Thursday, September 3, 2015

Berthe Emilie Vicogne-Fraser (1894-1956)

From Housewife to French Resistance Hero

Today I thought that I too should do a posting about a heroic woman as a complement to “Man With the Muckrake’s” posting noting the world marking International Women’s Day. As I am a father with two daughters, I am posting this in honor to them.

In the dark days of WWII in Nazi occupied France, there was a group of valiant and daring individuals known as the French Resistance. They dared to defy the vice-grip of Nazi Germany (as well as the French collaborators) using stealth, reconnaissance, infiltration, and whatever means necessary to save their beloved country and fellow man from destruction. Most of these brave souls were subject to betrayal, unspeakable torture, or death. One of these members of the French Resistance appeared to be an ordinary housewife, by the name of Mrs. Berthe Fraser, but Berthe Fraser was anything but ordinary.

Mrs. Fraser’s story begins with her birth in 1894 as Berthe Emilie Vicogne. She married an Englishman and thus became a British subject. When the rumblings of WWII hit France, Berthe Fraser was going about her domestic life in her hometown of Arras, France, all the while organizing an underground network that saved the lives of countless English agents and pilots. Mrs. Fraser was the head of a great movement, which worried the Germans stupid. She was the hub of this big wheel. Her first work was in 1940 when there were hundreds of British soldiers roaming around France. She sent dozens of British soldiers by devious means to the coast where they were smuggled to England.

Berthe Fraser had been betrayed twice but was an unshakable woman for whom I have the utmost awe and respect.

In 1941, someone betrayed Berthe, and she was arrested by the Gestapo. She spent 15 months in a Belgian prison, and was released in December 1942. Berthe immediately jumped back into the work of fighting Hitler’s campaign of death and terror. No sooner had she got out than Berthe immediately contacted the officers sent into France from England, and embarked on a new phase of anti–Nazi activity, helping the Allies by supplying English agents with a complete support network of Resistance fighters. She looked after the foreigners, providing them with shelter, transport, and safe hiding places where they could engage in their clandestine missions. She arranged liaisons, transmitted vital messages, and took on the very dangerous role of courier, traveling far and wide by car, sometimes on foot, laden with documents, arms, and occasionally the dynamite required for sabotage operations.

Somehow she managed to evade discovery, collecting the supplies of weapons that were dropped by night at secret locations by British planes, hiding the vital goods in safe houses where they could only be released on presenting her signature.

Berthe had to go to great lengths to protect her English charges. Once, entrusted with the care of the well–known English agent Wing Commander Yeo–Thomas, known as “The White Rabbit,” she arranged a funeral cortege to transport the senior officer, hidden inside the hearse.

Berthe was betrayed again in 1944, unbelievably by one of the very English agents whose life she saved. She spent six months in solitary confinement at Loos where she was tortured every day. She was stripped and flogged in front of Nazi troops and condemned to death. Never did she betray her friends in the Resistance or the English army. How many lives she saved through her own afflictions will never be known.

When the Allies stormed the prison on September 1, 1944, Berthe Fraser was just hanging onto life, and she is reported to have said, “Thank you boys, you are just in time.”

She suffered extreme torture during her second capture and her health was never restored. Although most have never heard of Berthe Fraser, I feel that her heroic efforts were a major factor of the Allies winning the war. 
Berthe died in 1956. 

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