Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Forgotten Foursome

I recently received an inquiry from Mr. Graham Chetwood, who has been puzzling over four women of the French Resistance. While they appear in Bedfordshire, England on the memorial at Tempsford, they seemed to have otherwise disappeared into obscurity.

But, after some searching online, I discovered France had not forgotten them and hit on the National Defense Special Services Alumni Association (www.AASSDN.org), a French site that includes biographies on these women and other patriots of the French Resistance (Judi Heit / 6 March 2018):

Marie-Louise Josephine Cloarec / Username: Leclech, Lesaint
Marie as born 10 May 1917 in Carhaix-Plouquer, Finistere, France. She became a ward of the nation following the death of her father Louis Cloarec. 

In May 1940 she left Finistere for the free zone in the hope of "doing something" for her country. In Grenoble, she worked as a nursery nurse with an officer ready to join his post in Algiers. She decided to accompany his family as their governess.

In Algiers, on 11 January 1943, she committed herself for the duration of the war and joins the female body of the Transmissions. There she meets Eugenie Djendi, Pierrette Louin and Suzanne Mertzisen, who are nicknamed the Merlinettes (named after the head of transmissions, Colonel Merlin).

Eugenie Djendi / Username: Jenny, Jimmy, Jacqueline Dubreuil
The daughter of Chefral Djendi Fallah and Antoinette Silvani, Eugenie was born in 1918 in Bone, Algeria. She committed herself to 24-years in Transmissions after the landing of Anglo-Americans on 8 November 1942 in Morocco and Algeria, where she lived in Bone with her parents. There she becomes one of the Merlinettes, later meeting Marie, Pierrette and Suzanne.

Pierrette Denise Louin / Username: Lesaint, Pierrette Salina
The daughter of Auguste Louin, Pierrette was born in Oran, Algeria on 1 October 1920. After the landing of Anglo-Americans on 8 November 1942. Like Marie, Eugenie and Suzanne she volunteers to joined the Transmissions in Morocco and Algeria.

Suzanne (Boitte) Mertzisen / Username: Suzy, Leroy, Lemesle
The daughter of Edmond Alphonse Boitte and Louise Amelia Lemesie, Suzanne was born on 15 May 1919 in Columes, Hauts de Seine. On 12 November 1938 she married aviator Gabriel Mertzisen with whom she had a daughter. (They divorced April 1944.) On 18 January 1943 she committed herself for the duration of the war and entered the female body of the Transmissions and, like Marie, Eugenie and Pierrette, becomes known as one of the Merlinettes.

From there, they share a common destiny ...

In the meantime, a training center has been set up in Staoueli, near Algiers. It is then that Paul Paillole, commander of the 2nd bureau of Algiers, tells Mireille Hui (also a Malinette) to recruit radio specialists. Marie volunteers with Eugenie, Pierrette and Suzanne. Receiving the young women, Paillole does not hide the extreme danger of missions to perform, but they persist in their commitment.

In January 1944 they are sent to the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Action of Algiers (BCRAA) and then to London (BCRAL) to follow training courses for radio operators. Mireille Hui specifies that this internship lasts two months and takes place in Great Britain, Saint Albans and Ringway, near Manchester. The program: intelligence, topography, identification of enemy troops and equipment identification of objectives to be bombed, combat sport, shooting lessons, handling of explosives, driving and car/motorcycle mechanics, parachuting and transmissions (sending from France for more than 30 minutes without changing wavelength or location is suicidal).

Marie (center) shown with
Phillippe Cravet & possibly
Marie & Suzanne.
Marie, Pierrette and Suzanne was parachuted the night of 5 or 6 April 1944 with Phillippe Cravet and Pierre (?) in the Limoges region. The three women were grouped by their network in Jouac, Haute-Vienne (by the Dordogne) where Pierrette end up staying with a cousin of Pierrette's at his store at 88 Rue Saint Dominique.

Eugenie, who was part of the Berlin mission which was to operate in the Paris region, parachuted (with the Libellule mission) in the region of Sully-sur-Loire on 7 April 1944. She established the connection with Algiers and London. She was arrested on April 9, carrying all her ratio equipment, interrogated on Avenue Foch and locked up.

On April 27, Marie, Pierrette and Suzanne were arrested interned at Fresnes where they were interrogated by the Gestapo. They were sent to the Ravensbr├╝ck concentration camp in August ... probably in the convoy that left Compiegne 8 August 1944. There they found Eugenie.

A sheet of the Ministry of Defense says, "After several requests from the camp commander, Fritz Suhren, for transfer of the women to a POW camp. The women were summoned to the camp office at 4 p.m. on 18 January 1945. From there, the testimonies give way to suppositions."

Two months before their disappearance, they had been called to the Schreibstube for an interrogation of identity. It was the custom before executions, but not invariably. The women believed it was a favorable response to their request for a transfer to a camp of British military prisoners, especially as the Germans who had received them was very kind and worried about the health of Eugenie. They were summoned to the office again on January 18. They went happily, always convinced that they would be transferred to a less painful camp.

Rosane (Rene Lascroux) teacher of CEG, comrade of Pierrette Louis in Oran high school, deported to Ravensruck and released in Bergen-Belsen (quoted in the Club Austerlitz Bulletin, reprinted in AASSDN Bulletin No. 184) reports:

"On January 18, 1945, the French block mourns: the morning call, Pierrette Loin and Marie-Louise Cloarec, our little paratroopers, and Suzy and Jenny their radio companions (...) are warned that they must be at the disposal of the commander with a formal prohibition to leave the block until the appointed time - half past four o'clock.

Few of us know the news, we dare not imagine the drama, it is prudent to be quiet for the little ones and for ourselves. I spent the day with them, Pierrette and Marie-Louise are children. Pierrette, at twenty-two, received her stripes at Algiers, she loves Africa where she prepared the American landing. Marie-Louise is a brave Breton of twenty-four years, she makes war, and Suzy, of Metz, is mother of a girl six years. Jenny loves the risk. (...) Will they be treated as soldiers?

The fatal blow breaks out, what amazement seizes us, the best prevented. In the evening we wait for their return to the block, without hope. Marie-Louise imagined a thousand conjectures, full of illusions still, she took away many addresses. Pierrette did not say a word, she thought. However, they were shot. The night comes, the block closes, the little ones will not sleep there. The next day we do clever research. On the register beside the four numbers, the vague and classic mention: "transport without destination". It's strange. Between her teeth, a woman murmurs: this is how we indicate the shots.

The testimonies do not overlap, the four young women were shot at 18:30 in the barracks near the crematorium or hanged on the gallows of the camp.

Melina Seborova, assigned to the laundry, thinks they were hanged: there were no traces of bullets or blood on their clothes. The same goes for Mrs. Lindell, a survivor of the camp, who says (Archives of Algiers, document of the General Information of May 18, 1949) that Miss Kate Johansen, a Norwegian assigned to the clothing store, received the clothes of four French women without having handed over civilian clothes in exchange. At the time when Mrs. Lindell found that these deer had no trace of bullets and blood, it is said in the statement of testimony, a German she did not know the name, employed at the clothing store, has put his hand on his neck to indicate that these women had been hanged."

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