Friday, 12 October 2012

Maurice Bricout - 'The Border Policeman' Part Three





False Papers for Albert Mattens as 'Jean Jacques'

The French village of Bachy

Yvon Michiels



After the liberation of Belgium, Holland and France, the Allies began to look at making awards to patriots who had helped evaders, in the form of citations, medals and reimbursement of expenses. 

On 13 March 1945 the French Forces of the Interior (Resistance Section W. O. O.F.A.C.M) issued a certification letter that Maurice Bricout had worked for their organisation from October 1943 and had ceased active service since 30 November 1944.  Preceding working for them they said he had been involved with another resistance group and French partisans.  It commended him for his work. In a further report from the O.F.A.C.M, Bricout states that in 1940 he helped several Allied soldiers hide before rejoining their unit and also a Polish officer. He adds that in April 1943 he liaised with resistance groups and worked with Eugene Dallendre to create an escape passage for pilots who had been shot down in occupied territory and used his home as a place of shelter for them on their way back to England. He also helped in the creation of two other escape routes and the evasion of more than 300 airmen with proof of this. There are also some references to actual sabotage operations he alleged he took part in.

The ‘Military Intelligence Service, United States Forces European Theatre’ were responsible for making the awards and reimbursement of expenses. In the case of escape lines, this would involve collecting written evidence in the form of testimonies and statements from escape and resistance operators and direct references to the person in evaders’ debriefing reports.

This was not a straightforward process.  Few operators kept written evidence for obvious reasons, but those that did were able to provide vital information. In the Comete Escape Line some evaders wrote ‘thank you’ notes before they left to cross into Spain. In the case of one Belgian resistance operator, evaders wrote letters of appreciation complete with their name and address in his a pocket book which he then carried around with him!  

In the escape lines, helpers often did not disclose their real names, giving an alias, codename or nothing at all. For the evader it was often easier to forget or not ask. If they were captured and interrogated, the less they knew the better.

Maurice Bricout wrote a number of long letters to the authorities around his work with evaders and the resistance. He also referred to the unsuccessful claim for some material assistance to reset up his home after it was sacked by the Gestapo. The numbers of evaders allegedly helped vary on the documents he completed.  He mentions 80 American pilots being helped in the line, then 65 aviators being sheltered; the statement to O.F.A.C.M says 300 with proof. On his initial questionnaire for helpers, only two evaders names are noted: Charles Elwell and Charles Carlson.

The file tells the story of how difficult the process for award and reimbursement could be.  On 4 September 1945 Major John White Awards Section summarises on a document.

‘Elwell and Carson say that M. Bricout helped them. They are not specific about what he did for them. 

According to the report of Yvon Michiels this gentleman with his brother Albert helped Comete in the frontier passage at Rumes. M. Soetemondt’  (fellow operator Lille section –also customs) ‘ states in his detailed report on the Comete crossings that he started working with Albert Bricout and later did considerable work with Maurice Bricout . He says that Maurice Bricout has done the greater part of work. M. Bricout is mentioned by Odile de Vasselot.’  (guide – Rumes to Paris)  Emilien Vifquin mentions him in connection with Elwell and Carlson.

There seems to be no indication of whether M Bricout was or was not paid for his activities. Apparently his losses are due entirely to pillage for which we have no responsibility.’

On 9 November 1945 Bricout visited the authorities in person about a Lt Sarant’s refusal to reimburse him for expenses he and his wife incurred in their work with the aviators.  He reported that he had been promised the money and burst into a tirade against the ingratitude of the Allies, swearing that he did not care about the money, but was upset that he had had no recognition for the great services rendered to the Allied cause. He stated that he was the most active member of the Comete line besides working for two other networks. He advised that the authorities had paid several other people he knew who were not deportees and who had not done as much work as he had. He himself had barely escaped arrest and his wife had taken his place. Bricout said he would put an article in the papers about the ingratitude of the Allies to the French sacrifice.

The Allies must have investigated the matter further as in July 1946 documents show that an attestation had been received ‘in glowing terms’ from main operator Albert Mattens (‘Jean-Jacques’) ( Bricout Post 1)  and that they have ‘complete confirmation of all work that the above has done.’

Bricout’s ‘Work Sheet’ for his ‘Expenses and Deportation Case’ shows in addition to claims already made references to three other evaders’ reports; they mention a French policeman, or staying at the home of a policeman for one night. The sheet also mentions Bricout’s  work on the creation of a second evasion Line. No British and Commonwealth evasion reports are noted or appear to have been considered, despite a number of clear references being  made in them to a French or border policeman. There is also a summary of how  he helped to create a new passage line through which it was alleged more than 300 aviators were convoyed.

