Friday, September 18, 2015

Jeanne Guyot (1919-2016)

Jeannette Guyot, who has died aged 97, resisted the occupation of France by Germany throughout the Second World War and became one of France’s most highly decorated agents.

Jeannette Guyot was born on February 26 1919 in Chalon-sur-Saône, where, after the fall of France in June 1940, she and all her family were quick to join the Resistance. Until August 1941 she worked for Félix Svagrowsky of the Amarante network as a passeur, using a German-issued pass, or Ausweiss, to smuggle people out of the occupied zone to the north and across the Saône river by boat into Vichy France.

In August 1941 she met Gilbert Renault, alias Colonel Rémy, chief of the Paris-based Confrérie Notre-Dame réseau (network), and she became one of his liaison officers, carrying mail into Vichy France, while continuing as a passeur. In February 1942, however, she was arrested and imprisoned for three months at Chalon-sur-Saône and Autun. She resisted all interrogation and nothing could be proved against her, but the Germans withdrew her Ausweiss. Unperturbed, she resumed her role as a passeur, accompanying a dozen people a month across the demarcation line.When, in June 1942,

Colonel Rémy’s network was betrayed by Pierre Cartaud and many members rounded up, she fled to Lyon. There she met Jacques Robert, who had been trained in special operations in England to work for de Gaulle’s Free French and had parachuted into France to establish the “Phratrie’’ réseau.Phratrie, which was rated by Colonel André Dewavrin, chief of de Gaulle’s central bureau for intelligence and action, as the “most extraordinary’’ of all the Free French networks, had several subgroups whose activities encompassed intelligence-gathering, sabotage and helping downed Allied airmen and French civilians to escape from France. When the Germans occupied Vichy France, the Gestapo began to close in on Jeannette Guyot. As a result a rescue operation was launched on the night of May 13 1943, when she and Robert were picked up by a Lysander of the RAF’s 161 Squadron.Jeannette Guyot.

The very next morning in London, Jeannette Guyot met Colonel Rémy (who had escaped by boat across the Channel) and formally enlisted in the Free French forces under the alias Jeannette Gauthier. Rémy gave her a desk job, but she badgered him to send her back to France. At last he agreed and she was sent to Praewood House, St Albans, for training in the techniques of military intelligence by SIS and American OSS instructors. This was in preparation for Plan Sussex, under which, during and after the Allied landings in Normandy, teams of observers would be parachuted into France to provide intelligence on German order-of-battle and troop movements. In January 1944 Jeannette Guyot was awarded her parachute wings after a short course at Ringway, Birmingham. After several false starts due to bad weather, on February 8, 1944 she landed near Loches, south-east of Tours, in Operation Calanque, with three other French officers. Their task was to find dropping zones and safe houses for more than 50 follow-up Sussex teams. As the pathfinder team, they faced great dangers as the Gestapo were now very active and the German radio detection service had become highly effective. None the less over the next seven months they organized a score of dropping zones and nearly a hundred safe houses for Sussex agents.In Paris Jeannette Guyot enlisted a cousin to hide her team’s radio operator at the Café de l’Electricité at 8 rue Tournefort in Montmartre, where they were made welcome.

As Mme Andrée Goubillon, the owner, later told the BBC, “I knew which kind of work she had come to make, and when she asked me... if I were ready to help her, I answered yes without the least hesitation. Although the café was located beside an office of the Gestapo, I knew what I wanted to do, I was not afraid.” After the war the café was renamed Café des Sussex.From her base in Paris Jeannette Guyot traveled throughout northern France, frequently carrying luggage which, had she been stopped and searched, would have led to her being tortured and executed. The information sent back to England from Sussex agents was of the utmost importance and the results obtained exceeded the most optimistic forecasts. But 10 agents lost their lives.

After the liberation of Paris, she was given clerical duties in the French intelligence service, and while there she learned that her father, Jean-Marie, a timber merchant, had been deported to Germany in early 1944 and had perished at Cham in Bavaria. Her  seamstress mother, Jeanne, had also been arrested and deported to Ravensbrück, the camp north of Berlin where tens of thousands of women were murdered. Jeanne survived and was lucky to be among 300 Frenchwomen whose freedom a cynical Gestapo sold to the Swiss Red Cross in early April 1945. 

In June 1945 Jeannette Guyot retired to Sevrey, across the river from Chalon-sur-Saône, where she married Marcel Gaucher, another Sussex agent. Jeannette Guyot was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur and she was awarded the Croix de guerre avec palmes. She was also one of only two women awarded the American Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest American decoration after the Medal of Congress, during the Second World War. When she won the British George Medal, her citation stated that she had shown the highest qualities of initiative, daring and endurance and that she was unquestionably the heroine of special operations on the Western Front. She had undertaken the most risky assignments, and her work and conduct had been beyond all praise.

After the war she preferred not to live on past glories, but led a quiet life, eschewing publicity. A few years ago she gave her medals and few papers to a grand-daughter.She is survived by two daughters and a son.Jeannette Guyot, born February 26 1919, died April 10 2016.

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New York Times / 5 May 2016  Jeannette Guyot was already a "resister"; of proven courage and experience when she was recruited for an espionage operation called "Operation Sussex" in northern France in 1944. She would go on to become one of the most decorated women of the Second World War.

Devised by General Dwight Eisenhower's staff, Operation Sussex began before the Allied invasion of Normandy and continued until well after the bridgehead had been established. The purpose was to acquire both strategic and tactical intelligence of German troop dispositions north of the Loire, in particular those of German Panzer divisions and depots of essential enemy supplies, in order to stop reinforcements reaching northern France.

