Une belle famille de la Résistance : Les Duruisseau

Rédigé par Alain dans la rubrique PortraitDocument et livre
Situated in the heart of the Charente, to the south east of Angoulême, there is an isolated farmhouse by the name of "Les forêts". Close to the small village of Bouëx it was in the zone occupée and just a few miles from the ligne de démarcation.
It was the home of a family by the name of Duruisseau, who risked all to allow their farmhouse become a hub of résistance for the Charente and Dordogne.
Andrée Duruisseau
Before the outbreak of war Bouëx was like any other village in France but by the end of the war the local area would be synonymous with the Résistance in the south west of France.
From the time of the occupation the family Duruisseau, headed by Alcide and Augustine, welcomed and fed those that wanted to pass into the zone libre, including escaped prisoners of war, Jewish families trying to get to the south and then to a new life in Britain or America. They also looked after allied soldiers and airmen trying to return to England after crash landing in the region.

Their youngest daughter Andrée, aged only 15 in 1940, took it on herself to help René Chabasse, a few years her elder and son of her teacher and his friend Jean Lapeyre-Mensignac to smuggle messages and information hidden inside the handlebars of her bicycle over into the zone libre.
Alcide and Augustine's son Edmond set up a printing press in one of the barns and supplied false identity cards and documents for René Chabasse and Jean Lapeyre-Mensignac, who in the spring of 1943 were organising landing sites for small planes dropping off and picking up agents and locations suitable for parachute drops for the BCRA (Bureau Central du Renseignements) operating from London. Edmond, nom de guerre "Le Batteur", was also involved with finding suitable land for drops and arms and supplies were hidden in the barns and in the surrounding woods of the farmhouse.

The Duruisseau family at Les Forêts
Andrée, now 18 years of age, unbeknown to any of her friends, would cycle into Angoulême, day or night, to drop off at various addresses false identity cards, documents and ticket rations for members of the Résistance, hoping not to be noticed by the Germans. Towards the end of 1943 her older brother Edmond received notice that he had to leave France and go work in a factory in Germany. He refused to work for the enemy and instead set up camp hiding in nearby woods.

In November 1943 Claude Bonnier "Hypoteneuse" and Jacques Nancy "Sape" landed at Angeac-Charente, to the west of Angoulême. They were sent by De Gaulle to organise the different Résistant groups in the region and arrange delivery of arms and supplies. Parachute drops intensified in the area and the involvement of the Duruisseau family increased.

René Chabasse
However, in February 1944, things took a turn for the worse. Claude Bonnier was arrested in Bordeaux. In prison he swallowed a cyanide pill hidden in the turn up of his trousers and committed suicide before he could be tortured and interrogated. After Claude Bonnier's capture, Jacques Nancy lost contact with London and set up camp in the woods of la forêt d'Horte close to the Duruisseau farm with Charles Franc "Le Pointu / Clovis", René Chabasse "Le Parrain / Jean-Louis", Edmond Duruisseau "Le Batteur / Séraphin" and Guy Berger "Pasteur / Antoine". Together they set up the Section Spéciale de Sabotage (S.S.S.).

Soon after, on the 21st February, René Chabasse was at the farm planning to head off into Angoulême to warn Guy Berger's family that there was a possibility that the Germans had found out that their house was used as a meeting point for the Résistance. Andrée served René what would be his last meal, as against the advice of Jacques Nancy of the dangers, René went into the town of Angoulême and dropped off a message at the Berger's house. The house was under surveillance by the Gestapo and René was recognised and arrested. He struggled free but was shot as he tried to get away. He was 23 years of age. He had said earlier that day that he would never talk as he would not be taken alive.

Blaireau    Jacques    Clovis    René
Antoine    Séraphin    Marc
At a camp in woods near Bou
ëx : May 1944
On the 15th of March at 7.30 in the morning two Gestapo, a French Gestapo agent, Pierre Brissaud and Alfred Winnewisser "Monsieur Alfred", turned up at the farm looking for "terrorists" and incriminating evidence against the Duruisseau family. After two hours of searching the house and outbuildings and interrogating the whole family they arrested Andrée. It would appear that they had information on her activities and that she knew Guy Berger.

She was taken to the prison at Angoulême and was beaten and tortured but continually insisted that she had no idea what they were talking about and knew nothing. While there she was taken under the wing of two ladies also recently arrested for being part of the Résistance, Marcelle Nadaud, who had been involved with the Résistance since 1940, had been an agent de liaison and helped with parachute drops and looked after agents parachuted in to the Charente. The other lady, Berthe Noblet, had been arrested with her husband Jules for hiding arms in their property at La Chabanne to the west of Chateauneuf-sur-Charente. They had also given refuge to members of the Résistance, American Airmen and young Frenchmen refusing to work in Germany under the scheme Service Travail Obligitoire.

