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IN RESEARCHING THE Westland “Lizzie” Lysander, I learned about Barbara Bertram. During World War II, she and her husband Major Anthony Bertram lived in Bignor, a tiny Sussex village not far from RAF Tangmere, 50 miles south-southwest of London.
Bignor villagers thought the Bertram’s rented farmhouse was being used for convalescent stays of French soldiers. Actually, it was a “secret house” for French Resistance agents being transported in clandestine flights operated by MI-6, British Intelligence.
Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits gleaned from Barbara Bertram’s wartime memoirs recorded in French Resistance in Sussex.
Barbara writes, “I can still visualize many of our ‘Hullabaloos,’ as our small boys affectionately called the French because they ‘chattered so much in an unintelligible language.’ I can still feel the excitement, anxiety and love of those years.”
Getting Called Up by MI-6. In 1940, Barbara’s husband, age 43, was serving in the British Officers’ Emergency Reserve. Then, Barbara recounts that someone in the War Office learned “There’s an old chap here who speaks French fluently and who is bored at being stuck at the Depot. Can you use him?”
Missions by Moonlight. Tony was made a Conducting Officer, “whose job it was to escort the French while they were in England.”
Lysander flights between RAF Tangmere and occupied France took place only by moonlight. Resistance operatives arriving from France would rest up with the Bertrams before being driven to London for debriefing. Those returning to France would have Bertram hospitality until conditions were right for their Lysander trips.
Telephone calls from Tangmere weather experts might be “C’est off; it’s going to fog.” An operative could be in residence until the moon’s phase complicated the mission.
Barbara notes that, in time, the Bertrams were to host “a priest and a seminarian, doctors, nurses, artists, writers and journalists, school masters and mistresses, dressmakers, a perfume manufacturer and a Champagne grower, housewives, peasants, diplomats, Members of Parliament, lawyers, policemen, motor mechanics and garage owners, soldiers, sailors and airmen, a duke, a princess, and a brothel keeper.”
Tomorrow, in Part 2, we see how the Bertrams carried this off, with the help of Caroline-the-goat, intervening ducks, and a pilot’s fractured French. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019