A follow Up to 'The Ribbon' written for us by Robin Horsley
Since writing the story of ‘The Ribbon’ nearly two years ago, I have read a huge volume of books and archive papers about the period, and tr...avelled to France on numerous occasions.
I have also had the great pleasure of meeting some of the surviving British and French agents who were secretly inserted into occupied France during World War 2.
There is a short tribute video here that I made following a trip to France in May this year:
Whilst I haven’t been able to corroborate my grandmother’s story beyond all possible doubt, I have gathered some additional information and started to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding this story and clarify some significant points:
French vs British History.
One of the most striking realisations when reading the history of the period, is the mis-match between the French representation of the period, and the British representation.
After the War, French history almost entirely ‘air-brushed’ out the extensive British, and later American, involvement in funding, training and resourcing the French resistance efforts.
It’s only now that the first French television documentaries are being made that start to acknowledge this.
I recently read that after the war, Charles de Gaulle setup a committee whose job it was to ‘cleanse’ the French archives – an attempt to ensure that future historians would repeat his representation of the heroism of France rather than on the very wide-spread collaboration with the invader.
Charles de Gaulle was an extraordinary figure.
He clearly felt that re-building France meant rebuilding French pride and self-respect.
Creating a popular myth that France had ‘resisted’, independently risen up and thrown off the shackles of oppression was part of this.
Given this, it’s hardly surprising that if Pierre Brossolette was originally working for the British, rather than the French secret-services, that this inconvenient fact was ignored or suppressed when his story was told after the war.
Was Pierre Brossolette working for the British?
There was clearly far greater collaboration between the different secret-services during the war than was generally acknowledged afterwards.
For example, SOE’s official biographer MRD Foot was asked to write his account on the assumption that MI6 did not exist!
In the National Archive (SOE) files, I stumbled across a fascinating reference in Tommy's (FFE Yeo-Thomas) report of Operation Seahorse which he Pierre and Passy (Andre Dewavrin) completed in mid April 1943.
In this file, Tommy described that during this mission he discovered that one of the main French resistance networks that Pierre was working with in 1940/41, ‘Confrerie Notre Dame’ (CND) was exclusively devoted to gathering intelligence material and was working for MI6.
French history records lots of references to CND but does not record that they were in fact working for the British.
Keith Jeffrey's recent book on MI6 (MI6 - The History of the Secret Intelligence Service) relates that there were around 50 agents, who came, or were brought, to England for training in 1940 and then re-inserted into France in 1940 and early 1941. MI6's files are closed so very few have been identified, but it seems very likely that Pierre was another one of them. This would explain his presence in England in 1940.
Browsing through the SOE files I came across a very well written (broad vocabulary) situation report, describing the situation in Paris under occupation in 1941. I noticed a hand written note saying that the report was from ‘Our French Agent’. I was struck by what an extraordinarily good grasp of English this ‘French Agent’ had.
French history records that one of the jobs that Pierre did was writing reports on the situation in Paris and wider France which were returned to England via the CND network.
This small video piece shows Pierre in 1942 – note how well he speaks English:
Timing of Visit to England.
At the time that I wrote the story, I couldn't recall if my Grandmother told me exactly when Pierre stayed with her in 1940. I can only recall it being after the fall of France - i.e. After late June.
However, my father discovered a tantalising piece of information in a French biography, that he translated, which described Pierre going to Paris in early September and asking his wife, who was in Bordeaux at the time, to bring the ribbon from his Croix de Guerre with her to Paris (he must have left his decoration there previously).
There is then a fairly blank period until early November when they bought the bookshop during which it was said that Pierre went away for a time.
This fits exactly with my grandmother's story (she never mentioned the medal - just the ribbon!) and would suggest that the visit was between mid September and late October, probably for a few weeks.
Other Visits to England?
Pierre’s excellent English was, according to his biographies, the result of many trips that he made to England in the 1920’s and 30s.
However, there does not seem to be a record of who he stayed with.
Perhaps he stayed in England on other occasions?
Possibly in Yorkshire.
Perhaps photographs or other documents exist that document this?
My great-grandfather was a teacher at Bradford Grammar School – perhaps this was the original connection.
Immortalising the Memory of Pierre Brossolette.
Since starting to research this story (and following my very brief, tentative contact with the Brossolette family in France) a campaign has been started to move Pierre’s remains to the Pantheon in Paris.
See here: http://www.pierrebrossolette.com/
If successful his remains will lie alongside those of Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Moulin, Marie Curie and Louis Braille.
How Can You Help?
I would very much like to more widely corroborate my grandmother’s story outside my own family.
Whilst my father clearly remembers the story, there is no-one else left alive to corroborate it.
But perhaps other memories do exist.
Perhaps other people who lived in Yeadon may have met him then.
Perhaps even on earlier visits - although these would most likely have been to Burley-in-Wharfedale rather than Yeadon.
If you do have any thoughts please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robin Horsley, July 2013