A true story of bravery and courage in occupied Paris, Andrée Griotteray was only nineteen years old when the Germans invaded France. During the four years of Occupation she transformed from a teenager in search of fun and frivolity into a capable, fearless young woman, risking her life in service to her country and the Resistance. Always modest about her actions during the war, Andrée has been decorated by the French government for her bravery. Now her moving and courageous story is brought vividly to life, told for the first time by her own daughter.
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How One Young Woman Outwitted the Nazis
By Francelle Bradford White
Elliott and Thompson LimitedCopyright © 2014 Francelle Bradford White
All rights reserved.
It is 8 May 1995. Fifty years have passed since the end of the Second World War. Andrée White stands in the main square of Charenton-le-Pont in Paris by the memorial to the dead of the First and Second World Wars, the town church in the background. The 'Marseillaise' is playing. Some of the 'Anciens Combattants' are bearing the French flag, the Tricolore. The flags are slowly lifted. The music stops. Alain Griotteray, Mayor and Member of Parliament (and, coincidentally, Andrée's brother), moves forward. From a velvet cushion he slowly lifts the medal of the Légion d'honneur, the highest award given by the French Republic.
'In the name of the President of France, François Mitterrand, I award you the Légion d'honneur a titre de résistants particulièrement valeureux [for your exceptionally brave actions during the Second World War].'
He pins the medal onto Andrée White's jacket, smiles and kisses her on both cheeks. Her daughter and son are there to witness the event, along with three of her grandchildren and her son-in-law. The square is full of people watching this special and unusual event; many of whom have known Andrée for many years. It is not the first such award she has received, however.
Ten soldiers salute the new Légionnaire. Andrée stands to attention. She wears a midnight-blue wool suit with gold buttons that shine in the sunlight. Her blond hair is cut short. On her suit the ribbons of her other medals have already been sewn onto her jacket, as is the custom in Europe. Her new medal sits on the blue background. Shaped like a five-sided double-pointed star, it is made of white enamel. It is encircled by a green wreath of oak and laurel leaves and surmounted by a smaller similar wreath. The head of Marianne, the symbolic figure of the Republic, appears on the front of the medal, the tri-coloured flags on the back. The inscription on the front reads: 'République Française' (French Republic) and on the back: 'Honneur et Patrie' (Honour and Motherland). The Légion d'honneur was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is the highest award given by the French Republic for outstanding service to France and is given regardless of the social status or the nationality of the recipient.
The 'Marseillaise' is played again. The band stops. Andrée and her family leave the square. The soldiers and war veterans march away. The crowd disperses. That night there will be fireworks in Charenton-le-Pont. France is celebrating fifty years since the end of the war. She is also celebrating the victory of a new Gaullist president, Jacques Chirac. It is a warm evening and the streets of Paris are alive with people. The Champs-Élysées had been brought to a standstill that afternoon. Just before the fireworks begin, a special speech is to be made before a crowd of more than a thousand people.
In that speech, Alain Griotteray will recall the dark days of the war and the suffering endured by millions. He will describe the Resistance group he established, and the dangers he and his colleagues faced during the four years of German occupation – four years in which so many Frenchmen and women were deported to Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland, never to return. He will recall a time when citizens were often starving; when German soldiers patrolled the streets of Paris; when French signs were replaced by their German equivalents; and when the French flag had to be hidden away.
Above all, he will talk about the contribution his sister made to France's ultimate liberation – a contribution so great that he will say it is 'impossible to measure its true value'. He will pay tribute to her bravery at a very young age, to her unassuming modesty and energy, and to the inner strength that enabled her to risk her life repeatedly in service to the Resistance. He will praise her as 'a true patriot, French through and through', and one who expected no reward or recognition for her actions. He will end his tribute with the following words:
Today, as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary since the end of that war, I think back to the enormous risks I asked my sister to take on behalf of me and our group, risks which could so easily have led to her death many times at the hands of the Gestapo and the Nazis.CHAPTER 2
The Making of a Resistance Fighter
What made Andrée and her brother Alain into the kind of youngsters they were? What was it that encouraged them to join the French Resistance and risk their lives? How did their involvement with British Intelligence, the Office of Strategic Services and the French intelligence network come about?
The question of what makes us who we are is endlessly fascinating. Is it your genetic make-up that determines your personality? Do the lives and characteristics of our parents, grandparents and ancestors mould us into the people we are? Can language skills and exposure to other cultures and ways of living shape our destiny? Does personal grief or pain alter the way that we choose to live our lives?
Descending from a line of proud and patriotic French and Belgian families, both the Griotterays and the Stocquarts were renowned for their fierce independence, presence of mind, confidence, eccentricity and initiative. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Andrée and Alain would not be slow to display these characteristics.
