, Catholic Chaplain and Chairman, respectively, of the Royal British Legion’s Paris branch and were followed by the placing of wreaths and speeches from: Lionel Southgate, President of Libre Résistance (and son of Squadron Leader Maurice Southgate, a senior agent of French Section, SOE); a partnering organisation from London; and His Excellency Lord Ed Llewellyn, the UK’s Ambassador to France.
After the ceremony, a vin d’honneur was kindly hosted by the Ville de Suresnes in (appropriately) the only vineyard in Paris, on a hillside looking out towards the Eiffel Tower. The day was rounded off by a Bateau Mouche trip and meal on the Seine.
The following day, Sunday, consisted of a guided coach tour around Paris, to sites with a French Section SOE resonance. Paul McCue and Nick Fox were the guides and had produced a 56-page booklet of notes. Sites visited included: 75 boulevard Lannes – where Major Gilbert Norman and Lieutenant Andrée Borrel of the PROSPER/PHYSICIAN circuit were arrested in June 1943; 3 (and 4) place des Etats-Unis; 84 avenue Foch; and 11 rue des Saussaies.
The latter three stops were locations used by the German intelligence and secret police forces and at the rue des Saussaies (currently a police headquarters of the French Ministry of the Interior), a guided tour had been arranged of the (preserved) holding cells for Gestapo and Abwehr prisoners. Among the walls’ graffiti is an inscription by Wing Commander Forrest Yeo-Thomas, the famous ‘White Rabbit’ agent of RF Section.
Topics covered in the booklet produced by Nick and Paul, and covered in the in-tour presentations, included: Noor Inayat-Khan (with a talk on her early life by Humera Afridi who had joined from New York); The Birth of SOE; SOE in France – Origins and Allied Strategy; German Secret Services in France; SOE’s PROSPER/PHYSICIAN circuit disaster of 1943; André Bloch, French Section, executed at Mont-Valérien; Major Henri Frager of French Section; the ‘French Gestapo’ – the Bonny-Lafont Gang; 18 rue Mazagran and the arrest of Major Francis Suttill (PROSPER/PHYSICIAN) of French Section.
The weekend had been organised by Libre Résistance, supported by a London-based partner organisation, and was admirably administered and co-ordinated by Willie Beauclerk, Vice-President of Libre Résistance and also the son of a wartime French Section agent – Captain Ralph Beauclerk.
The Secret WW2 supporters, who attended as members or invitees of Libre Résistance or other organisations, included Paul McCue and Nick Fox (both of whom were the tour guides on the Sunday), Carol Brown, Ann Palmer, Debbey Clitheroe, Yvette Pitt, Leslie McDonnell, Ray Windmill and Guy Audibert.