Douglas Johnson

Helping to set Europe ablaze

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The Next Moon

André Hue and Ewen Southby-Tailyour

Viking, pp. 328, £

The Museum of the French Resistance in Brittany lies just outside Saint-Marcel in the Morbihan department, near to Malestroit. It is extensive and consists of a number of buildings situated in a large wooded park. But what makes it special is that it covers the site of the battle of 18 June 1944 which was fought between the Germans and various French and British Resistance forces, including those organised by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) that had been created in July 1940 to ‘set Europe ablaze’. This was one of the great Resistance battles in which 560 German soldiers were killed, in contrast to 42 Resistance fighters. André Hue, who in the Museum and its publications is referred to as Hunter Hue, took part in the battle. He was one of the creators and leaders of the Resistance network. The book is an account of his experiences.

Hue returned to England in August 1944, and wrote several hundred pages of notes. At the end of August he was parachuted back to France and although the notes were typed they have not been published until now. Lieutenant-Colonel Hue, aged 80, did not feel able to publish this book himself and he was fortunate to have secured the help of Ewen Southby-Tailyour, himself a retired lieutenant-colonel of the Marines, the author of several books of military history. Professor M. R. D. Foot, the historian of SOE, has written a preface, not only because he approves of this account, but also because he was, as he puts it, on the edge of it, having, as an intelligence officer, aided the Resistance movement in Brittany and having organised air support for the battle of Saint-Marcel.

This book comes therefore under the best auspices. The story begins with the adventures of a 16-year-old boy who is a trainee purser on board a ship that is sunk, near La Rochelle, on 17 June 1940. His father, who died when he was 14, was French, but he was born in Swansea, his mother being English. She had gone to live in Le Havre, and in the autumn of 1940 he and his elder half-brother travelled from Marseilles to see her (a journey to Casablanca that had stirred the idea of travelling to Spain and thence to London and de Gaulle having failed). At Le Havre they were told that their mother had taken refuge in Guer to the north-west of Malestroit. While his half-brother found employment as an electrician and soon went to Paris, André Hue was forced to work in the forest, officially as a lumberjack. But nearly a year later, thanks to a recent friendship, he got a job working as an assistant to the German station-master in Guer. The line from this station supplied the German base at Co