Chapter 5

One night we had a visit from a member of our resistance cell and he was quite upset. The Germans had penetrated our unit by surrounding a whole block and questioning everyone. It seems that in this sweep, they picked up an airman who was hiding with another family. They tortured one of the French underground people and although he died, he talked first. Each cell had only one person who knew another person from another cell. Each cell had some special work to do. Ours was the printing of identity cards to aid people who were without them. This could be Jews, escaped prisoners, evades like myself, or Frenchmen who needed to change their identity because of trouble with the Germans. Every day for the next week we watched to be sure that we were not going to be taken by the Gestapo. An escape route was planned by going out an upper window, across the rooftops and down to street level and to another house. We practiced until we knew it by heart. They hated to lose the school because the shop for teaching trades provided them with the equipment they needed for printing as well as the lathes for making the fake seals to validate the identity cards. It was at this time that they decided to outfit me with a set of papers. I carried six photographs of myself in the escape kit and used one, full face, for my papers. I would be known as Jean Pierre Martin. I would be a lathe operator, and my health card would show I was ill and unable to do hard labor. In the meantime, Marcel would have to locate another cell because we were completely cut off from our former organization. They did not know what to do with me or what to do with our cell. At this point I wondered if I was ever going to get out of France and back to my unit in England. Marcel decided he must take a chance and try and feel out a contact. Dangerous work this was to be, but he would do it. He was a man of great courage.

One night at dinner, Marcel and Paulette got into a lengthy discussion, which turned out to be about me. They got to thinking it must be about time for me to need a woman and told me they would look into the matter. I told them not to concern themselves with the problem and that they had enough to think about with everything else. But, being true Frenchman and Frenchwoman, they went to work and found a solution. A few days later, Marcel told me to be prepared to leave with him in the morning. The next morning I was ready as instructed and wondered if I was to be moved to safer quarters due to our problem. We walked about a mile to an apartment house and several flights up. He knocked on the door, it opened and there stood a rather stout woman, no--a very stout woman. Marcel introduced me, pushed me in, saying he would return for me that evening after work. The woman said her name was Louise, her husband had been taken to Germany for forced labor and she was ready to provide for my needs. Now picture this situation. I am 22 years old, weigh a massive 130 lbs. and Louise was about 40 years old and went about 230 lbs. As if I'm not in enough trouble already! She chased me from one room to the other in her desire to be accommodating until, out of breath, she finally gasped--"Well, what do you want to do?" and in my best French I proudly stated, "faire le café." This really fractured her and she and I both laughed as she set about actually making coffee. Louise was a great gal and to the extent of our ability to converse we spent the day listening to each other's story. I often wonder if her husband lived to come back to her. I also often wished I had asked her how big a guy he was.

Marcel returned that afternoon about 4 p.m. after work and, believe me, Louise had a tale to tell him. He just looked at me like I was crazy and that night at dinner he told Paulette and she was dismayed. Both looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders and said "ma femme," or in English, "my wife." Neither one of them understood this so they just shrugged their shoulders and let it go.

On another occasion, Marcel decided I had been inside too long and needed a little outing, so off we went. He seemed relaxed, but I was really nervous. We went to a small bar to have a drink and Marcel ordered for both of us so that I would not be giving myself away the minute I opened my mouth. We stood at the small bar with the drinks and watched the natives. No one spoke to Marcel so I gathered that he was not a regular customer. Everything was going fine until a German soldier came in and stood right next to me, ordered a drink in beautiful French, then turned to me and asked for a light for his cigarette. He had a big smile on his face and waited for me to give him a light. Now, I had a lighter with me, it was my own and very British and he would have seen instantly that it was different from any he would be used to seeing. I smiled back at him, said nothing, looked at Marcel as though I was going to die. Marcel had a grin a mile wide, leaned past me and lit his cigarette. The soldier thanked him, gave me another big grin and lost himself in his own thoughts and drink. We finished our drink and left as though nothing was wrong. I was wringing wet with sweat and had a genuine case of the shakes. Marcel turned to me after we were outside and said, "le Bosch est stupide" (the Germans are stupid) but at the moment I was not sure just who was the most stupid. I needed to be anywhere but there. Marcel was so pleased with himself that we next went to a restaurant where we met a group of his friends and he had a great time telling them about our adventure. Everyone had a great laugh and insisted on buying us a cognac to celebrate the occasion. I took mine, sipped it, and my hair stood up, it was so strong. I noticed the women were dipping a sugar cube into theirs and sucking the cognac from that, so I tried it and it worked fine although I took a little kidding from the men.

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