Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948

Chapter IV


Scouting in Occupied Countries: Part Six — France


"I have often prayed to Our Lady of the Scouts, but my: gratitude also goes out to Baden-Powell and his Scouting. If I had not been trained from early youth in the science of woodcraft and the Scouting arts I would have stood little chance of being able to carry through this mission, as well as many others of the same kind." These words, written before the end of the war by a French Maquisard, describe very well a very important, if unexpected, consequence of Scouting. Scouts, from the very first moment when they enter the Organisation as Cubs, learn to develop that sense of observation which is the oldest instinct in man. Baden-Powell knew this well, and deliberately set out to encourage such a development, knowing that by so doing he could use it for the building of character, for the formation of a man alert, friendly, and aware of his responsibilities. The emphasis at the earliest stage on woodcraft and the playing of games requiring observation, had an unforeseen consequence. Designed to help youth, whether happy in a good home or miserable in a bad, to equip itself for victory in the battle of life, these methods were of great, often of vital aid to many thousands of Scouts and former Scouts when faced with that most difficult of all tasks, the maintenance of resistance against a heavily armed, well-equipped and utterly ruthless foe.

How much Scouting contributed to the success of the Resistance in every country cannot with accuracy be computed, but it is safe to say that without it their casualties would have been many times greater and the results they achieved many times smaller. "The participation of the Scouts in the Resistance Movement," runs a sentence in the general report on Scouting in France during the war, "according to a great many eyewitnesses, sustained it and facilitated its growth, those belonging to it ascribing their success to their Scout training." Every branch of Resistance work benefited from this training, for there was always someone among those detailed to lay out a dropping zone, to take a message, to be instructors of the Underground army, to forge permits, to help prisoners-of-war, who had been, or was, a Scout. In some sectors seventy-five per cent of the Resistance were Scouts or had had Scout training. The shadow of secrecy still envelops their activities, which may never be told.

The general lines, however, are clear enough. First and foremost—work which continued right up to the end of the war— was the aid afforded to prisoners seeking to escape. These came, for the most part, from forced labour in Germany, though some had been able to break away while marching to Germany in the summer of 1940. Among them were those prisoners whom French Cubs, playing near their temporary camp on the eastern border of France, aided by leaving beside the wire, bundles containing clothes, identity papers and money. Later on, in order to bring escaping prisoners across the Rhine, an Alsatian couple, both with Scout training, organised an elaborate ferry service’ which took over more than a thousand escaped prisoners. One of the Scouts permanently employed at the French headquarters of Scouting was the head of an organisation which had the same object, and which brought prisoners all the way from Germany to France, where they could join the Resistance Movement, or to Britain, where they could enlist under the Cross of Lorraine. In the course of this work, one Scoutmaster also belonging to it went as far as Konigsberg on the Baltic carrying a suitcase filled with forged permits which he distributed amongst French prisoners-of-war detained in that city, all of whom succeeded, by using them, in returning to France and joining the Resistance. These are but examples, almost trivial, when set against the great results achieved, of how Scouting, either directly or by reason of the training it had given, removed many prisoners-of-war from the hands of the Germans.

As in other occupied countries, resistance grew slowly, though in France from the very first, since the country was divided into two unequal parts, there was much smuggling of persons and goods across the demarcation line. In addition to the assistance given to Allied airmen, Commando soldiers and others to escape from France, a task which began almost after the Armistice and continued until the enemy was finally driven out of the country, there were two main forms of resistance, first clandestine newspapers, then open warfare. In both, the French Scouts were involved up to the hilt. Secret newspapers were printed all over the country but were naturally particularly in vogue in Paris, the capital. Here by the beginning of 1943, by which year the Germans had occupied the whole country as the result of the Allied landings in North Africa, numerous newspapers were being printed and distributed in secret. First among them was the Defence de France, which reached a circulation of half a million and was distributed by Paris Scouts, some of them belonging to the Clan Bayard in the Chaussee d’Antin. This Clan, or as we should say, Troop, had by then acquired special experience in Underground work. They had stolen and distributed literally thousands of false identification papers with which they had provided " Resistance chaps." Other Scouts elsewhere were performing similar deeds.

