“Mr Spock, Mr Sulu, good morning. Bridge to Engineering room: Scotty? Ready to hop at full warp?”
“Yes, Sir. Destination?”
“August 19, 1944, Paris.”
“The Liberation of Paris, Sir? I’ll put the shields up. May I ask whether we have a special assignment?”
“You may, Scotty. We’re looking for my uncle, Gérard Leclerc, who was fighting with the 2e DB, 2nd Free French Armoured Division that liberated Paris. Warp one!”
On June 6, the Allies had thrown 5 million soldiers on the beaches of Normandy. After a few days of intense fighting, and thousands of casualties, strongholds were established on the beaches, the enormous Allied war machine started pouring men and equipment. Despite fierce counter-attacks from the German Army, the Allies progressed East at a fast pace.
Bradley and Eisenhower had planned on going round Paris. Not to engage troops to liberate the city. (Some foreign policy decisions of our American friends can be unfathomable) Nonetheless, strikes started in Paris as early as August 10, the railroad, the Police, the Gendarmes, until a general strike was launched on August 18. Rol-Tanguy, a Communist, and chief of the Paris FFI (French Forces of the Interior) ordered a general insurrection. On the 19th, 2000 policemen took over the Préfecture de police (Think One Police Plaza) on the island of la Cité. Barricades were built everywhere, using cobbles from the street, beds, mattresses, crates. Parisians have a long tradition and expertise in barricades.
My father had failed to go England in June 1940, to continue fighting. Some may remember he and a fellow Airman had stolen the Colonel’s car and were arrested three days later, then released and discharged. He went back to Paris, got married, had a son, my eldest brother Michel, and spent the entire war in Paris. (I can’t complain about his failure to reach England, my brothers and I otherwise might not be here to tell the story.) The photos come from his archives. The numbered ones are not his. He probably bought the series after the war. Some photographs bear no number, and are square, consistent with a Brownie. They might be his. (Never thought of asking)
His brother-in-law, Gérard Leclerc, husband to my aunt Gaud, was in Africa at the outbreak of the war, in 1939. He was looking for gold mines in the region of Congo-Burundi. I sh.., joke you not. I have photos. He didn’t find gold, he found war. Enlisted in Brazzaville, Congo, with the FFF, Free French Forces, in the 2nd Armoured Division, (2eDB), led by General Philippe de Hauteclocque, “Nom de guerre”, General Leclerc. Uncle Gérard did the entire war in Africa, (Syria maybe? Have to ask my cousins), North Africa, Normandy, Paris…
Barricade, August 1944. This is most likely the Boulevard Saint-Michel, with the gardens of the Palace of Luxembourg to our back. With the Parisian insurrection underway, likely to be squashed by the Germans, Bradley and Eisenhower had no other choice than to change plans and send the French Second Armoured Division to liberate Paris. I believe that De Gaulle made a point that Paris could only be liberated by French Forces. And also that it was not a good idea to let the Communists possibly win that fight. So there go my uncle and the 2nd Armoured. En route to Paris on the night of the 22nd of August. General Leclerc had already sent a reconnaissance detachment to Versailles – in near defiance of direct orders from his US superior, General Gerow.
The FFI, the French Résistance, were poorly armed. Only the Police had some weapons. Soon the fighting was fierce.
A bombed building. Parisians on their bicycles. All cars and gasoline had been commandeered by the Wehrmacht.
“On August 19th here fell Police officer Francis Maurizot” (It was then quite usual to put the surname before the first name) “fell here for the Liberation of Paris in 1944”. There are many such plaques in Paris, particularly near the Seine. Most never see them. I find them very moving.
This could have been my uncle Gérard driving a US issue Jeep, with a very self-important official riding shotgun. He did drive a Jeep in the 2nd Armoured. But then the soldier behind, clinging to the machine-gun seems to wear a German uniform with an officer’s collar. One of the first prisoners? After double-checking, the man with a double-breasted suit could have been Georges Bidault, head of the National Council of the Résistance.
Another bombed building.
“Scotty? Can you beam us up to the 21st century please?”
“Yes, sir. Beaming up.”
A very similar building. c. 2016. A testimony to the insanity of war. “Hop back Scotty!”
The Deuxiéme DB arrived on the 24th of August. Coming from the South by Porte d’Italie and Porte d’Orléans. Cheered by the Parisians. As you can see, even the uniforms were mostly US Government Issue. The helmets, the equipment. The only difference were the french colours on the vehicles, the double-barred Croix de Lorraine, and the names. Each vehicle, jeep, tank was named after an occupied French city. Here: “Montbéliard” is a small city in the East, between Bourgogne and Switzerland.
A tank firing in the street. This could possibly be Rue de l’Université or Rue Jacob, where many French publishers have their… sanctuaries.
Walking to combat? The young man to the right, with a so-French grin is Navy. He wears the flat dark blue cap with a red “Pompon”. He is most likely a “fusilier-marin”, the equivalent of a Marine.
Commander Louis Hélie. The double-barred Lorraine cross of the FFF. Died for France, August 19, 1944. Seventy-four years ago.
To be continued… “Disengage, Scotty, please. Yes, Mr Spock?”
“No sign of your uncle on my screens so far, Sir.”
“No fear, Mr Spock. We will find him.”