The French Underground
Sunday, December 26, 1943
Once Jaques had gone, Ménard offered me some soup and another small glass of wine. The two of us sat at the kitchen table, complete strangers other than the fact that we both had the same goal and that was getting me out of France and back to England. He too, said that food was very scarce in France right now but he was one of the fortunate ones that lived on a farm close to town and could grow some of his own food as well as sell it to make money.
"When the Germans first came in June of 1940 James, most Frenchmen rushed to the south of France or to Vichy France to escape being in occupied France. Abbeville was heavily bombed with many homes and buildings destroyed. There was no food, no shops, no cars; not much of anything was left. Since that time, many have come back, especially this year we are seeing more and more old faces as the tides of war seem to be changing. We have some common things like potatoes, onions, and cheese; things we can grow on the farm but even now in Abbeville, many things can only be obtained through the black market. Coffee and cigarettes come at a very high price. Most Frenchmen right now cannot afford cigarettes so they have been rolling their own made from the dried leaves of fruit trees, corn silk, peppermint leaves, almost anything they can get their hands on."
"Things are bad in England too Jean-Louis, everything is rationed. The military fares the best I think, providing us with three meals a day. I don't smoke so never gave any thought to what it might be like without cigarettes. Many of the men in my squadron do smoke though and cigarettes on the base seem to be plentiful enough. In letters I have received from back home in America, there is also rationing but nothing so severe as you’ve described to me here in France."
We talked for several hours about the War. He told me I would find many Frenchmen who would be anxious to help me but there would be others who are collaborating with the Germans. It was his feeling that the ones who were collaborating were merely trying to exist in a very hostile environment. He said they were very bitter towards the Germans, first for invading their country and second for causing so much hardship with regard to obtaining food, gasoline, and other things necessary for normal living.
He wanted to know about the American Air Force. He felt certain that it would be air power that would drive the Germans out of his country forever. I told him about the massive build up since early in the year, with more and more planes coming from the United States every day.
"I think you are right Jean-Louis. There has been such a change just in the last 6 months with the number of bombers and fighters that leave on missions deep into Germany. The new P51 fighters can cover the bombers the entire way now and as a result, we are not losing as many planes as we did early on in the war. The Allies have taken Sicily and have also landed in Italy. I think by summer of 1944, the US 8th Air Force along with the RAF will have achieved air superiority throughout Europe and we will see the liberation of France."
"I sure hope you are right. I live for the day France will once again belong to the French. For now though, we have to get busy and create some French identification documents for you. Tell me about yourself, your age, height, weight, eyes, and hair. I have to match you with someone similar in France"
"I am 19 years old, 6 foot two, 160 pounds, blue eyes, black hair."
"You appear to be much older but nevertheless, I will have to make you some conscription deferment papers as well as some job papers. "
With just that small bit of information, he motioned me to follow him. We climbed up a ladder to a loft that was above the main room. This loft appeared to be where he slept. It had a slanted ceiling but I soon found out that this ceiling opened up into a smaller room concealed behind it. It was in here that he had all of his papers, books, documents and the like. He began searching through his vast collection of information to see if he could match me up with some other person in France. As he was searching, I noticed that he had photographic equipment here as well and the means to develop pictures. Developing pictures had been a hobby of my father's so I was a bit familiar with the darkroom process.
"Aha, here we are. I have found someone just like you. Your new name is going to be Gerald Baudet, 400 Rue Gambon - 18101 Vierzon, France "
Once he had found a likeness, he had me pose for a photograph. A few clicks of the shutter and he was ready to develop the film. It was amazing to watch him work so quickly and with so little effort. He had another little cubby hole set up for a dark room. It was only big enough for one person. He was not in there very long before he came out with a nice looking picture of me. He then sat down at a small desk where he had a fairly large collection of blank ID's and other official looking documents that had some sort of official stamp pressed into the paper.
"The process now is to place the name Gerald Baudet, 400 Rue Gambon - 18101 Vierzon, France and add your age, height, weight, eyes, and hair onto this new identification".
For this, he used a small hand set printer to set up exactly the same kind of letters and numbers to match those already on the blank ID papers. He was very meticulous with this part of the process and he made quite a few test prints on blank paper before he was satisfied with the results. With the name finished, he then added my photograph and my main ID was finished. Next came the job papers and the conscription deferment. When he was all done, everything looked very official looking to me and I was now Gerald Baudet. The whole thing took less than two hours.
"Did I tell you that before the war I wanted to be a printer? I worked for 3 years at the local newspaper in Abbeville. It was totally demolished during the bombing."
Once we were done, he closed the ceiling back up and even on close inspection, I was unable to detect that anything was on the other side of it. This small secret room must have been enclosed in a gable on the roof towards the back of the house that was not noticeable to anyone approaching the house from the front. We went back down the ladder and both of us sat down at the kitchen table again.
"We are both much safer now that you have papers to show who you are. From this point on, I will call you Gerald so that you will begin to get used to the sound of it. What we will do next is layout a plan to get you from Abbeville to Vierzon. Vierzon is about 398km from here. You will go by train the entire way. You will have to change trains in Paris and later tonight we can go over the layout of the train station so that you know where you are going. It is important for you to always look like you know what you are doing and where you are going and not confused wondering what to do next. In Vierzon, you will meet up with a woman named Hélène Renaud. She runs a small shop not far from the train station. You will be north of the Loire River when you arrive in Vierzon and this is a very sensitive area for you to get by the German check points."
"What if someone speaks to me?"
"We have thought of that. Before you leave here, we will wrap a bandage around your neck that will give the appearance of a person who has had recent throat surgery. It will have a breathing tube protruding and some blood so all you will have to do is inhale through your throat and make sounds as though you are trying to speak. If they are German soldiers, you can pull your shirt open so they can see your problem."
"Where does the money come from to do this Mr. Ménard?"
"Please, just call me Jean. I have no idea about the money. I have heard rumors that much of it comes from England but my job is to forge papers and I leave the money up to others. Every so often, my contact in Abbeville meets me and provides money. It's best not to know these things but I feel certain that there are also many wealthy people in France who hate the Germans for invading our country. There is not sufficient money to buy your train ticket to Vierzon right now and that is all I know."