Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Andree Peel

Yesterday, I said that I found myself drawn to WWII books these days, and later on I think I discovered why: it's the obits! Especially the British ones which seem to feature amazing WWII veterans and survivors every day. I feel immersed in these stories from that period because many of the actors from that time are now dying.

Yesterday, I read the story of Andree Peel who ran a beauty salon in Breton when the Germans invaded. She didn't stay in her shop quietly.

Her first act of defiance took place as German troops entered the town, when she gave shelter to a group of fleeing French soldiers and begged her neighbours for civilian clothes for them so they would not be captured.

And, oh, by far was that not her last defiant act. She joined the Resistance and

Within weeks she was made head of an under-section of the organisation, responsible for sending information to the Allies...By establishing contacts in the dockyard, Andrée was able to pass on information about naval installations, as well as about troop movements and the results of Allied aerial attacks. [snip]

During her three years with the Resistance – during which she was known first as Agent X and then as Agent Rose – Andrée helped save the lives of more than 100 Allied pilots. Her team used torches [flashlights] to guide Allied planes to improvised landing strips and smuggled fugitive airmen aboard submarines and gunboats on remote parts of the coast, often feeling their way in the dark past German coastal shelters.

Fleeing to Paris after D-Day,

She was arrested and taken to Gestapo headquarters where she was stripped naked, interrogated and subjected to a series of tortures, including simulated drowning and being savagely beaten around the throat.

Was that a bit of a smackdown of so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques?

The stories of her narrow escapes--plural--from execution are incredible.

As a firing squad drew near, she wrote later, the terrified prisoners heard a telephone ringing in the camp commandant's office. It was a message from the Americans to the effect that the firing squad had been seen entering the camp and that if they wanted to live, they would spare the lives of the prisoners. The soldiers fled.

After the war, she opened a restaurant in Paris. Again I am struck by the incredible stories of derring-do that exist in ordinary places. I'm just sorry to be missing so many of them.

Andree's advice for a good life? "The secret to a happy life, she observed, was a good companion – and eating the main meal of the day at lunchtime." She died at the age of 105.

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