Edmond Griotteray, Andrée and Alain's father, was a small, plumpish, energetic man with an authoritarian yet fun-loving nature, fiercely loyal to his country. His father raised him that way: a few years before his birth, Alsace-Lorraine had been annexed by Germany in 1871 following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. It was a bitter blow for Edmond's family and their fellow patriots. Neither he nor his father were ever to acknowledge Alsace's changed legal status, and there was much rejoicing when the area was joined once more to France under the 1918 Treaty of Versailles (though the Second World War would bring further upheaval when Alsace again fell under the rule of the Germans after France was defeated in 1940).
Edmond traced his Savoie ancestors back to Jean Baptiste Griotteray, whose French naturalisation papers had been signed by Louis XV, 'Roi de France et de Navarre' and by the French regent, le Duc d'Orléans, in 1716. Jean Baptiste was recorded as having been a merchant of Catholic faith, living in Montvalezan in 1680 with his parents, Jean Antoine and Pantaléonne Brun. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Griotterays prospered, serving as lawyers, judges, mayors and merchants in the small alpine community. In 1832 Edmond's father, Thelcide Constantin, moved to Paris, looking for a more interesting lifestyle. In 1848 Thelcide is recorded as working as a chemical engineering merchant in Paris, then a highly unusual professional occupation. It was around this time that he fell in love with Rosalie Weiler, the Swiss-born daughter of a Geneva banker whose beauty and energetic, enterprising personality endeared her to everyone she met. Thelcide and Rosalie went on to marry and have three children. The eldest, Julie, worked alongside her brother in his chemical engineering company (most unusual for a married woman). Her husband Paul was a cousin of Fernand Labori, the lawyer who defended Émile Zola in the infamous 'J'accuse' trial of 1898. Edmond and Julie had regularly attended private soirées and dinners in Paris in the presence of Zola, at which the Dreyfus affair was discussed, and the Griotteray children often heard their parents talk about the case with anger, many years after the event.
Thelcide's and Rosalie's oldest son, Marcel, served in the First World War and was killed at Verdun in 1916. Like so many others, the family mourned his death deeply, searching to make sense of the futility of the events unfolding around them.
Edmond, their second son, who had been born several years after the Franco–Prussian War, in 1874, had chosen to study architectural interior design at the École Boulles in Paris, where – according to his son Alain – he met Auguste Rodin. Rodin's generosity towards his students and friends was legendary and he once gave Edmond a marble bust, which has been passed down to subsequent generations.
Graduating from the École Boulles, Edmond soon started up an architectural interior decorating business on the rue Auber near the Place de l'Opéra, opening an antique shop to help his clients furnish their houses. At some point during the autumn of 1919 he was introduced to a fair-haired and blue-eyed young woman by the name of Yvonne Stocquart, who at twenty-seven was nineteen years his junior. The couple were married within six weeks of meeting.
Yvonne Stocquart was a confident, attractive young woman who was descended from an established family of Belgian lawyers. In the mid eighteenth century her great-grandparents lived in a house on La Grande Place in the centre of Grammont (Geraardsbergen) in central Flanders, whose town square is a mini replica of the Grande Place in Brussels. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the area known today as Belgium came under Spanish rule and it was from here in 1835 that Yvonne's grandfather, Charles Josephus Stocquart, left Grammont for Ixelles in Brussels, where he joined his uncle's law firm and helped draw up Belgium's new constitution. Yvonne often referred with grandeur to 'les oncles' and their family home in Grammont stands to this day, having benefited from huge government investment due to its architectural heritage.
Yvonne's father, Arthur, a sophisticated, aristocratic-looking and impeccably dressed man, who at 1.9 m tall towered over his friends, had been appointed Professor of Law at Louvain University when he was just twenty-eight. His opinionated and unconventional behaviour led to many deep arguments with the university authorities, which did not help his career.
Arthur and his wife Marie Françoise had decided their children should be brought up by a young Scottish governess, Mary Murphy, whose duties were to open her young charges' minds to the British way of life and teach them to speak English. Madame Stocquart was renowned in the vicinity for reprimanding young German soldiers when their behaviour was not up to the standard she expected, threatening to report them to their commanding officer. Marie Françoise's heavy build and stern, unsmiling face belied her inner warmth and kindness, reserved for her family and friends, but it was her commanding personality that would help her daughters develop their self-reliance during the First World War. Yvonne and Léa's brother, Émile, had been shot as a spy by a German firing squad in 1916 and the sisters (then aged twenty-two and twenty-four) were desperate to do anything they could to fight the occupying forces.
Courage, sangfroid and confidence were passed on from grandmother to mother to daughter, and on 29 August 1920 Yvonne gave birth to Andrée, in Ville d'Avray near Versailles. Present at her birth was Mary Murphy, her mother's Scottish governess and a British citizen.
Andrée enjoyed a happy and carefree childhood; at two years old she was introduced to her brother, Alain, and five years later to her sister, Yvette, followed shortly after by another sister, Claude.