At the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944 open warfare began. By then Resistance groups were active all over France, but especially in the mountainous districts of the central Massif, Savoy and the Pyrenees. They fought with weapons supplied by England through the medium of the Royal Air Force, which dropped them by parachute. It was guerrilla warfare on a steadily increasing scale, and the thousands of Scouts, Rovers for the most part, who were among those waging it found a new and stern vocation. Let a letter written in the winter of 1944 by a young Savoyard Rover to the man who taught him Scouting give a vignette of those grim and glorious days when the Scouts were among the elite of a resurgent nation.

Here we are all volunteers. Happily a good friendship joins us to each other. Many Rovers and manual workers and students who have all lived in Maquis and seen friends stricken dead by their side. On 8th June, ’44, order for guerilla war has arrived. On 10th we have attacked ‘miliciens’ in Uriage. Truly it was my baptism of fire. I’ve been shot at point-blank by our ‘miliciens’ who have immediately run away. Till 15th of September night and day we’ve fought against SS Alpine Infantry and Tartars, a special picked anti-guerilla regiment. Everywhere in Isere department have begun attacks on transport columns with light machine-guns and grenades. Roads were mined and countrymen looked upon us as lunatic boys. But we knew why we fought. We have seen our wounded friends despatched by German troops, and we have known their criminal mines. (One of my best friend’s body blown up; I could have brought it back in my cap.) At the end German columns were convoyed by armoured cars and canons; but, placed under cover of rocks along the roads, we shot at retreating German troops’ cars. Often we have seen death as in the front line. Thus one day on the Grenoble-Lyons road after our attack, Germans counterattacked with machine-guns, mortars and planes flying close to the ground. They were perhaps a hundred and we were twelve. Or when we attacked Grenoble in broad daylight and after having shot Germans at drill we waited for night to get away. We were assaulted at fifteen metres, everywhere hand-to-hand. We ask how we can have come back. Dear Chief, you’ve said to us ‘ Between two ways choose always the hardest one.’ I remember that to-day."

As the Allies surged across France from the Normandy beaches, the French Resistance grew more and more active. On the 15th August the Underground army of Paris came out into the streets to free their city. The Scouts and Rovers among them went into action. The Clans of St. Francis Xavier and St. Stanislaus served as reconnaissance units for the armoured cars of Leclerc’s Division and signalled to them the position of German guns and tanks defending the Luxembourg Palace where the French Senate once sat. The Clans of St. Nicholas and St. Severin fought at the barricades and established a canteen which fed 800 of the combatants and 600 old people. The Clans of St. Anne and the Maison Blanche manned the Danton barricade arming themselves for the purpose from a German store of arms. They destroyed every German vehicle that came against them and "gave an excellent example of discipline in action in the midst of this popular, courageous but most disordered movement."

Patrice, though a Rover, was small and looked no more than fourteen years of age. On 24th August he was on his motorcycle escorting a car filled with ammunition when he ran into a German cordon near the Avenue de l’Opera and was captured but not before a sign from him had enabled the car to turn and make off. With other prisoners he awaited search with some trepidation for in his pockets were a number of written orders, a pistol and some F.F.I. armless; but Patrice, being a Scout, was observant and presently contrived to slip into the group which had already been searched. They were taken to a nearby German police post, and there he thrust the pistol and armless behind a radiator and ate the papers "silentiously." Their improvised hiding-place was discovered, and in order to prevent the Germans from carrying out their threat to shoot all the prisoners, Patrice confessed that the incriminating articles belonged to him. He was taken to the firing party and remained against the wall for "half an hour, silent and praying." Then it was decided to question him, for he looked so young that the Germans evidently hoped to obtain much information from him. Sensing this, Patrice burst into tears and said that he had owned up only to save the others. The German officer in command, more compassionate or less resolute than the others—he must have realised the hopelessness of the German cause in Paris at that moment— gave Patrice his freedom, telling him " to go back to your duty." This advice from an enemy Patrice followed rigidly till his death in battle some months later fighting with the French Army in Alsace.

That same day a former Scout Commissioner, the father of a Cub, captured the Parc Monceau with an improvised force of twenty passers-by, of whom twelve were subsequently found to be Rovers.

