|False Papers for Albert Mattens as 'Jean Jacques'|
|The French village of Bachy|
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
. 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. England
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
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! Spain
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
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 Lille ) Emilien Vifquin mentions him in connection
with Elwell and Carlson. Paris
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
. I will be back
in a fortnight. Brussels
Sources – NARA file for Maurice Bricout
© Keith Morley