Wednesday, 21 April 2021

World War II French Resistance in the Touraine Loire Valley -- Victor's Story

Recently an American contact of mine mentioned staying at the Chateau de Pray, near Amboise, and it prompted me to mention that I had been contacted by the son of someone who had worked there and had been in the Resistance. He wanted me, and indeed the world, to know his father’s remarkable story, so I am delighted to pass it on. It is, like all these stories, very moving and full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Victor Maitrejean in 1950, Indre et Loire, France.
Victor Maîtrejean in 1950.


Early in 2010 I was contacted by Pascal Maîtrejean, who told me about his father, Victor. This was in response to a public appeal for information about a Resistance memorial that I had made some months earlier. 

Resistance memorial in the forest, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A close up of the memorial in the forest near Verneuil. Carved into the bottom part
are the names of all the dead.

Victor Maîtrejean was born in 1921 in Algeria (then a French colony). At 14 years old he lost an arm in an accident on an airfield when he was turning a propeller by hand to start an aeroplane engine. In 1940 he and his mother moved to central France, where he took up an apprentice gardener post at the Chateau de Pray between Amboise and Mosnes. 

Victor Maitrejean's ID card, France.
Victor Maîtrejean's identity card.

The Germans took over the château, and when they left, an SS officer offered Victor a gift of the vehicle that had been used as the officers' transport. Victor, who was young and impressionable, was delighted and moved towards the car. His boss, the head gardener, who had been through the First World War, warned him not to touch it. Sure enough, the door had been booby trapped with a grenade, and had Victor opened the door...  

Resistance memorial in the forest, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The memorial to the maquis Césario, deep in the forest
they used to hide in. The only sound here now is birds calling.

Following this event, he joined the maquis (the Resistance), and didn't return to the place until the end of the War. After the War, anyone who wanted to be recognised as a combattant and receive a military pension needed to make a statement of where they fought and what they did during the War. I have translated his account of some of the action he saw. (FFI stands for Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur.)

Resistance memorial, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The memorial to those men forced to dig their own grave and buried alive.

"On 24 June 1944*, being in the maquis FFI of Loches, commanded by Césario Bretegnier, we took up arms and left at 3 o'clock in a bus to patrol and ambush. At 9:30 after having made around 30 kilometres, we came to an area called le Liege. We hid up and rested until 11:10, when we saw a German truck coming over the brow of a hill. As soon as they passed we attacked. The truck caught fire and we killed 13 German soldiers - a number that must have brought us bad luck, because we didn't know that behind this scout truck there was a company of Germans. The battle raged from 11:10 to 18:05 - 34 against 150 to 200. We killed 21 German soldiers and set two trucks on fire at the beginning, but it was too much and later, field upon field, vine after vine we retreated and lost 7 men killed and 5 others we know were captured and forced to dig their own grave then interred alive. By this time some of us were down to a single cartridge or grenade and we had lost our bus. On the Loches road there is a memorial as you leave le Liege, for those who were buried alive, and another at Verneuil-sur-Indre to my companions who were killed or died after deportation. As a result of my participation in this battle I have been awarded the Order of the Army." *His son thinks this may be a mistake and it should read aôut (August). Victor died in 2009, which was when Pascal found the ID card and some associated paperwork. Vale, Victor. I think we would all like to think that we would have been as brave.

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UPDATE: RESPONSES TO COMMENTS
Jean and chm -- I think Victor was one of those quietly amazing people. His son couldn't have been prouder of him. Quite right too. 

2 comments:

chm said...

It sure was courageous of Victor to go into the maquis and FFI with only one arm.

Jean said...

A remarkable story and it reminds me of how often we have found that, especially in rural France, a lot of people have not forgotten the hideous deeds of the Germans during the war.

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