The French Resistance groups of the 7th Arrondisement of Paris consisted for the greater part of Rovers. They fought at the barricades of the Chamber of Deputies and the Military Academy. One of their number was killed in this last action and two others taken prisoner, escaping death by a miracle. The great moment in the life of this Clan was when eight of their number arrived with the armoured cars of Leclerc, having come all the way from Normandy, where they had joined his division, having slipped through the German lines at Caen to do so. Before the war was ended, seventy-eight of this Clan were under arms, only two of them more than twenty-five years old, and at the same time the younger members had been reorganised and were under training in Paris. When Germany laid down her arms, members of this gallant Clan had won one Legion of Honour, one Medaille Militaire—the highest military French decoration—and thirty-seven Croix de Guerre. Nine of them died for their country.

The Resistance Movement, however, though of great, indeed vital, importance in the life of French Scouting during the Occupation, was only one of the many forms of activity which, during those five long years, were pursued by Scouts. At the outbreak of war over 10,000 Scoutmasters joined the Forces, and when the capitulation came in June, 1940, the great majority of these, with the exception of those who had fallen in battle, became prisoners-of-war and were not available to return to their Troops and continue the work of training. The first and most important step, therefore, was to train new Scoutmasters and these were formed out of former Scouters, Rover Scouts and the older Patrol Leaders. Scouts had by then established their reputation and were very popular with the inhabitants. Thousands of boys and girls wished to join them and the Guides, and many young people from seventeen to twenty also presented themselves. The various Scout Organisations such as the Scouts de France (Catholic), the Eclaireurs Unionistes (Protestants), and the Eclaireurs de France were overwhelmed with applications. In 1942 the number of Scouts in the unoccupied part of France, usually known as Vichy France, and in North Africa had trebled. Scouting activities were maintained by rallies, camps, hiking, and all the usual means of promoting Scouting. The Vichy Government did not at first frown on the Movement, though uniforms were prohibited. In the Occupied Zone the situation was more difficult. Scouting was forbidden in September, 1940, and penalties became more and more severe as the war went on. Nevertheless it continued, and the Scouts exercised all their ingenuity in maintaining their Organisation intact. They succeeded, thanks to a system of close liaison which enabled all Scouts to keep in touch with each other, from Lille to Bayonne, and this despite the fact that the main headquarters in Paris had been suppressed and all its staff deported.

One phenomenon, which may seem strange, nevertheless played a very useful part in maintaining the unity of the Scouts. Though France was cut in two, yet the closest connection existed from the very beginning and remained unbroken to the very end between the Scouts under German domination and those in the power of Vichy. The National Commissioner of Cubs, for example, was smuggled across the boundary line no less than fourteen times in twenty-eight months. Once the Germans occupied the whole of France the position became much more difficult. The Scouts of Vichy had enjoyed a precarious existence till then, but were now subjected to closer supervision though, curiously enough, they were not suppressed. Perhaps the Germans thought that the Movement would die a natural death, provided they arrested a sufficient number of Commissioners, Scouters and chaplains. The Chief Scout himself, General Lafont, continued to organise the Movement with great skill and ability, and even went so far as to continue to wear uniform until in the early months of 1944 this became no longer possible.

Throughout the war years the Scouts extended their charitable and social work to the widest possible degree. The Protestant Association, which in the summer of 1940 could muster 500 Rovers, 5,200 Boy Scouts and 3,600 Wolf Cubs under the direction of 1,100 Scoutmasters, made a practice of meeting all army and evacuee trains at the stations, and presently worked under the Committee of Internal Assistance to Deportees and Evacuees to alleviate the sufferings of persons from Alsace and Lorraine who had to leave their homes when the Maginot Line was manned. A reception office for Protestant children was set up in Tarn and worked hard. After the Armistice, the Association was suppressed in the northern district by the Germans but encouraged in the southern, in which various youth associations were formed, all of which were manned principally by Scouts. These were, among others, the Chantiers de la jeunesse, the Compagnons de France, whose duty it was to look after evacuees from the northern and eastern districts, and the Chantiers des Jeunes Travailleurs. As time went on, however, the Vichy Government shewed a tendency to introduce politics into these Movements. This was frowned upon by the Scouts, who were continually on watch against "the violation of the essential principles of political,’ religious and intellectual liberty." By then II,000 Protestant Scouts were at work in the Southern ‘Zone running soup kitchens and canteens, collecting waste-paper and salvage of all kinds. They also helped with the grain and wine harvest, they hewed wood, they made charcoal, soon the main form of fuel, and they played a prominent part in trying to help refugees and evacuees to recapture a little "of the atmosphere of their own lost homes." A great effort was also mace ‘ to teach Scouting to the new recruits, and many lessons in woodcraft and camping were given. The training of Scoutmasters was carried on in the National Camp School at Cappy.

