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Bravery, betrayal and the SAS; Château de Montfort, Remilly-sur-Lozon

Ever wanted some peace and quiet? Remilly-sur-Lozon in the Manche has a wiki entry that simply states ‘Remilly-sur-Lozon is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France.’

No paragraphs of history reaching back to William the Conqueror, no D-Day memories.  Just a note to say ‘yes it exists’.

Can anywhere in Normandy really be that nondescript?

Château de Montfort match
Château de Montfort match!

From ancient château to hero of La Résistance

Our postcard revealed the bare walls of an ancient distressed château, so we started there.  We didn’t expect to end up with a Hero of La Résistance and a top secret SAS mission, but we did.

Normandy Tourism describes the château as; Castle with restored gatehouse, guard house, dovecote, baker’s and manor house in ruins in the heart of the marshes. Rambling tracks around. Peace and verdant countryside’.

Chateau de Montfort stonework
Château de Montfort stonework

Pesky pigeons!

If they were not so busy they could have added that the dovecote ‘colombier’ or ‘pigeonnière’ at this château is remarkable. A huge elegant example of the classic Normandy circular home for hundreds of pigeons, each allotted their own neat little shelf.  These birds were valued by noble owners for meat, eggs and soil enhancing poo.

The local peasantry would have shrugged with ill-disguised contempt towards a château’s colombier.  Peasants denied by law the right to own pigeons were also denied a law to protect fields and grain from these feathered locusts.

That all changed with the French revolution when alongside ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ it was decreed anyone could keep a pigeon and if the birds ate too much of your grain you could roast them for your dinner, squidge them into a tasty pate, or bake the greedy game into a pie with thyme, garlic, shallots …

We didn’t find any pigeons during our visit, just wide open skies, snug little streams tucked between golden fields of corn and silence, broken only by the breeze tickling oak leaves and whispering through the reeds that make those famous Remilly-sur-Lozon baskets.

Dovecote, ‘colombier’ or ‘pigeonnière’
Dovecote, ‘colombier’ or ‘pigeonnière’ at Chateau de Montfort

Wickermen, women and children

Remilly-sur-Lozon wicker has been a source of extra cash for farming families since the middle ages.  Towards the end of the 19th century production became more organised as a few savvy weavers built profitable production lines.  Their wicker transported plump Jersey tomatoes and rich Norman butter throughout France and across the channel to London markets.

Well-made wickerwork was the plastic of its time; durable, waterproof and when tightly woven in two layers it insulated the contents like an icebox.

During the First World War weavers avoided the draft as bread was seen as vital for their fighting forces and weavers made the long panneton baskets needed for leavening dough. Wicker may no longer be a daily essential but there are still weavers in the village.

Big business for the family Lehodey
Big business for the family Lehodey

Hero of La Résistance

Tiny Remilly-sur-Lozon is placed midway between Carentan and St Lo, south of Omaha beach. From occupied territory in 1940 the area would become a war zone in 1944.

André Le Duc age 33 and father of 7 led the local Résistance group.  André was a popular figure who used his truck to bring essential supplies to the village. This also gave him a reason to be travelling around the Manche. All through the summer the Résistance  group risked their lives to cause silent trouble for the German forces; blocking roads, cutting communication wires and noting their movements.

As D-Day approached leaflet drops urged people to leave the village but many stayed.

On the night of 6 June a group from the village led by André waited by the marshland they knew so well.  As bombardment raged they managed to save 6 British SAS paratroopers, part of Operation Titanic.

Andre Le Duc
André Le Duc, wounded in active service so restricted from signing up in WW2, his war started with La Résistance

Titanic deception and the ‘Ruperts’

Operation Titanic was the name given to plans to distract the enemy from what was really going on with the invasion.  Here ‘Titanic IV’ aimed to divert them from Omaha, Gold Beach and the American 101st Airborne Division counter attack by mimicking a major attack inland.  This was achieved by dropping 200 dummy parachutes ‘Ruperts’ behind enemy lines. Each 3ft mini paratrooper contained a small charge set to destroy the evidence on landing.