In 1930, in search of the sun, the Griotterays left Paris for the south of France. In Cannes, Edmond launched a new antique shop and an interior decorating business, along with a company specialising in the production of Provençal furniture. A year later the family moved to Nice and bought a house on the seafront on the Promenade des Anglais – to this day one of a few private houses still standing among the high-rise hotels and apartment blocks. In the 1930s, when the Côte d'Azur was still an exclusive destination, there was no road between the Griotterays' house and the beach and Andrée often described how her father 'encouraged' her and her brother to walk straight out of their house onto the beach at 6.30 a.m. every day between May and October to swim in the sea.
At eleven, Andrée was registered as a pupil at the Lycée de Nice pour Filles where, over the next three years, she was to study German, among other subjects, English not being available on the curriculum. So important was the study and knowledge of German in her parents' eyes that extra private lessons were conducted after school and in the school holidays. After the invasion of France in 1939, Andrée never acknowledged knowing the language and it was only when reading her childhood diaries that I became aware of my mother's command of the language.
For the Griotteray children, life in the south of France centred around family. When the heavy, dry heat of summer arrived, they would move up to the Belgian coast for the summer months, stopping in Paris on the way, where Edmond conducted intense architectural and history of art lessons. The influence of their Belgian grandparents was very strong and through them the children gained an in-depth knowledge of Brussels and the Belgian coastline.
It was around this time that Andrée started to write a diary, which she kept right through the 1930s and 40s.
In 1936 the Griotteray family moved back to Paris and then, three weeks after her sixteenth birthday, Andrée left for England, where she stayed for over a year to learn English, living in Bournemouth with friends her mother had made on her visits to England during the First World War. As a young sixteen-year-old, nothing could have prepared her for how different English country living was from what she had been used to in the south of France, Paris and Belgium, but she soon amassed a group of English friends who invited her to stay with their families around the country. As her language skills developed, her confidence and independence grew and she found herself working in a pre-preparatory school as a French assistant, shocked by how the British could send their children away at such a young age.
Before her departure for England, Edmond and Yvonne gave Andrée a special handmade suitcase as a birthday gift. The case was made of soft brown kid leather with thick, dark stitching on every side. A thick leather handle was attached by a pair of tiny silver plates screwed into the leather. At the centre of the plates a silver lock had been carefully fixed. It had a thick silk lining, made from silk which had belonged to her Swiss grandmother. That lining was to prove invaluable.
While Andrée spent a year in England, gradually falling in love with the country, her fourteen-year-old brother Alain had been sent to Germany for three months during his school holidays to perfect his German. His Hitler Youth host greeted him by saying, 'Have no doubt about this. In time we will invade and conquer France.'
In 1938, with the hostilities between England, France and Germany gathering pace, Edmond and Yvonne decided their daughter should return home. Not quite eighteen years old and back in Paris, Andrée began her career as a sales assistant in a small antique shop. In the evenings she attended a secretarial course. Shortly before Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia, her Belgian uncle and aunt, Auguste and Léa, invited their niece on a two-week touring holiday of Germany. Andrée's diaries include extensive descriptions of the country and its people, and an awareness of the Nazi Party's dominance over the German population. The experience left a lasting impression on Andrée and her cousin.
Reggie Harland (one of Andrée's English friends, later to become Air Marshal Sir Reginald Harland KBE, CB) visited Andrée in Paris with his aunt, Toddy. Just as Reggie and his family had introduced Andrée to hunt balls, meets, the English countryside and cocktail parties, Andrée showed Reggie the sights of Paris – elegant living, beautiful clothes and good food. Reggie's visit would be her last contact with any of her English friends for the next five years. She was to be cut off from an important and influential part of her youth and in her diary she later describes with sadness both her English and French friends being called up to go to war.
The Griotteray children retained close lifelong ties to Belgium, the land of their grandparents, as well as their native France. But Andrée's travels as a teenager had sparked a deep love of another country: Britain.
Excerpted from Andrée's War by Francelle Bradford White. Copyright © 2014 Francelle Bradford White. Excerpted by permission of Elliott and Thompson Limited.
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Table of Contents
1 An Acknowledgement 1
2 The Making of a Resistance Fighter 5
3 War! 11
4 The Evacuation of Paris 23
5 Life Under Occupation 35
6 A First Rebellion 45
7 A Life Lived Well 53
8 Fighting Back 61
9 Working Amidst the Enemy 69
10 Taking Risks 83
11 A Dangerous Affair 87
12 The Birth of Orion 93
13 Courage 97
14 Imperilled 105
15 The Allied Landings in North Africa 121
16 Arrest 129
17 Escape 133
18 Illness 141
19 Betrayal 147
20 Secret Agent 153
21 Gold 159
22 The Cyanide Option 165
23 The Brothel 171
24 The Arrest 175
25 The Cat with Nine Lives 185
26 Liberation! 197
27 Life After Liberation 203
28 A Just Reward 207
Intelligence Gathering in France 217
A Note on the French Resistance 221
Bibliography and Sources 227