FROM UNDERGROUND TO EMBASSY
Neither Vichy jail nor Nazi force could quench Jean de Hauteclocque's loyalty to France, the land he represents at Ottawa
GERALD H. WARING
IT WAS terrible to be arrested by Frenchmen.” Jean Marie François de Hauteclocque, now Ambassador of France to Canada, would have preferred the Gestapo. The Bochen were arresting, enslaving, torturing and murdering Frenchmen by the thousands. Yet when his turn came, as a fighter for the new France a-borning, it was not the Germans who clapped him into a concentration camp, but the renegades of Pétain and Laval—the Vichy militia.
From the timbre of his voice as he spoke those words you could sense how terrible it was to him to be arrested by fellow Frenchmen. You could sense his shame and sorrow for them. For nearly four years Hauteclocque had been fighting for Frenchmen bowed under the German yoke, for the France which had lost a battle but which had not lost the war. He had spurned collaboration with the Nazis and for that had been dismissed from the French Foreign Ministry. As
a member of the Underground he had supplied the resistance forces with food, clothing and money, had worked and planned for the day of France’s liberation.
Then Frenchmen arrested him. True, he subsequently escaped with the help of ohe of his guards— but the guilt of Frenchmen who became the tools of the hated enemy yet weighs heavily on the soul of Jean de Hauteclocque, first French ambassador to Canada.
The story of Hauteclocque in the last four years is a typical segment of the story of France, the France which, although beaten to the ground by the enemy, fought on, underground, secretly, by stealth, at night. It is the story of a man and that man’s family, passionate patriots all, determined to play their parts in keeping alive the spark of resistance to oppression that for many dark months was their country’s only hope.
They played their parts well, even down to little Isabelle, the youngest of the seven Hauteclocque daughters. She was only five when a German soldier tried, with an offer of candy, to entice a smile and a “Bon jour, monsieur,” from her. But instead of smiling
she scowled and spat on him. The angry German seized her by the shoulders and shook her. She ran home to her mother as soon as he released her, but not in tears; only to relate proudly how she had spat at a German.
In selecting Count de Hauteclocque to represent the new France at Ottawa, General Charles de Gaulle chose a career diplomat whose courage and loyalty to France are beyond doubt. If any proof of these qualities were needed, one single memento of the 52-year-old ambassador’s part in French Underground resistance would serve.
That memento stands on the mantel of the ambassador’s office in the luxurious French embassy on Sussex Street. It is a framed copy of a “wanted” poster that the Vichy police rushed off the press to all its offices in France on May 27, 1944. “Rechercher activement de
Hauteclocque, Jean, Marie, François,” it begins, which freely translated means,'“Keep a sharp lookout for Jean Marie François de Hauteclocque.”
That poster—which was distributed in vain, for the Vichy authorities never again got their hands on Hauteclocque-—is not alone on the mantel of that big, blue-carpeted room. A few inches away is a framed snapshot of seven attractive girls, lined up like a chorus—“the seven daughters of the French ambassador” about whom Ottawa is hearing—and still farther along the mantel is an eight-inch square plaque bearing the Hauteclocque coat of arms: three white bells on a field of dark blue.
“Hauteclocque,” explains the ambassador, “means ‘high bell’ in old Flemish. That’s where we got our name.”
Hauteclocque (pronounced “oat clock,” or, if the de is used, as though it were spelled “doat clock”) is a name hundreds of years old, and the cracked and chipped enamel on the plaque bears testimony to its age. The title, too, is old, dating from 1163, but in modern, democratic France such vestiges of a vanished era mean little. Courtesy suggests that Hauteclocque be styled count, but, actually, the man whom General de Gaulle sent to Ottawa was plain Monsieur Jean de Hauteclocque—soldier, diplomat and anticolùiborationist.
Son of a Military Family
FIFTY-TWO years have transformed Hauteclocque into a short, wide-set man with sandy-grey hair and closely cropped mustache, keen grey eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses which perch on a prominent nose, and a firm mouth from which often protrudes a slender, small-bowled pipe. On the lapels of the blue, pin-striped suits he wears is the tiny red rosette of the Legion of Honor.