The operation was masterminded by the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the French Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action. Unlike the "Jedburgh"; operations run by the British Special Operations Executive, under which three-man teams were parachuted into France in uniform to arm and organise the French Resistance, the Sussex teams each comprised just two officers, one a radio operator. All were French and they wore civilian clothes. If captured, they would be tortured and shot as spies.

Moved from a desk job in General Charles de Gaulle's London headquarters, Guyot was sent to Prae Wood House, St Albans, for training in intelligence gathering, in particular, recognition of German military formations and indications of their movements. After parachute training at Birmingham's Ringwood airfield, she was ready to fly. Commissioned as a lieutenant, Guyot and Captain Georges Lassale formed one of two "pathfinder"; teams selected to parachute ahead of the remaining 52 to find dropping zones, establish safe houses and prepare for their reception and deployment. Their "insertion"; into France was not straightforward.

After a thorough check to ensure they had nothing about them relating to England, they were driven to Tempsford airfield, where a Halifax aircraft captained by Wing Commander Bob Hodges of 161 Squadron RAF was waiting. Hodges noticed that Guyot, who was petite, had kept her civilian shoes on inside her flying boots. He told her to take the whole outfit off and put it on again without the shoes. To keep them on when landing would mean an almost certain broken ankle.

The night's mission was to drop 12 agents and 19 containers of weapons for the Resistance. Although the other drops were successful, Hodges could get no response from the dropping zone for Lassale and Guyot. After 40 minutes, they returned to Tempsford. Their next attempt was made on the night of February 8. At about 11.45 pm, Lassale, Guyot and two other agents were dropped some 70 kilometres northwest of Châteauroux. Landing safely, they were met by a reception committee, but the two containers with back-up radio equipment, codes and lists of the secret BBC messages and passwords were not dropped. Luckily, the third container landed safely, but Pathfinder "Operation Calanque" - as their mission was code named - set off with only one radio and ten flashlights.

On arriving in Paris, Guyot visited her cousin, Madame Kiehl, who ran the Café de L'électricité in Montmartre, where she made contact with the Resistance before setting up her base for operations with Mme Andrée Goubillon, who owned the café. In an interview after the war, Madame Goubillon said: "I knew the work she had come to do and when she asked if I was ready to help her, I said 'Yes' without hesitation, even though the café was next to an office of the Gestapo.' The Sussex agents used to rendezvous there using the password, "How's my aunt, how's my uncle?" Over the next seven months, with the help of the second Pathfinder team, Lassale and Guyot found 22 drop zones between Alsace and Brittany, organized 17 drops of follow-up agents and established 100 safe houses. The intelligence gathered on German troop movements, including that of the formidable 2nd Das Reich SS Panzer Division from the south of France, proved invaluable.

In recognition of her contribution to the liberation, the French government appointed Guyot a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur and awarded her the Croix de Guerre with Palm and the Medal of the Resistance. From the United States, she received the Distinguished Service Cross and from Britain the George Medal. Her citation for the British award stated that she had shown the highest qualities of initiative, daring and endurance. She had undertaken the most risky assignments, and her work and conduct had been beyond all praise.

After a dangerous war, Guyot, an elegant woman, settled down to a quiet life. She married Marcel Gaucher, whom she had met while he led one of the teams that followed her into France. She then crossed the river from where she was born in Chalon-sur-Saône to join her grandparents in the village of Sevrey, where she and her family lived for the rest of her life. Her husband predeceased her. She is survived by their son, Jean-Claude Gaucher, a former academic and businessman, and two married daughters, Michèle and Nicole. In the days after her death, it was reported that her family knew little of her exploits. She gave her decorations and medals to a granddaughter.

* * * *

Before the German occupation of the whole of France in November 1942, she had worked as a courier for the leader of the "Amarante"; network smuggling people across the River Saône from the German-occupied north to the Vichy controlled south of France. While strenuous efforts were made to keep the escape networks and the Resistance groups - or "réseaux" - separate in the interests of security, some links inevitably occurred. In August 1941, Guyot met Gilbert Renault, chief of the Paris-based "Confrérie Notre-Dame" réseau and became one of his liaison officers, working for the escape network. In February 1942, she was arrested and imprisoned for three months at Chalon-sur-Saône, but she resisted interrogation. Nothing could be proved against her. She was released and immediately resumed escape work. Renault's group was betrayed in June 1942 and many of its members arrested. Recognizing how vulnerable she had become, she moved to Lyon and there met Jacques Robert, an agent of de Gaulle's Free French intelligence operations. This gave her security of a kind, but when Germany occupied the whole of France in November 1942, she was flown to England where her third and most important wartime role began.

After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, she heard that her father, Jean-Marie, a timber merchant who had worked for the Resistance, had been deported to Germany and died in Bavaria. Her mother, Jeanne, was arrested and deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp, but survived. An only child, Guyot was devoted to her parents. She had their address on her when she was arrested in 1942, but was never sure whether it led to their arrest. She described this during her debriefing by British intelligence: one senses that it was the only time her voice faltered. For many years after the war, surviving agents from Operation Sussex used to meet for a reunion dinner at Madame Goubillon's café, which they renamed "Café du Network Sussex". When Mme Goubillon died in the 1980s, the place became a piano bar, but a plaque explaining its wartime role was fixed to the wall.

Jeannette Gaucher, née Guyot, French résister and OSS agent, was born on February 26, 1919. She died on April 10, 2016, aged 97 She was imprisoned for three months, but resisted interrogation.

Photo found HERE.

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