French Resistance

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(There Is) Nothing Like a Dame
An Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works
By Organization for Transformative Works

The WWII AU continues!

In which Alexandra Amello, secretary to the General, finally meets the French Resistance fighter known to her only as Jeanne d’Arc, and the advice “never meet your heroes” is soundly refuted.

Rated: M

Warnings: sexual content, internalized misogyny

Word count: 3.8 K

Nancy Wake, who has died in London just before her 99th birthday, was a New Zealander brought up in Australia. She became a nurse, a journalist who interviewed Adolf Hitler, a wealthy French socialite, a British agent and a French resistance leader. She led 7,000 guerrilla fighters in battles against the Nazis in the northern Auvergne, just before the D-Day landings in 1944. On one occasion, she strangled an SS sentry with her bare hands. On another, she cycled 500 miles to replace lost codes. In June 1944, she led her fighters in an attack on the Gestapo headquarters at Montlucon in central France.

Ms Wake was furious the TV series [later made about her life] suggested she had had a love affair with one of her fellow fighters. She was too busy killing Nazis for amorous entanglements, she said.

Nancy recalled later in life that her parachute had snagged in a tree. The French resistance fighter who freed her said he wished all trees bore “such beautiful fruit.” Nancy retorted: “Don’t give me that French shit.”

During World War II, Josephine Baker served with the French Red Cross and was an active member of the French resistance movement. Using her career as a cover Baker became an intelligence agent, carrying secret messages written in invisible ink on her sheet music. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre, and received a Medal of the Resistance in 1946. In 1961 she received the highest French honor, the Legion d'Honneur awarded by then President Charles de Gaulle.

Our loss, U.S.A….

Soldiers of the Free French Forces (Forces françaises libres), military units who joined “Free France” (la France libre), the Resistance organisation founded by Charles de Gaulle in 1940, assist in mopping up pockets of the German garrison in Paris just prior to Germany’s capitulation and withdrawal from the city. Paris, Île-de-France, France. 16 August 1944.

A sentry of the French Resistance keeps an eye out for German and French collaborationist snipers during the Battle for Paris. The Liberation of Paris began with an uprising by the French Resistance against the German garrison on 19 August 1944 and lasted until the surrender of the occupying German forces on 25 August. Paris, France. 23 August 1944. Image taken by Pierre Jahan.

Australian Nancy Wake fought fearlessly for the Allies in World War II, first for the French resistance and later as a spy for Britain’s Special Operations Executive.

Parachuted into the Auvergne in April 1944, she was hanging from a tree when a resistance fighter told her, “I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year.”

She said, “Don’t give me that French shit.”

This brick outside the WWII museum caught my eye. I decided to think about Eddie Simpson. I didn’t think I’d ever learn, but a few moments on the life of a forgotten serviceman, a faceless name, couldn’t hurt. 

I took a picture of the name, thought about it as I walked to the car, thought about him, Eddie Simpson, as I drove home. “There had to have been more than one Edward Simpson,” I thought.

I googled the exact quote from the brick and found that a man, WIlliam Overstreet, who, in 1944, flew under the arches of the Eiffel tower to shoot down a German plane had died in December, 2013. William Overstreet. WBO.

A few google searches with both names lead me to Eddie Simpson’s story. After walking away from the crash of his P-51 Mustang, Simpson died to save the lives of French Resistance fighters; men and women he barely knew and with whom he could not converse.  

Read: The Stars and Stripes account of Eddie Simpson’s last day.

I remember Eddie Simpson.

“A girl of the resistance movement is a member of a patrol to rout out the Germans snipers still left in areas in Paris, France, on August 29, 1944. The girl had killed two Germans in the Paris Fighting two days previously.”

(AP)

Josephine Baker’s conquest of Paris of the 1920s - les Annes Folles - is the stuff of legend. Born in St. Louis, Missouri to poverty and racism she joined a vaudeville troupe at the tender (and illegal) age of 15. Before long, she traveled to France and performed for the first time on October 2, 1925 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées with the Revue Négre - a success that changed her life forever and earned her nicknames such as Bronze Venus, the Black Pearl and Creole Goddess with the adoring French public.

When World War II broke out, Josephine, who took France to her bosom as much as it did her, volunteered to spy for her new homeland. By this point, she was one of its most glittering celebrities with high and widespread connections and access to the most exclusive of soirees. It was not only because of her race that Josephine stood vehemently against the Nazis, but also because her current husband, the millionaire Jean Leon, was Jewish. Baker was able to attend parties at the Italian Embassy and hobnob with high-ranking Japanese officials, reporting back what she heard to the French government. As an entertainer, she also had the freedom to move around Europe, and smuggled secrets for the French Resistance by writing them down in invisible ink on her sheet music. 

Josephine also contributed heavily to aiding the refugees as they fled from the Germans invading their homelands. “Every night after finishing at the Casino,” wrote her son, Jean-Claude Baker in his biography The Hungry Heart, “Josephine ran to the homeless shelter on Rue du Chevarelet, and did what she could to comfort new arrivals. In times of crisis she was magnificent; petty selfishness abandoned, she made beds, bathed old people, whispered words of comfort, and kept her eyes and ears open.” When Germans invaded Paris, Baker and her family moved down to her home in the South of France, Château des Milandes. She sheltered refugees there and aided them in obtaining passports and visas to escape the country. 

Under the (true) excuse that she needed to recover from her pneumonia, Baker herself was able to leave German-occupied France for Morocco and continue her resistance work there, forming a close relationship with the Pasha of Marrakesh. In 1942, Baker’s health worsened as she went through the last of her several miscarriages (the great tragedy of Josephine Baker’s life was that she desperately wanted children but could never carry a pregnancy to term, though this did not stop her from adopting 13 children - her Rainbow Tribe) and a complicated hysterectomy. The doctors had a hard time keeping Baker in bed, and just as soon as she recovered, she was back on her feet entertaining Allied troops in North Africa. According to Jo Bouillon, one of Josephine’s husbands, she even performed at the liberated Buchenwald concentration camp where she sang for inmates who were too frail to be moved.  Without ever mentioning the name of the camp, Josephine herself said, “I had to smile, I had to sing. Yes, songs have a soul. But the soul of songs sometimes can strangle you” (The Hungry Heart).

For her service in the war, Josephine Baker was awarded the Croix de guerre, the Rosette de la Résistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by General Charles de Gaulle himself.

(Sources: Wiki and The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker.)

Members of the French Resistance stand armed behind a barricade during the Liberation of Paris from German forces. It is estimated that between 800 and 1,000 resistance fighters were killed during the battle, and another 1,500 were wounded before the Germans surrendered the city. Paris, Île-de-France, France. August 1944. Image taken by Robert Doisneau.