De Gaulle à Cognac et Saintes

Rédigé par Alan dans la rubrique Brigade Rac

On the 18th of september 1944 de Gaulle arrived by plane at Cognac. The purpose was to visit the F.F.S.O. (Forces françaises du Sud-Ouest).

René Spack
He was welcomed by Colonel Adeline and presented to RAC and his 3 chefs de bataillon : Dupuy, Vieugeot et Violette. As de Gaulle shook the hand of the young commandant Violette he asked "how old are you?"
"I am 25 years years old". De Gaulle replies "at your age I was only a Lieutenant."

At Cognac the 12e compagnie under Coldeboeuf give the honours. At Saintes it is the corp franc de Spack with the 9e compagnie of Jean Courant. These 'volonteers' look dishevelled after 3 months of combat and many nights sleeping out in the open. This view had a deep impression on de Gaulle who wrote in his memoires that he had been close to tears on seeing these soldiers in torn clothing and some bare-footed.

Some people had accused le bataillon of having exagerated its situation and dressed like this hoping that when de Gaulle returned to Paris he would be moved to send new boots and uniform down to them.
I will mention that only 2 weeks earlier at  the combat at Saintes, Marie-Antoinette received at ticking-off from a funeral director for taking the boots off of some dead german soldiers to give to some of the men as they were so poorly dressed.
Jean Courant
At Saintes as the motorcade drove down la grande avenue people were shouting 'Vive de Gaulle, Vive de Gaulle' but when Violette's car came into view the cries doubled in volume 'Vive Violette, Vive Violette."
Turning towards Adeline who was sitting next to him, de Gaulle asks what they are shouting, "my General, on the 4th of september le bataillon Violette fought off a return offensive by the Germans who were trying to take back the town of Saintes. They have obviously just recognised Violette." Visibly irritated that someone here was more popular than he de Gaulle fell silent.
Is it a coincidence that a month later to the day le bataillon was entirely kitted out with new boots and uniforms.

Col. Adeline
This was brought up by Violette in the preface to Capitaine Fred's book 'Bataillon Violette'  (link)
"I would like to return a bit on the visit by the Général de Gaulle at Saintes. Two companies were present to give honours, one at Cognac with le Capitaine Coldeboeuf and the other at Saintes with le Capitaine Spack which turned out dressed in a dishevelled manner. It has been said that this had been a calculated move by Lt. Spack to 'persuade' de Gaulle to send new uniforms. I must say that I knew nothing about this and I hadn't believed it at the time. On reflection it would not have been impossible that Spack had organised this 'scene'. It was totally in his character and if it is thanks to this 'spectacle' that we received very quickly new uniforms then we are grateful to him."

Adeline welcoming de Gaulle at Cognac
Rac, Tom and Stewart Alsop of the mission Alexander arrive at the aérodrome at Cognac
De Gaulle shaking the hand of Rac
The photos shown here taken on the day, some of which I have been fortunate to see as originals in RAC's photo album, are featured in the 3 books by Capitaine Fred - 'La Brigade Rac', 'Bataillon Violette' (recently re-published) and 'L'affaire de Saintes'.

Also present at Saintes that day was an 'F' section SOE agent Pete Lake code name 'Jean-Pierre'. He had been parachuted into France during the night of 8-9th april 1944 near to Limeuil on the southern bank of the Dordogne with radio operator Franck Beauclerck 'Casimir' where they were greeted by Jacques Poirier 'Captain Jack' and a local reception committee. Lake's mission was to be second-in-command to Poirier also known as 'Nestor' and to help set up a new network named 'Digger' as the network 'Author' had collapsed after the arrest of Jean Peulevé its head and many others.
They were heavily involved around the area of Siorac-en-Périgord alongside André Malraux and organised many parachute drops for the region. Lake and 3 comrades were responsible for blowing up 500 metres of railway track at Neuvic to block rail access to Perigueux which succesfully held up an armoured train carrying a German division heading north to Normandy. He met René Coustellier 'Soleil' who apparently threatened to shoot him if he did not supply his team with weapons! and Lake took part in the combat at Tuiliers on the 9th of august 1944 alongside many groups of Maquis AS and the Liberation of Brive on the 15th of august.
He was also involved in the Liberation of Périgueux, Bordeaux and Atlantic front.

On the 18th of september he was invited to join some camarades from Marennes to go with them to Saintes for de Gaulle's visit. Lake, who spoke fluent French, lined up with all the maquisards and was introduced to de Gaulle, but the encounter did not go too well -

Peter Lake
Général de Gaulle: "What is your name?"
Peter Lake: "Jean-Pierre."
De Gaulle: "Jean-Pierre, that's a French Name."
Peter Lake: "My nom de guerre, mon general."
De Gaulle: "What are you doing here?"
Peter Lake: "I belong to the inter-Allied Mission for Dordogne, and I am at the moment with Dordogne troops at Marennes, mon general."
De Gaulle: "But WHAT are you doing here?"
Peter Lake: "I am training certain troops for special operations."
De Gaulle: "Our troops don't need training. You have no business here."
Peter Lake: "I obey the orders of my superiors."
De Gaulle: "You have no business here, I say. You have no right to exercise a command."
Peter Lake: "Mon general, I exercise no command."
De Gaulle: "We don't need you here. It only remains for you to to leave. You must go home. Return quickly, au revoir."

Years later while on government business in Brazil Lake met de Gaulle again. This time he received a warm welcome and they were able to laugh off the day they had met in Saintes.

Le corps franc entering Cognac
"Zorro" leading de Gaulle from Cognac
De Gaulle in the centre of Saintes
Related post : 
  • De Gaulle à Cognac et Saintes le 18 septembre 1944 (link)