Of him, 31 years ago, fate made first a soldier. As a youngster of 21 he was doing his compulsory peacetime military service, having just finished his studies at the School of Political Science at the University of Paris, when World War I began. He was a corporal in August, 1914—just another poilu in baggy red pants and blue tunic—but behind him were generations of fighting ancestors.
“We’re very proud of the long line of soldiers in our family,” he told me. “My father was killed in the last war, and there have been Hauteclocques fighting for France ever since the earliest days of my country. My father’s grandfather—how do you say that? Great-grandfather?—was one of Napoleon’s officers.” Two years of hard fighting brought young Hauteclocque two wounds and a lieutenancy in a crack Chasseurs Alpins regiment. Then, in 1916, he was captured by the! Germans. For two years Hauteclocque fretted under German confinement, seeking some way to escape, driving deeper into his soul the hatred for the Boches engendered by the teachings of his childhood and two years in the trenches.
But there was no escape. Then, miraculously it seemed to him, the war was over. There was an armistice. France had won.
Back in Paris and out of the Army, young Hauteclocque set out on the diplomatic career toward which his pre-war university days had pointed. His family background and his war service were all in his favor, and in 1919 officials at the Quai d’Orsay, seat of the French Foreign Ministry, appointed him an attaché at the embassy at Rio de Janeiro.
At Rio Hauteclocque met and married slim, piquant Madeleine Conty, daughter of His Excellency Alexander Conty, French ambassador to Brazil. And it was at Rio, too, that the first two of their seven daughters were born.
Hauteclocque was one rung up the diplomatic ladder, with a promotion to the rank of secretary, before he was transferred to Berne, Switzerland. At Berne, and later at Constantinople and Bucharest, he worked unostentatiously but effectively for the welfare of French interests
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From Underground To Embassy
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during the last intrigue-ridden peace. He was made an embassy counsellor while stationed in the Romanian capital, and in 1935 the Quai d’Orsay, pleased with his promise and his devotion to duty, recalled him to Paris to head the ministry’s Africa-Levant section.
Two years later the Hauteclocques packed up again and travelled to Beirut, where the count joined the staff of the French high commissioner to Syria and Lebanon. By then his family had increased to its present proportions—two more daughters having been born in Switzerland, one in Turkey, another in Romania, and the seventh in France.
Only six of the girls accompanied Hauteclocque and his countess to Canada, for the eldest, 22-year-old Nicole, remained in France as the bride of a French Army officer. Nicole and Jacqueline, who is 20, are Hauteclocque’s “Brazilian daughters.” He calls Françoise, 19, and Huguette, 18, “my Swiss girls”; Ghislaine, 16, is “my little Turk,” and 13-year-old Marie-Sixtine is “my Romanian daughter.” Isabelle—who spat at the German —at eight is pretty, round-faced and shy, the only one of the children born in France. .
To newsmen who jokingly suggested that a Canadian Hauteclocque might help improve relations between France and Canada, the count replied, with a smile, “You Canadians pride yourselves on your large families. My mother was the 18th child of a family of 19.”
The outbreak of this war found Hauteclocque at Damascus as French delegate to the Government of Syria, with the rank of minister. Those were troubled times in the Levant, with German and Italian agents contributing in full measure to the intrigue which stirred the Moslem world as the Axis prepared its bid for world domination.
Hauteclocque’s job was to maintain and strengthen the influence and prestige of France, and to frustrate Axis efforts to win the support of factional leaders in that Frenchmandated state. It was no simple task, but Hauteclocque was no simple man. Some of the situations he faced required every bit of the diplomatic finesse he had acquired in two decades in the foreign service. Y et he succeeded.
Who Is for France?
Tremendous complications followed the capitulation of France in June, 1940, and the seizure of authority by the neo-Fascist organization of Marshal Pétain. Frenchmen in Syria, as elsewhere throughout the colonies and mandated areas, were bewildered and confused. Then the voice of a junior French general reached Damascus from London via the BBC. “La France a perdu une bataille,” said Charles de Gaulle. “Mais la France n'a pas perdu la guerrel”
“France has not lost the war!” the French delegate to Syria repeated, the deep lines on his forehead smoothing a little with the thought.
