This article relates to the main World War 2 escape post.
The following translation is of a story that appeared in the 31st August 1963 edition of “France Soir”. It is not clear who wrote the original article, nor who translated it. The heading of this page is a direct translation of the original headline that appeared in the newspaper.
Knowing they were persecuted by the people of their village, Brian Bilton rushed to help them.
At Saint-Aubin-en-Plumelec, the three sisters Malard have received, thanks to “France Soir”, an unexpected visit – from one of the British Flyers they saved during the war.
Lucie, Marie & Yvonne Malard are the three courageous residents who, after having risked their life at every moment during the occupation, received as a recompense at the Liberation the united hostility of the people of their village. Today, these three women, ruined & evicted, run the risk of finding themselves without a roof within the next few days. They are waiting for justice to make a definite decision in their case.
Saint-Aubin (Morbihan), August 30th
He said “Mademoiselle” with a smile trembling on his lips. For a second, the little lady with the grey hair hesitated. For a second she scrutinised the face of the man who had just shyly knocked on the door of her shop, his arms full of packages, then large tears rolled down her cheeks.
You have come back, you have not forgotten!
Twenty years later, thanks to “France Soir”, an English flyer, Brian Bilton, has found again the women who saved his life in 1943 at Saint-Antoine-en-Plumelec (Morbihan), the three Misses Malard. That they all hesitated for a moment to recognise their memories is understandable. Twenty years ago, the Malard sisters had very black hair. Today, Lucie’s 55 years old and Marie’s 53, has turned grey and the youngest one Yvonne, 52 still has black hair but cut very short, like a boy, which gives her angular face a softer expression. As for Brian, who is now 41, he has put on some weight & wears glasses.
The Most Daring
It was only three days ago, explains Brian, that I heard of your distress. It was the General Secretary of the RAF Escaping Society in London who warned me. She had just received a cutting from the newspaper “France Soir” which told your distressing story.
This story, our readers have not forgotten. Shopkeepers at St Aubin, the three Malard sisters were during the last war amongst the most active & daring resistance in the Morbihan. Risking their life every minute, they sheltered Allied flyers who had crashed in the district, also the young men who refused to go to force labour (S.T.O.) and the men from the maquis of St Marcel, hidden a few kilometres from there. They also hid in their attic a radio transmitter, which was in contact with London and received parachuted arms in their field.
In the end, they themselves had to go into hiding; they returned to their village to find their house ransacked and the inhabitants united against them. This inexplicable hate has brought them, little by little, to bankruptcy.
Now, ruined and in debt, they are trying to delay being evicted.
It was last May that our paper related this lamentable case. Three months later, this particular edition reached the RAF Escaping Society.
Brian, The Only One Rescued
Immediately, Brian was told; in 1943, he had passed two & a half months hidden in the house in St Aubin where he had arrived during a tragic night. His plane had just been shot down. Three of his friends had been killed, two others taken prisoners on landing. He had managed to evade the search but he was wandering in this unknown part of Brittany, hunted, with nothing to eat and not knowing where to change his uniform for civilian clothes. To complicate the situation he was limping, having sprained his ankle on landing. By luck, he had knocked on the door of the Malard sisters. It was a lucky break that saved him. All these memories come back to him. Immediately his decision is made. He must go to the help of those who helped him in the most perilous hour of his life. He packs his suitcase and leaves his farm in the neighbourhood of Southampton. And here he is, overcome with emotion as they were long ago by the same courage.
“Come in Brian! The room has not changed, it is here alright that you spent your days” Lucie told him. You always wanted to go away, Yvonne reminds him. I had to supervise you all the time so that you would not leave the house.”
Witness From A Heroic Past
With this witness of a past still so recent but which at the same time seems to belong to another world, happiness has come back to the shop where no customer has come for the past five years. Lucie, the eldest is the interpreter to exchange memories. Brian taught her English during the war. She is the quietest sister, the least stubborn; alone, she would have left the village long ago, as soon as the people started to boycott them.
“And, after all, we have not done anything wrong”
“But why this collective hostility?” asked Brian surprised.
“Why?” Said Marie shrugging, “We have not done anything wrong, but they hold against us our underground activity which the village found out only after the war. Perhaps we have done more than others and that is our only crime.”
Arms in arms, the sisters and Brian walk along the village paths that the man had only seen at night. Behind the shutters, eyes followed them. Only the priest greeted them with a little inclination of the head.
After Heroism, Chicanery
But the women smile. In their distress, they have once more found a friend. A new courage comes to them. Perhaps thanks to all those people who wrote in their favour, the Duc of Rohan who has worked with them in the Underground and has not forgotten them, perhaps they will be able to get out of this bad patch. But the heroic adventure has sunk into a sordid affair of justice. After risking their lives amongst the large clandestine army, the three women are reduced to assembling documents, to briefing solicitors.
“Nothing has been done according to the rules” affirms Yvonne. “We are appealing against the judgement of bankruptcy of Vannes and against the decision of the appeal court of Rennes. The sale of our property (of what we own) has been tricked.
As Twenty Years Ago
“It has been sold for 70.000 francs when the estimate of an expert was 190.000 francs. Once our land was sold, we still owed 100.000 francs to our creditors.
Where will they go in a few days? Perhaps to their brother Lucien who was tortured by the Germans and who has never completely recovered. Or to their other brother Gabriel. The third brother, Henri was killed in the maquis. All that they explained to Brian with trust. They are sure that they will be helped. And when the former flyer left them last night, promising to come back, they smiled through their tears as they smiled twenty years ago when he left towards freedom.