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BARBARA AND TONY Bertram ran a British Intelligence “secret house” for French Resistance operatives during World War II. Her memoirs, French Resistance in Sussex, recount “the excitement, anxiety and love of all those years.” Today in Part 2, we continue with tidbits from Barbara’s wartime stories.
The Bertrams’s Base of Operations. Barbara says, “The War Office rented the house for £5 a week, paid for all our food in the moon periods and gave me a wage of £2 a week.”
“There was my husband, myself and our two small boys: Tim aged seven in 1941 and Nicky aged five. There was also Duff-the-dog, Peter-the-cat, Caroline-the-goat, two rabbits, about twelve hens and two hives of bees.”
Low-Flying Lizzies. Barbara recalls that Caroline-the-goat “became a well-known character. Often the pilots would come over in their Lysanders if an op. was cancelled and swoop down much too low over Bignor, even once or twice flying under the telephone wires. This always alarmed Caroline—but not so much as it did me—so when she was expecting a kid, an order was put up in the Flight’s headquarters at Tangmere forbidding any low-flying over Bignor until Caroline had safely delivered.”
Caroline achieved greater fame later when an operation was named after her. “The B.B.C. broadcast Les Messages Personnels every night, a program used by the Office to send coded messages to Resistance workers giving information about our ops.”
Barbara reports on a series of messages: “Caroline has a new hat.” “Caroline is well.” “Caroline went for a walk.” And finally, “Caroline has a blue dress.”
The word “blue” was the key that the operation was on.
“When we were in Paris after the war,” Barbara recalls, “many French Resistance workers who had never been through the house would ask how Caroline was.”
Franglais. Barbara shares several stories about interaction of the two languages. Explaining Lysander controls to an operative, one RAF said, ” Vous poussez ça et vous tirez ça et vous mettez ça la et Robert est votre oncle.”
“But,” Barbara notes, “the French were used to being mystified rather than illuminated by English-French.”
Intervening Ducks. Lord Mersey of the adjacent Bignor Park agreed to let French operatives hunt on his estate; rabbits but no other game.
One day, Barbara recalls, a Bertram Frenchman-in-residence “produced a pheasant from under his coat which, he said, had flown between him and a rabbit. Lovely. On the last day of the moon, when they either would have to go or return to London, he asked me what I would really like if it had been allowed to shoot anything. Knowing what there was likely to be, I said ‘wild duck.’ ”
“Sure enough,” she recalls, “four ducks flew between him and a rabbit.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019