Hauteclocque remained at his post, but only to serve France, not the Vichy clique, which had placed French honor in the hands of the Boches. His heart heavy for the France he loved, he conferred with other French officials, at Beirut as well as Damascus, military as well as civil. With the words of General de Gaulle in his mind he sounded out his colleagues. Would they continue the fight? Could they count on the support
of French military units in the Levant?
As the months went by, months of Frenchmen intriguing against Frenchmen for the control of a few thousand troops and a few thousand square miles of sun-baked soil at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, Vichy began to hear rumors about this man Hauteclocque. The rumors became reports. The reports were substantiated by documentary evidence. Hauteclocque, Vichy determined to its satisfaction, had taken an attitude contrary to the Pétain Government’s policy of collaboration with the Axis, and moreover was trying to incite French forces in the Levant to continue the war.
Orders for his arrest were wirelessed in code to Frenchmilitary headquarters in the Levant. The orders were obeyed. Further instructions were to fly the delegate back to France. They, too, were obeyed.
Thus, late in 1940, Jean de Hauteclocque arrived at Vichy to face his accusers. He was brought before the Quai d’Orsay’s Council of Discipline and charged with being an anticollaborationist and with having tried to persuade Army units in Syria and Lebanon to join the Free French. He was found guilty and summarily dismissed from the foreign service—a light enough punishment, considering the seriousness of the offenses, but explained by the fact that the council is not a court but merely a disciplinary committee within the Foreign Ministry.
Into the Underground
At loose ends for the first time in more than 20 years, Hauteclocque looked about him at suffering, bleeding France, slowly being done to death by the German conquerors. One aspect of his country’s plight struck home to him, a family man, with greater force, than any other. That was the suffering of the common people, the thousands upon thousands of refugees who had clogged the roads from the north the previous spring and summer, and who now were destitute, without sufficient food or clothing, and in many cases without shelter. He interested friends in this problem and banded them together to form Secours National, a nation-wide agency dedicated to the relief of refugees.
Secours National was a crusade for Hauteclocque. As its secretary-general he controlled all its operations. He preached for the cause, wrote for the cause, solicited money for the cause. He even persuaded the Vichy Government to contribute funds into the Secours National coffers, despite his hate for Vichy and Vichy’s distrust for him. Better that the Vichy treasury should be tapped, however slightly, to help suffering Frenchmen and women, he reasoned, than that it should save all its stolen and extorted wealth for the Germans.
“We had funds totalling 4j/2 billion francs—a huge sum,” Hauteclocque said. “Aside from what little Vichy contributed, it was all raised by popular subscription. We worked throughout France—in the occupied portion as well as that part under Vichy rule. And by providing food and clothing for refugees and the innocent victims of Allied bombing we saved between 15,000 and 20,000 lives.”
Secours National was not formed to act as a blind for its secretary-general’s activities in connection with the resistance movement, but it served admirably for that purpose. For three years Hauteclocque secretly diverted to the Underground large quantities of material—mainly food and clothing— which the resistance leaders used in the superbly courageous but grossly unequal struggle against Vichy and the
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All went well until late in 1943, when he approved a Secours National donation of 4,000,000 francs (about $85,000) toward the relief of the families of Spanish Republican soldiers who were interned in southern France.
“I gave the money to the Spanish Republicans because they were poor and had nothing to eat—not because they were Spanish Republicans,” Hauteclocque explained. Nevertheless, he had long been known within France as an anticollaborationist, and his action infuriated the Vichy-controlled press. Rabidly collaborationist papers labelled him a Communist, and for weeks hurled vituperative editorials at him. Finally, on April 7, 1944, the Vichy militia took action.
“It was terrible to be arrested by Frenchmen,” the count said. “There were no charges, no trial. They just put me in a concentration camp outside Paris.”
There he would have stayed, presumably, until the liberation of Paris more than a year later had he not escaped.
“On May 23 I told the guards I was sick and that I needed to go to a hospital,” he related. “They called the camp doctor, who was a resistance man. He reported to the camp commandant that I really was seriously ill and should go to hospital in Paris.
“The hardest part was arranging to be taken from the camp by a certain guard, who also was one of us, for we had planned to escape together. But he managed it.”
The guard, Corsican-born Joseph Campana, an assistant chief police inspector, performed a signal service for the Underground and for France when he helped Hauteclocque escape. As guard and prisoner they left the concentration camp together, but they never arrived at the hospital.
