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The Book of the Week is “Moondrop to Gascony” by Anne-Marie Walters, originally published in 1946.
The author was born around 1920 in England. Already fluent in French, in summer 1943, she received training in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in order to work for the French Resistance in southwestern France. She learned how to: decipher Morse code and ciphers, use firearms, pick locks, do parachute jumps, etc. Six months later, she, along with 22 men, jumped from a plane to go on their first mission. The ultimate goal of course, was to hinder the German war machine.
When the author’s unit left London, it was told it would get any resources it requested. That was a lie. Best laid plans usually went awry, as the group depended on supplies delivered via parachute to the French countryside. Problems arose with: the weather, plane shortages, or other Resistance cells in more dire need of food.
Everything had to be kept top secret, as German soldiers roamed around the railways and rural areas, demanding identity papers, harassing and shooting anyone perceived to be the enemy, on the spot. There were various times the author heard about the fates of her fellow cell members who had been tortured and then executed.
Certain peasant farmers collaborated with the Germans, and tattled on Resistance fighters. Some families allowed the fighters to sleep in the barn or shed or on their property, risking the wrath of the Nazis. One time, one such family agreed to help the Resistance but they chickened out. A family member failed to show up with lights to signal a parachuted-supplies drop, so the plane wasted a trip flying over the area and didn’t drop the sorely needed supplies.
In summer 1944, twelve hundred Germans killed every last one of eighty Resistance fighters. The former had some 13mm machine guns and mortars while the latter had a few Bren guns, and a cache full of ammunition which was hit by a mortar shell. About 4am, the few escapees, hiding in cornfields and vegetation, fought valiantly to the last man.
The Germans set fire to the fighters’ safe-houses in the region and used hand grenades to turn the burned-out structures to ashes. Six members of a peasant family who helped the enemy were also subjected to sadistic massacre and destruction of their home. All those war crimes took about four hours, after which, the Germans laughed about it.
In late summer 1944, the author was assigned to personally deliver a report to London. To get there, she crossed the Pyrenees on foot into Spain along with six other fighters. They were the lucky survivors who risked their lives amid deprivation and hardships. She wrote that they were gluttons for punishment because they formed intensely close bonds and took pride in sacrificing for their respective homelands.
Read the book to learn numerous other details of the anti-German underground’s adventures.