Michael Patrick Mcpartland "Mitchell", un Anglais dans le maquis Charentais

Rédigé par Alain dans la rubrique Opération SpécialePortrait

On the 23rd December 1943 a telegram was received by René Chabasse "Jean-Louis" saying that an Englishman would be arriving at the railway station at Angoulême. Guy Berger "Pasteur" was given the task of going to welcome him.

He writes in 1947 “I was expecting a young man but he turned out to be an old man, very thin, not looking at all well and a bit worse for wear. The man got off the train accompanied by a lady who had escorted him down from Paris. I was a bit surprised and led him off to catch a train for Queroy, 10 kms to the east of Angoulême where two push bikes were waiting for them.
René Chabasse
The man was so tired and weak that it was not possible for him to get on the bike, so I stayed with him at a nearby bistro and waited for Edmond Duruisseau "Le Batteur" who was trying to find a vehicle to come and pick us up. While we waited we drank a hot Viandox (similar to Bovril). Some Germans walked into the bistro, the Englishman looked at me worried and I winked to reassure him.”

Le Batteur’s father Alcide "Le Père Duruisseau" had been told of the man’s arrival and waited for him to turn up at his farmhouse near Bouëx. He did not know anything about the man and presumed he was a fellow Frenchman. When he arrived he offered him a seat by the fireplace and started to talk to him in French.
Naturally Le Père Duruisseau thought the man was just being a bit cool so he continued with the one way conversation for a while until finally the visitor started to talk…. In English. Le Père Duruisseau was lost for words and for a moment was a bit stunned. Suddenly he realises, in front of him is a foreign guest and he has not welcomed him with as much warmth and politeness that he feels he should have.
Quickly he stands up and salutes ceremoniously this Citizen of Free England that he had not realised was sitting before him. Hoping that the visitor does not think that everyone who lives across the Channel are so unwelcoming.

Andrée Duruisseau, Edmond's sister aged 18 had been teased by René Rispard "Blaireau" and Guy Berger because she had been looking forward to meeting a tall, blond handsome Englishman from the Merchant Navy. She was quite surprised to see a man who she thought was in his 90's. In her book Le Cahier : Témoignage d'Andrée Gros-Duruisseau résistante et déportée she writes that her mother had gone over to Quéroy to buy a piece of steak from a black-market butchers operating from a barn in the village to feed the malnourished Englishman. She put the steak on the embers in the fireplace intending to keep most of it for the following day. The family were shocked when their English guest grabbed the whole steak and started to eat it all. It was raw and bloody and difficult to eat. He was offered a glass of Cognac to help wash it down, and then polished the bottle off.

The Englishman was Michael McPartland from West Hartlepool, born in Sunderland in 1897 and a merchant seaman on the SS Gracefield, sunk by the German raider "Thor" on the 14th July 1940. He and many other seaman were picked up in the water and taken prisoner (P.O.W. 423) on a German ship and then transferred down to Bordeaux in December 1940. He remained there until January 1941 and was then transferred to Drancy. He became ill and ended up in an American Convalescent Hospital in Paris until August 1942. In November 1942 he and a fellow sailor were arrested for attacking and insulting, whilst drunk, a Parisian policeman. He gave his name as Jerry Macpartland and said he was from Dublin (to give the impression he was a neutral Irishman) and was imprisoned for three weeks and fined 60 francs. On his release he was held in a police depot awaiting transfer to a prisoner of war camp in Germany. In December 1942 his health deteriorated and he was taken to the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Paris until the 23rd December 1942. One of the nurses at the hospital helped him escape and sheltered him from September 1943 until she was able to organize a plan for him to escape Paris and travel down by train to Angoulême aided by a lady sympathetic to the resistance and then be looked after a maquis group in the region.

Le Père Duruisseau in his makeshift "bedroom"
When his ship had sunk back in 1940 he had spent so long in the water waiting to be rescued that his nails had fallen off. But now, he was being looked after by the Maquis, who had given him the name "Mitchell" and after his stop over at the Hotel "Duruisseau" he was taken by René Rispard, tasked with looking after the visitor, to stay at Matignon.
They left late for Matignon with an impressive amount of supplies. Even though it was freezing outside they arrived covered in sweat at the house where they would be staying situated in a clearing in the middle of a wood.

 A roaring fire inside the house cheered up the otherwise sad looking two bedroom dwelling. Staying at the house was an old man and his wife, who was completely eccentric and certainly livened up the local area. Sometimes in the middle of the night she would bang on the visitors doors with a hammer and sing at the top of her voice, all to the amusement of Mitchell. Le Batteur, who was a refractaire from the S.T.O. (Service Travail Obligatoire) had already stayed several times at the house. The eccentric lady had a small chicken which she would grab and thrust at him shouting “Go on, jump on him, jump on him. Eat it !”