“When we reached Paris,” Hauteclocque continued, “we went to Clemenceau’s home. Clemenceau’s valet, who still lived there, was a friend of Campana, and hid me for eight days, until I could get out of the city.”
Albert, the late premier’s valet, and Marie, the cook, were the sole occupants of the Tiger’s home on Rue Franklin, the home which, after Clemenceau’s death in 1929, had been turned into a memorial to France’s World War I premier. In addition to acting as its caretaker, Albert held a minor post in the Prefecture of Police. Each night he regaled Hauteclocque and Campana with stories of the discomfiture of the police at their lack of success in finding them.
The search was intense. Four days
after their disappearance the police, not knowing but probably suspecting Campana had deserted’ with Hauteclocque, circularized all police bureaus in France with the poster bearing their photographs, names, descriptions, and other information pertinent to the task of finding them, dead or alive.
The Underground supplied Hauteclocque with different clothing and forged papers, and on the first of June, several days before D-Day, he left Paris for northern France. There he found sanctuary in the home of a friend.
“I had hoped to escape to England,” Hauteclocque explained, “but the Allied landings in Normandy changed my plans. Instead I decided to stay hidden until the Allies reached me. I moved several times, from the home of one friend to another, to avoid detection, and once spent several days hiding in a brewery. My hiding places weren’t far from my home, but I didn’t dare get in touch with my family as the police would be watching them.”
The Countess de Hauteclocque and their daughters were living at this time in three rooms of their 20-room century-old chateau .at Bermicourt, the other 17 rooms being occupied by the Germans. Bermicourt, where the Hauteclocques have lived for the last 900 years, is in the Pas de Calais area, not far from Canada’s Vimy Ridge Memorial.
“I have always considered myself a neighbor of Canada,” says Hauteclocque, referring to the fact that the land on which the Vimy Memorial stands was ceded by France to Canada.
Return to Paris
The fortunes of war, however, prevented the reunion of the Hauteclocque family. Canadian troops didn’t reach and liberate the Pas de Calais until Sept. 8, and meantime there were important events transpiring farther south, events which called Hauteclocque back to Paris.
“Early in August,” Hauteclocque reminisced with a chuckle, “the Underground leaders in Paris were trying to contact me. I was moving around so much they weren’t able to, and I’m glad they couldn’t, because they wanted me to go to Paris and get ready to take over the position of prefect of police when the city was liberated.”
The count didn’t want tobe chief of police, but he did want to take part in driving the Boches out of the capital. So two weeks later, using his forged papers and taking advantage of the confusion throughout northern France
as the tentacles of the Allied invasion force reached out toward the capital, Hauteclocque made his way back to Paris There he found the Underground’s plans well laid: there was to be an uprising timed to coincide with the approach of the Fighting French and American armored column from the west. He joined Underground and Maquis leaders preparing for the city’s day of deliverance.
That day was Aug. 25, the day General Jacques LeClerc’s French troops drove into the city, fighting from street to street, house to house, to crush the weakened German garrison which at the same time was under attack by the Underground forces within the city. One of the first to greet LeClerc was his cousin, Jean de Hauteclocque. LeClerc’s real name is Philippe de Hauteclocque; he assumed the nom de guerre during the North African fighting to protect relatives still inside France, including the future ambassador to Canada.
Pockets of Nazi soldiers were still holding out in Paris when the count made his way to the Foreign Ministry. With a few companions he entered through the basement, ascended the stairs to the roof and there raised the Tricolor on the roof top flagpole to symbolize the capital’s newly won freedom. As the flag, stirred by the warm summer breeze, mounted the staff, Hauteclocque did not know that a score of German soldiers were watching from the ministry courtyard a few stories below. They did not interfere.
Show Effects of War
The war has left its marks, both inwardly and outwardly, on all the Hauteclocques. They have known months of worry and apprehension, sorrow and pain for the plight of France, discomforts, privations and danger. The children have seen sights that young eyes on this side of the ocean have never seen, yet in spite of this their laughter rings through their “palace,” the lavish embassy residence on Sussex Street.
“It is so long since we felt like laughing, since we had any fun,” one of them explained simply.
