Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Jeanne Bohec (1919-2010)

Jeanne Bohec was born in 1919 in Plestin-les-Greves, France. Until the age of 10, when her father retired from the Navy, she accompanied her parents from port to port ending up in Angers where she spent her adolescence. An avid reader, her favorite books told the story of Belgian women of espionage during the Great War and naval battles.

In September 1939, as Poland was invaded by Germany, Jean started thinking about the 'approaching monster.' One day a stranger crosses her path and remarks, "Games are finished now, we have to think about the serious things." Jeanne recalls, "He could not know how much I agreed with him ... I felt an acute desire to do something. But what?" In Angers, and far from the war, she felt mostly useless and began to train in civil defense and first aid techniques.

The first attacks on Belgium happened on 10 May 1940 and were followed by a rapid advance into French territory. On June 18, preferring to not succumb to the defeatist discourse growing around her, she filled a large suitcase and told her cousin she was going to find a boat to England (her parents were away at the time). After several attempts, she found the tug Bee 4 was about to set sail. On board are 5-6 crew members, 2-3 crew wives and a family of four with their dog. At 1900 hours, as night falls, the tug's captain says, "Well, look back no further!"

They landed in Plymouth on June 21 and those on board were brought to a triage center where they were briefed by waiting intelligence officers. A few hours later, they were taken by train to London.

Once in London, Jeanne became involved with the French Volunteers of the Free French Forces. She worked first as a secretary and then as a chemist in the research laboratory involved in the manufacture of explosives. With the help of Henri Frenay, she entered the BCRA and began her training in sabotage. She eventually became an expert in plastique explosives.

On 20 February 1944 she was parachuted back into France, where she was greeted with, "What's going on? They're sending us children now!" Although she was better qualified than most men to use the machine guns that were parachuted it, her efforts to join in maquis combat were overruled. She was informed that women were not supposed to fight when men were available.

Jeanne died on 11 January 2010 and was buried in Plestin-les-Greves.

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