In the Northern Zone the difficulties were much greater, for the Movement had, without the help of uniforms, equipment or the delights of camping, to " find the means to inspire enthusiasm among the boys." They succeeded, as in other countries, by camouflaging Scouting activities. "The Wolf Cubs were turned into ‘ Pages,’ the Scouts into ‘ Knights."’ Despite every form of restriction and petty persecution, there were more than 5,000 Protestant Scouts enrolled at the time of the liberation.

One task was common to the Scouts of both zones, to whatever association they belonged. It was to help with the Air-Raid Precautions Organisation, for it was part of the unhappy duty of the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Corps to bomb many targets in France and thus to cause much ruin and devastation. That these raids have never been resented by the French is one proof, if proof be needed, of their great heart and their generous nature. Air-Raid Precautions were run by Equipes Nationales, either pro-German or inclined to be. There were lives to be saved, however, and the Scouts were not concerned with the political views of those charged with the task of helping their fellow Frenchmen during the ordeal of bombing. The tales of quiet heroism and devotion to duty shown by French Scouts under the stress of bombardment are very numerous. Here are four.

Crepin, aged fourteen and a half, worked at a refugee centre, and when a raid broke out panic developed among the refugees, whose nerves were already at breaking point as the result of their sufferings. He deliberately quitted the shelter into which he had succeeded in leading them " to find out what was going on," and continued to encourage them as the bombs fell, only leaving them to take his share in fire-fighting. Noel, aged fifteen, dragged four persons from a collapsed house and only desisted from helping them when he found they were dead. He then joined a passing squad of soldiers, gave them a hand in carrying injured persons from another house and finally, as soon as the raid was over, helped the police to regulate the traffic. Jacques was fifteen years old. He returned home on hearing the siren to find his neighbour’s house in flames. He dragged all the inmates out and gave them first-aid, then went back and rescued important and very compromising papers. A bomb fell on another house nearby and this time Jacque’s good fortune was not so great. He dragged out the occupants but they were dead. Lutran was seventeen. He carried bodies, some alive, some dead, from three houses during an air-raid and then went on point duty for six hours while the ambulance and fire brigade dealt with the results of the raid. He next helped to rope off unexploded bombs and finished the day by assisting in the evacuation of ambulances and in calming a panic which had broken out in a large cellar filled with women and children. The behaviour of these four Scouts was typical of the bravery strewn by men and women all over the world in that most revolting of all forms of modern warfare, the air-raid directed against civilians.

The story of the Eclaireurs Unionistes is, mutatis mutandis, the same as that of the other Associations, Scouts de France, Catholique and the Eclaireurs de France, As soon as the Germans had established themselves in France the inevitable persecution of the Jews broke out. The Eclaireurs Unionistes were determined to help these victims of racial prejudice and were soon engaged in smuggling Jews across the frontier into Switzerland, the principal "smuggler" being one of their young Rovers, aged twenty. The number of Jewish children deprived of their parents by the action of Germans steadily increased. In 1943 a holiday camp was established for them, where they were given new names and new identity papers. At first there were not more than thirty helped in this manner, but by 1944 the number had reached 130. Many of their parents were helped by means of false papers. The homes were run by volunteers from the ranks of Scoutmasters and lady Cub-Masters. These, too, were supplied with false papers and money, principally by the Mayor of Aubervillers. In this work a policeman, who was also a Scouter, rendered invaluable help. In 1942 representatives of the French Red Cross succeeded in taking some forty Jewish children to Lyons and there hiding them before smuggling them across the frontier into Switzerland. The Germans got wind of this plan and determined to seize the children and deport them to Poland for cremation. The Scouts learned of this infamous intention just in time, and five of them ran ahead of the Germans to the convent where the children were hidden and led them forthwith to a place of greater safety. Their beds were hastily filled by the nuns with forty aged candidates for the local almshouse.