There are things the count tries to forget: the screams of Frenchmen and women being tortured in that camp outside Paris. He doesn’t like to talk about the abominations of the Nazi terrorism in France.
“I know in America, and possibly in Canada, too, people find difficulty in believing some of the stories published on these horrors, and more precisely on the tortures inflicted by the Germans on those they had reason to suspect of resisting,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the basis of these stories is only too true, judging from what I have seen and heard. My wife’s brother, who led a resistance group in Touraine, was wounded during a' skirmish with the Germans and was carried by them to a farmhouse. There his captors ate and drank copiously, and then finished him off by crushing his head with their gun butts and the heels of their boots.
“I must confess my surprise when I hear of impressions brought back by people who have toured France for a few days and who declare they have found the destruction or the sufferings less than they expected. I cannot help wondering whether these people had eyes to see or ears to hear.”
Life during the occupation was not easy for the Hauteclocque women, although so far as absolute necessities of life were concerned they were better off than many Frenchwomen. Food was fairly plentiful, their big farm furnishing most of what they ate. They needed little money because there was
little to buy. They bartered farm produce to fill some of their needs, but mainly they just went without.
For four years they had practically no new clothes. The girls wore handme-downs, and the countess spent long hours with needle and thread, remaking her pre-war gowns into more practical everyday garments. Footwear was a big problem, for when they wore out what leather shoes they had they could get no more. By last summer the seven girls had but one pair of shoes among them, which they saved for dress occasions. Normally they wore wooden clogs.
After Dunkirk the countess and her daughters organized an emergency hospital for wounded Allied soldiers who had been captured by fhe Germans. With Javelle water, scissors and bandages as their only medical supplies they cared for some 1,500 patients. “We had no anaesthetic, of course, and many of the soldiers asked if they could hold Françoise’s hand while their dressings were being changed,” Madame de Hauteclocque said.
The countess soon discovered that her British patients often were low of spirit, not because they were wounded and prisoners, but because they worried about their families back in Britain. With Dunkirk all mail from home had stopped.
“My daughters and I spent all that night writing letters to them, and next day we went to the hospital with baskets of mail. It made them very happy. It didn’t matter who the letters were from, or what was in them, so long as they were cheerful.”
All members of the family but Isabelle speak English as well as French, and the count, who needlessly apologizes for his English (it is better than he seems to think), also understands German and Romanian. The children learned much of their English conversing with wounded Tommieá in the makeshift Bermicourt hospital.
“The Germans were brutes to the prisoners,” the countess said. “As soon as our patients were a bit better they were driven off to prison camps in Germany. But we managed to keep them about four months, and did what we could for them.”
No one was happier than the countess when the appearance of Canadian tanks in the Pas de Calais area early last September rid the chateau of its unwelcome guests.
“The Boches we hpd ran away like rabbits when the Canadians approached,” she related. “They didn’t fight at all in our part of France. They stole bicycles and horses to go faster. It was such a pleasure to see them leave— they made the house smell!”
They Like It in Canada
Her children, who will not start attending Ottawa schools until this fall, are revelling in the Canadian way of life. They and their mother are seen frequently in the capital’s department stores, in which one of their first purchases was skis and ski togs for the entire family. They were out on the skis a number of times late in the season, but confined their skiing to the relatively gentle slopes of Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Park.
The whole family is delighted with its magnificent new home, the sevenyear-old embassy residence with its lofty rooms of tawny marble, its 15foot windows, looking northward across the Ottawa River to the soft line of the Gatineau Hills, its murals, sculpture and tapestries.
The daughters’ favorite room is the Canadian Room, an incongruous oddity with walls and ceiling done in birch bark, and furniture upholstered in leather with short brown fur—what
Jacqueline told me was “little horse— what do you call that?—pony!” And on the fireplace mantel of that room she, too, has her memento of the German occupation, a bit of something she calls soap, but which looks more like a piece of eroded limestone.
“We paid two chickens for a little bar of that. It was the only soap we
could get at Bermicourt,” she grimaced.
Count de Hauteclocque was sent to Canada primarily to make friends for France, and it is difficult to see how General de Gaulle could have made a wiser choice. For in dispatching the Hauteclocques to Ottawa, De Gaulle sent not one ambassador of French good will but eight.