Along with his wife, Bricout was eventually awarded The US Medal of Freedom with Bronze Palm. On the final document, the note includes a reference to Mme Elvire de Greef ‘Tante Go’ (one of the main Comete operators).

‘In view of the above we propose that a payment of 10,000 francs be made to Mme Bricout for imprisonment and expenses. Final settlement. On Mme de Greef’s advice this payment should be made definitely to Mme Bricout for her imprisonment, as M. Bricout , as a member of the Comet Line has made a statement that he does not wish to be paid for expenses.’   

The Allies were treading a difficult path with awards and expenses. Working with claims, allegations, corroboration, difficulties around facts and the political sensitivity of the time; reaching appropriate decisions was a potential minefield. Maurice Bricout’s claims around the number of evaders that he helped and the strength of his involvement in other lines alongside the Bachy to Rumes route contain a number of inconsistencies. This may have been what was behind Lt Sarant’s initial refusal to pay expenses. Weighty testimonies around Bricout’s activities from some key players helped shift the balance back towards him. But there is a suggestion of ill feeling amongst some Comete operators who saw these claims as showing off and forgetting fellow friends, who had worked for the same cause, took the same risks and then withdrew into the background preferring not to publicise their roles. 

In the author’s view, Maurice Bricout operated successfully from July to December 1943 on the Rumes to Bachy escape passage, taking similar risks as others in escorting evaders over the fields and sheltering them at his home overnight. After the arrest of ‘Jean Jacques’ in January 1944 he continued to help several other airmen. Bricout is also likely to have had an input on other lines along that stretch of the border whilst working with ‘Jean Jacques’ and Henri Soutemondt in the planning stages, his knowledge of the border being useful. The level of involvement in those lines after that would be best described as minimal.  The number of evaders he actually helped is thought to be considerably less than the 300 alleged and more in line with the 65 noted on the later document. The former figure is far too high even if it was directly attributable to the lines.

Some sympathy lies with Bricout as he had almost lost his home, narrowly avoided the Gestapo and seen his wife imprisoned and return from there in very poor health. This must have been difficult when he knew of others that had received recognition and compensation, and when across the liberated countries, people were suddenly emerging to allege helping the cause, when they had done little or nothing. 

Unfortunately he went about lodging his claim in the wrong way, but at conclusion the final award to Bricout and his wife may have reflected at an appropriate level the valuable work that they both did.  

No post next week as it is the Annual Comete Reunion in Brussels. I will be back in a fortnight.

Sources – NARA file for Maurice Bricout




© Keith Morley

2 comments:

  1. It is heart warming to see that people were actually awarded for the help they offered to evaders during the war. I can not imagine the lives of the people you write about Keith...their world is so removed from our own.

    There are so many stories yet to be told I believe. Enjoy your break.

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  2. How fortunate that Maurice Bricout was finally able secure reconpense for his and his wife’s help in this latest fascinating post by Keith.However things were certainly different for those who had collaborated with the enemy during these times. Immediately following their liberation, France was swept by a wave of executions, public humiliations, assaults and detentions of suspected collaborators, known as the √©puration sauvage (wild purge). This period succeeded the German occupational administration but preceded the authority of the French Provisional Government, and therefore lacked a form of institutional justice. Approximately 9,000 were executed, mostly without trial.Head shaving was a common feature of the purges, and between 10,000 and 30,000 women accused of having collaborated with the Germans were subjected to the practice, becoming known as les tondues (the shorn.) The phase of the purge ended with a series of amnesty laws passed between 1951 and 1953 which reduced the number of imprisoned collaborators from 40,000 to 62 as it became apparent that some equilibrium was needed and not mass hysteria. Compensation for War veterans goes back to even Roman times when Soldiers could obtain rewards at the end of their service of either cash or land. Victims of violations of international human rights or humanitarian law nowadays have the rights to prompt, sufficient, and effective reparation. Victims can be individuals or a collective group of individuals who suffered similar violations. Such victims, as defined by the UN Basic Principles are: “Persons who individually or collectively suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss, or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that constitute gross violations of international human rights law, or serious violations of international humanitarian law… the immediate family or dependents of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization.” Bricout had to be quite persistent to gain his ‘reparation’ but we must also remember the work of the ‘unsung’ allies…
    ‘The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.’
    Thomas Carlyle.

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