The Jews themselves had their own Scouting Organisation, the Eclaireurs Israelites. Before the war its members were accustomed to meet twice a week and to hold camps in the holidays. They numbered about 1,600. At first they bore their full share of the Scouting activities carried on by the other associations, but when the Armistice came they made haste to leave the German-occupied part of France, for they well knew their fate if they remained, and moved to the south. The heads of the Eclaireurs Israelites were determined to defend Judaism by all the means in their power and this decision was communicated to the Association, which closed its ranks and did all it could to carry it out. All kinds of Jews gave them help, among them officers, civil servants and professors. In June, I940, they were established in only two towns in Vichy France. In April, I94I, they had set up in twenty-one Some of their number still continued to work in the German occupied zone of France despite the danger of arrest and deportation. In North Africa the Movement prospered, and two Commissioners were dispatched to establish schools for training The Association paid particular attention to creating study circles for the teaching of the Jewish faith. After a time, however, under pressure from the Germans, the Vichy Government suppressed the Movement and it went underground, but by September, 1943, the centres had one by one been shut down. The leaders joined the Resistance but the Scouts remained and did what they could. Scout camps continued to be organised, but with the increasing persecution difficulties became greater and greater. Finally, the Association, what was left of it, concentrated on saving Jewish children from deportation. They forged identity cards, ration books, birth certificates and military papers. The work was dangerous, and of the sixty-eight young Jewish men and women who carried it out, twenty-six were arrested and four shot.

As will be seen, Scouting in France followed much the same lines during the Occupation as in other countries afflicted with the Germans, but with the added difficulty caused by the division of France into two zones. It says much for the virility of the Scout Movement in France that this proved no obstacle. No better example of how the French Scouts helped their country in the days of its great tribulation can be found than the history of young Jean Pierre Comboudon with which this brief record must end.

He was a Rover Scout, aged sixteen, in May, I944, and he lived at Issy les Moulineaux, a suburb of Paris. Joining the Red Cross, he soon found himself engaged in the work of rescuing the victims of Allied air-raids. These were succeeded by fighting on land, during which Issy was cut off, its inhabitants facing starvation, and the general disorganisation of all services was complete. Jean Pierre prevailed upon the mayor to give him a free hand. Equipped with two lorries, a small sum in cash and a motor-cycle, he went round the fields and farms and collected twelve tons of vegetables. These served to stay the pangs of hunger from which his fellow townsmen were suffering, but not for long. Jean Pierre’s next expedition was farther afield. He penetrated into the district of the Oise and collected thirty tons of foodstuffs, taking no notice of a brisk engagement then taking place between the Canadian forces and the retreating Germans. On the way back he was delayed by a burst tyre and an air-raid on the town of Nanteuil. With the help of his companion he put out the fire in one of his lorries which had been hit, and took two passers-by, both injured in the raid, to hospital. Arrived there, Jean Pierre found the place deserted, without staff, dressings or material of any kind. Abandoning his lorries, he set out into this strange town, collected a staff, found bedding and medical supplies, and arranged for the transport of all injured to hospital. On reaching Issy that evening it is not surprising to learn that he was very tired.

A few days later Issy was itself involved in the fighting, and Jean Pierre’s forethought bore full fruit. Had it not been for the thirty tons of food he had collected "all would have starved." As it was, rations for 25,000 people were issued and this tided matters over until the Americans arrived on the 24th. The fighting continued on the 25th and 26th, and during it Jean Pierre was here, there and everywhere on his motor-bicycle, which by then was well known in the streets of Issy. He collected the wounded straight from the firing line and in this way saved the lives of an American, two soldiers of the Forces Francaise de l’Interieure, and, since charity knows no nationality, a German. His final exploit was to penetrate into a position held by some 400 savage and desperate SS troopers, convinced that they would be massacred if they surrendered. Jean Pierre induced them to do so and thus saved a bloody fight, for they were prepared to sell their lives very dearly.

Of such stuff are the Scouts made. On 24th August, 1944, one of them became a symbol of freedom. It was the day on which the Germans fled from Paris and crowds surged cheering down the wide boulevards. On the roof of a high building in the Champs Elysees a boy in full Scout uniform was observed to be standing. "The good times are back again," shouted the crowd. "There is a Scout."

  Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948
Chapter IV: Resolution. Scouting in Occupied Countries
Part One: Czechoslovakia and Poland
Part Two: Denmark and Norway
Part Three: Luxembourg
Part Four: Holland
Part Five: Belgium
Part Six: France
Part Seven: Greece, Yugoslavia and Hungary
Part Eight: Channel Islands and Countries Occupied by Japan
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