Saturday, April 08, 2006

Executions, Torture, Recriminations (II)


As the war dragged on, Germany found itself short of labour and started drafting in French workers. Up till now, most people in rural France had been getting on with their lives, but suddenly they were being packed in trains and sent to Germany.

People who refused to go had to hide out to avoid arrest and were called "réfractaires". André Chabanne, a former teacher, took refuge in the woods near Fougères, a collection of farm houses near Cherves-Chatelars. Together with Guy Pascaud and Hélène Nebout (also teachers) he formed a resistance movement which was baptised Bir-Hacheim on 5th February 1944.

So why does a French resistance group have a crazy Arab name?
In June 1942 the Forces Françaises Libres under the command of General Koenig were encircled by Rommel and the Afrika Korps. They held out for 16 days, allowing Allied foces to regroup and prepare for El Alamein.
Although they were outnumbered, they broke out on the night of June 10 leaving just over 1000 dead and inflicting a toll of 3300 on the Afrika Korps.

Here's the sexy bit: Koenig's mistress and driver was a saucy young woman called Susan Travers. The British daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, she had been driving ambulances in the war and found herself at Bir-Hacheim. She refused to evacuate with the other women and ended up driving Koenig's car during the night time retreat. the car was hit by eleven bullets and had no brakes by the end of the night.
What's very cool is that she is the only woman to ever have been inducted into the French Foreign Legion. She wrote her biography at the age of 91 after waiting for all the other principals to die before writing it.

In my next post - photos of the bullet holes where the maquis executed 3 German prisoners outside the school at Cherves


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