Mme and M. Noblet
They would remain imprisoned at Angoulême until the 19th May and then along with another lady and around thirty men, including Monsieur Noblet, they were transferred by train to a prison at Romainville on the outskirts of Paris. At this point the women were separated from the men and Andrée's family would have no idea where she was or what had happened to her.
They remained at Romainville until the 6th June 1944 and then began the long road to deportation, first to Neue Bremm, a camp situated at Sarrebruck and then three weeks later on to Ravensbruck.
Towards the end of July, Andrée was seperated from Madame Noblet and Marcelle Nadaud and was chosen, along with other young women, to work as forced labour in a munitions factory at Leipzig-Hasag, a "Kommando" of the Buchenwald concentration camp. The two ladies, who Andrée had affectionately called "mes mamans", would not survive the camp at Ravensbruck.

At this time back in the Charente and the Dordogne, Edmond Duruisseau and the sabotage group S.S.S. headed by Jacques Nancy were responsible for more than seventy acts of sabotage of railway lines, petrol depots, electricity pylons and telephone lines, anything that would help paralyse the German army. They were involved in many combats, notably at Javerlhac on the 24th July 1944 where alongside the Brigade Rac they prevented 500 german soldiers intent on taking back the recently liberated town of Nontron in the Dordogne. A month earlier, in June, they had made contact with Rodolphe Cézard "Rac", head of the Brigade Rac (Armée Sécrete Dordogne-Nord) and set up a new camp in the area around Nontron. The Brigade Rac supplied Jacques Nancy's group with provisions and explosives and later in the year the S.S.S. would become the 2e compagnie of the 1ère bataillon of the Brigade Rac and alongside other Résistant groups from the region (AS Bir'Hackeim, AS Foch and FTP Soleil, Ricco and Demorny) continued the fight against the Germans until they finally surrendered at La Rochelle on the 8th May 1945.

Andrée remained at Buchenwald until the second week of April 1945. The German guards at the camp had heard that the Americans were less than ten miles away and the camp was evacuated of all those able to walk. The gates were opened and Andrée and around 4000 prisoners were lead out by guards with dogs. They were forced to walk for several days, always heading towards the east, towards Dresden they had been told. Andrée and several others eventually managed to break from the main group and started to head back west. They were picked up by Russian soldiers, fed and sheltered but the Russians were not quite sure what nationality they were. They decided to move on and as they crossed a bridge over the river Mulde, to the north of Leipzig, they were welcomed by the Americans and the Red Cross. She would not be back home with her family in the Charente until the 1st of June 1945.

Since being arrested in March 1944 she had had no idea if they too had been arrested, shot or deported, but at her arrival by train at the station at Angoulême they were there to welcome her.

On her return Andrée would find it emotionally and physically very hard to return to a "normal" life. As a therapy she decided to write in a simple notebook her experiences of her clandestine life and her time in the concentration camps. Sixty years later, after the death of her parents, she discovered her old notebook, yellowed with age, packed away in the attic of their farmhouse at Les Forêts.

In 2008, the story written so long ago, was published by the Centre Départemental de Documentation Pédagogique de la Charente (CDDP) under the title "Le Cahier : Témoignage d'Andrée Gros-Duruisseau, résistante et déportée". You can pick up a copy of her book for 19€ from the website of the CDDP (link) and I have intentionally not gone into too much detail of Andree's story as I highly recommend that you obtain a copy of the book and read it. I'd go as far as saying that if I had to recommend one book about the French Résistance it would be this one.

I am pleased to be able to write that Andrée Gros-Duiruisseau is still very much with us and participates regularly at commemorations in and around Angoulême and occasionally presents her story to students. She was awarded the Légion d'Honneur in 1967, elevated to Commandeur in 2007 and elevated once more to Grand Officier in 2012, an honour that only 250 people hold in France. She is currently Présidente  de l'Association des Déportés, Internés et Familles de Disparus de la Charente et la Vice-Présidente de la Section Spéciale de Sabotage du Capitaine Jacques Nancy

Jacques Nancy and his sabotage groups were responsable for more than seventy acts of sabotage against the Germans, he would say after the war "Without people like the Duruisseau family, I would not have been able to do anything".

The Duruisseau farmhouse now houses a small museum, or more precisely, a room in hommage to the family's involvement in the Resistance. Its doors are (by appointment only I believe) opened by Gérard Duruisseaud, the son of Edmond, for interested groups and for schools. When he was born in May 1944, his father Edmond, who was camped in woods close to Grassac, risked a night time visit to see his new born son. The house was surrounded and protected by the S.S.S. during the visit and Edmond was a little disappointed that his son had not come into the world with a machine gun !

Edmond and Andrée Duruisseau in 2000
(Collection of the Duruisseau family)

Further reading :

L'arrestation d'Andrée Duruisseau le 15 mars 1944 (link)

Sur les Chemins de la Mémoire en Charente - Randonnées Juin 2014 : départ de Bouëx et de Chasseneuil (lien)

Herbert Brill, an American in the Charente and Dordogne Résistance (link)
Hommage aux résistants : Mémorial dédié à Claude Bonnier (link)
Collège Sainte-Marie, Saint-André-de-Cubzac (33) : Les élèves ont reçu Andrée Gros-Duruisseau (link)
Angoulême célèbre son heros René Chabasse 70 ans après (link)