René Rispard writes in 1947 “During the evening of Christmas Day Mitchell was looking particularly unwell and I called Dr Bigois, a résistant who had fled from La Rochelle and was now staying at Sers. He arrived on a bike and stayed the night with us, as well as Le Batteur who was passing through Le Ranch, the name given to the refuge in the wood where we were staying. That evening we had had a fantastic meal thanks to the culinary talents of Le Batteur. Mitchell, who was looking like the day had taken its toll on him was sitting at the table with us relaxing and listening to music being played on the radio when all of a sudden a speech in English came over the airwaves. Mitchell jumped up and suddenly full of life stood to attention. We asked him “Mitchell what is it ?” He told us to get up and replied “Le King message Christmas, Britanniques troupes.” He sat back down at the table as soon as the King had finished his speech.”

The Duruisseau family - Forêts de Bouex
On the 2nd January 1944 two Americans, Herbert Brill and Bill Weber, on the run after their plane had been forced down near Montendre, had arrived at Grassac looking for refuge. They were offered accommodation at Le Ranch and taken by Blaireau through the woods to the house where they found Mitchell there waiting for them. Getting by in whatever mix of language they could and reminding them all of being back at school they find out what had happened to the two Americans and what their mission had been (link to their full story at the bottom of the page). The ice was quickly broken. Le Ranch had become quite lively and internationalised but also pretty tight with Weber sleeping alongside Mitchell and Brill alongside Blaireau, it was certainly l’entente cordiale.

Mitchell, like all good Marines had a tendency to smoke strong cigarettes, he had to be rationed. Fortunately the two Americans did not smoke and were happy only to drink water.
Their presence at the house was raising suspicions so Blaireau decided to set up a new Hiding place for the four of them at Charras, about 10kms away. It was a flat above a café situated in the middle of the small town but unfortunately only 20 metres from an Officials residence so it was necessary not to make a noise and above all not to leave the flat until after dark.

Every evening at 11 they would go out for an hour for a walk in the surrounding countryside to stretch their legs. One evening at the flat they were celebrating Mitchell’s birthday with a bottle of Cherry Brandy. While no one was paying attention Mitchell polished off the bottle and before you could say it he was drunk and looking a bit queezy. He started to become a bit rowdy and began to sing at the top of his voice English marching songs and was giving orders to imaginary comrades. The three men tried to calm him down but he started to struggle shouting “I’m a citizen of free England, you can’t keep me prisoner, I am free, I am free!” bringing unwanted attention from some of the neighbours.
The next day, looking utterly shame faced he did not know where to look and spent the whole day begging for their forgiveness.

A few days later the group moved on to Vouzan where the Maire of the commune, M. Duruisseau (Le Batteur’s uncle) welcomed them with open arms. It was now February and they stayed there for about two weeks.
On the 4th February Mitchell, Brill and Weber joined members of the sabotage group and went out to Matignon to receive a parachute drop. Just after 3 in the morning a plane came over with a red light flashing, its fuselage opened and dropped several containers. Each one, 6 feet in length contained ammunition, guns and explosives destined for the group’s sabotage work.

A few nights later the four companions were listening to the BBC on their radio and as soon as Mitchell heard ‘God save the King’ he stood to attention, and as the song finished, he proudly announced “That’s me anthem”. The next night the anthem was repeated but this time sung by a Lady. Mitchell jumped up and enthusiastically announced “Lads, that’s me wife!” No one knew if he was joking or not.

In February the sabotage group suffered two major losses. First of all, Claude Bonnier ‘Hypotoneuse’ was arrested, tortured and on the 9th February took a cyanide pill and died. Then on the 21st February, the Gestapo arrested René Chabasse, and while trying to escape, he was shot and killed.
Jacques Nancy took control of the group and set up the Section Spéciale de Sabotage (S.S.S.).

On the 16th February Mitchell was moved to a nearby farm which was used as a safe house, leaving Brill and Weber at Vouzon. On the 5th March, Jacques Nancy, Blaireau, Le Petit René, Le Pointu, Le Batteur and Pasteur moved their camp from some woods near Bouex on to Le Mas de Vouzan. Blaireau with his specialist equipment started to make new false identity cards for members of the group – Charles Franc, who changed his nom de guerre from Le Pointu to Clovis, Guy Berger, changed his nom de guerre from Pasteur to Antoine and Edmond Duruisseau changed his nom de guerre from Le Batteur to Séraphin.

31st March 1944 - Forêt de Bois-Blanc
On the 14th March, Mitchell was taken to a remote house at Le Mas de Vouzan where Jacques Nancy, Blaireau, Le Petit René, Antoine, Clovis and Séraphin were staying. Due to his bad health he was advised to rest the whole day but on the 15th word came that the Germans might have found out about the house. So the place was completely cleared out and the group, including Mitchell, made their way to an abandoned isolated farm at Bois-Bourreau near Rougnac. They remained there until the end of March and were joined by Guy Papineau ‘Ghandi'. There are many periods that the group were away from the camp leaving Mitchell there alone to keep an eye on things.
On the 29th March, worried again about the security of the camp the group moves off in two cars. Mitchell was perched on a pile of stuff in the back with his head pressed against the roof and smoking cigarette after cigarette. They set up a new camp at La Forêt de Bois-Blanc near Le Pontil.