Small teams of SAS landed with the Ruperts and played 30 minute pre-recorded sounds of men shouting and weapons fire including mortars.  It was a huge success, distracting the Germans for a while to hunt for paratroopers in the countryside and not by the sea.

The SAS hoped to avoid capture and meet the advancing American force in 9 days but in the chaos of battle many were hunted down, shot or captured.  Six SAS were found by André and his group who took them to secret places around the remote Château de Montfort.

A Rupert!
A Rupert!

Bombs, bravery and escaping prisoners

On 8 June American airmen captured by the Germans were given a chance of freedom when the trucks carrying them and a platoon of enemy soldiers were attacked by the Allies from the air at Mesnil Vigot, a short distance from Remilly-sur-Lozon. Those that could scattered into the fields and woods.

While enemy patrols searched for them so did André Le Duc.  Silently searching the marshes he found and rescued 6.

Betrayal and a midnight hike

In just a few days rumours about the paratroopers began to circulate, they were no longer safe so under cover of darkness the group moved them to Le Mesnil-Eury.  André carried an injured soldier on his shoulders and was helped by Marcel Robert, Roger Besnard, Daniel Culleron, Camille and Robert Lebatteur Lajoye. They were successful.

Under observation

On 2 July André and Marcel Raulline attempted to blow up the boat dock (or bridge, reports vary) on the Lozon river but dynamite they had wasn’t enough and it seemed to hold.

Then a German soldier appeared in the village and for several days just sat on a rock between Albert Lehodey’s house and the village centre.  He was watching the Le Duc’s.  The family, now living with Grandmother Lemanessier, barely left their home. On the evening of 5 July a shell exploded so close their windows shattered spreading glass everywhere.  André, with two of his young children Jean-Gabriel, eight and a half and Yves six went back to their own house to pick up some bedding. Of course he was watched.

A deadly argument

At home he saw German soldiers going into his garage and with his sons went to see what they were doing.  One soldier seemed to instigate an argument, voices were raised.  The solder raised a gun and in front of André two little boys shot him in the forehead.

The children ran screaming back to their mother Georgette ‘They killed Papa!’ Georgette claimed until her dying day that he had been denounced by a collaborator.  Someone who lived amongst them.  But who it was they would never know.

Andre and Georgette Le Duc
Andre and Georgette Le Duc

Recognition of courage

André Le Duc was posthumously awarded the US Medal of Freedom and the French Bronze Medal of La Résistance.  Georgette also receives three certificates signed by General of the American Army Dwight Eisenhower, the British Air Chief Marshal Deputy Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force and the French Minister of the Interior, thanking André for his bravery. The village hall in Remilly-sur-Lozon is now called ‘Salle André Le Duc, Résistance  hero’.  A memorial ceremony is regularly held in July.

Postscript: A news item in July 2015 announced that André had finally been recognised as Resistance, 71 years after his death.  We had no idea he had not had formal recognition before.  Apparently after the war Georgette was far too busy with 6 children and no husband to go through the official procedures.  Years later his children tried to register him, only to be turned down in 2012.  Prompted by the D-Day 70 memorials they tried again and with additional research into André’s life managed to convince the authorities. Read the news item here 

Read about Captain Norman H Poole MC, A Squdron 1 SAS officer rescued that night by Andre Le Duc.

Château de Montfort 

The château was inhabited until 1755 when it was abandoned for something less draughty.  Locals then regarded the old building as a useful source of stones to patch up their humble homes and the occasional wall.

Fortunately a remote location and layers of brambles stopped it from disappearing completely. Then in 1980 a group of remarkable people ‘Friends of Chateau Montfort’ took it on and set to work saving what they could and gradually renovating more.  It is looking lovely.

 

The ruins of Château de Montfort at Remilly-sur-Lozon, Normandy
The ruins of Château de Montfort at Remilly-sur-Lozon, Normandy
The ruins of Château de Montfort at Remilly-sur-Lozon, Normandy
The ruins of Château de Montfort at Remilly-sur-Lozon, Normandy
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The ruins of Château de Montfort at Remilly-sur-Lozon, Normandy 9
The ruins of Château de Montfort at Remilly-sur-Lozon, Normandy 9

 

 

 

 

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