            Denis Olivain "René"      Jacques Nancy      René Rispard "Blaireau"    Guy Berger "Antoine"
Seated : Michael Mcpartland "Mitchell"
14 April 1944 - Camp at woods near Ruffec, Charente
On the 9th April, Séraphin and Mitchell remained at the camp on guard while Antoine, Blaireau, Clovis and Jean Papineau "Le Grand Sifflet" accompany Jacques Nancy and leave on a mission. They set out on bikes at 4 O'clock in the afternoon, they pass through Saint Catherine onto Dirac and then with Tarsac to their right they arrive at the main railway line from Bordeaux to Paris. They hid their bikes in nearby woods, waited till it was dark and then, finding a suitable spot near a viaduct between Charmant and Mouthiers, laid their explosives near the track. The tracks were blown up just before a train pulling twelve wagons of German military equipment and supplies and carriages of German Soldiers arrives. The train is derailed and blocks the route for the following four days. Mission accomplished.

On their return journey they were spotted by a young lady who shouts “C’est le Maquis !”. She has spotted the machine gun that Grand Sifflet has forgotten is still strapped on his back. Being the "Don Juan" of the group, he stops, flirts with her for a while, and then they continue on the cycle back through the deserted roads, and get back to the camp at 3 in the morning and begin to tell an excited Mitchell and Séraphin how the mission had gone. Mitchell punched his fist hard in the air in defiance against le boche.

Come mid April it was time again to move camp. This time to an old lodge in the Foret de Ruffec. Emile and Denis Olivain "René" now joined the group. Mitchell at this time was pretty poorly and it was good that he was able to have a bed. Being so unwell it was decided to call out a Doctor to see him.

In the last week of April the Gestapo started to show an increased interest in the region and the Germans became suspicious of certain goings on in Ruffec. Jacques Nancy decided to move the camp on, this time to Bioussac. Mitchell not in good health stayed for a few weeks at the home of Léo Brunit, sympathetic to the Résistance who then on the 11th May along with Mitchell set up a new camp in the woods around Ruffec. They were joined by Louis Proust "Pierre", Emile Santo "Santos", André Boulegue "Christian", Marcel Gaschard "Le Tatoué" and their chief Jacques Dussart "Jacky". They remained there until mid June. Mitchell then went to stay at a farm owned by the Lasret family which was used as a safe house and near to where the Americans Brill and Meyer had been staying.

Little by little more sabotage groups were organised and the S.S.S. were responsible for numerous derailments and sabotage of trains and wagons used by the Germans and the sabotage of electrical pylons and fuel depots. In all around 70 acts of sabotage against the Germans.

In June the S.S.S were integrated into the 2e compagnie of the Brigade Rac, and in mid July Jacques Nancy set up one whole camp for his sabotage groups at the empty Chateau Puycharnaud. Jacques Nancy went to visit Brill and Weber at the safe house and Brill asked to join the group and help fight, which he then did.

On the 24th July the entire group, including four other American Airmen staying with them, joined forces with a small number of the Brigade Rac and prevented 400 Germans stationed at Angoulême in their attempt to destroy the town of Nontron. It was in revenge for the Dordogne town being the first to be liberated back in June. The Germans were stopped en route just before Javerlhac by the S.S.S. and the Brigade Rac and heavy fighting went on the entire day. Eventually the Germans retreated back to Angoulême, 56 of them had been killed. Seven members of the Brigade Rac lost their lives during the combat.

Le "Toto" - Lorry used on numerous missions
Late in August, by chance, Mitchell was found staying at the Lasret farm. Brill, who was on his way with an American Major he had encountered, to pick up Meyer from the Reytier farm. As Brill and the Major approached the Lasret farm Brill could barely believe his eyes, walking along the lane bold as brass was Mitchell. He greeted the two Americans with a casual “How are you lads ?” as if they’d just bumped into each other during a stroll in a park.
“What are you doing here?” Brill asked him.
“Oh, just taking my morning constitutional” replied Mitchell.

They all shook hands and the U.S. Major assured him he’d be picked up by the British within a week.The two Americans drove on to the Reytier farm where they picked up a very surprised Weber. The Major then drove Brill and Weber to a location where other American Airmen were awaiting transport back to England.

On the 2nd September 1944 two planes landed in an open field near Limoges and then began taking aboard American Aviators. Within two hours they had landed at an airfield close to London and by the end of September 1944 they were back in the U.S.

What happened to Mcpartland ? Records show that he flew back to England on one of the two planes picking up the Americans near Limoges and by the 5th September he was back with his family in West Hartlepool. 

What an adventure !

Article below is an extract from Forces Françaises, a twice monthly paper published from August 1944 by the AS Dordogne-Nord (Brigade Rac). The article mentions that he took part in the ill-fated attack at Dieppe by the English and Canadians in 1942. His military records show this not to be the case, perhaps this part of his story was 'lost in translation' ?