SONIA WAS A SPY
Pretty Sonia d’Artois, like thousands of other Quebec City housewives, works happily at home with her four children. Even her neighbors don't know that nineteen she parachuted into Occupied France and brushed death everyday for five months as a British secret agenl
THE youngest and perhaps the most beautiful secret agent dropped behind enemy lines by the British Intelligence Service during World War Two lives today with her four bouncing Canadien children'in an eighteenth-century house on the historic Rue St. Louis in Quebec City.
Guarding the front door are two ancient French cannon, each with its tray of well-polished shot, and these are fitting symbols of the tenant’s audacious and adventurous life. For five perilous months she lived in Occupied France under the code name Blanche. Her real name, had she borrowed it from some baroque extravaganza by Rafael Sabatini could not have sounded more suitably heroic. It is Sonia d’Artois.
At nineteen Sonia graduated from a British school of espionage, sabotage and guerrilla warfare, parachuted into the thick of Rommel’s Atlantic Wall defenses, and there engaged in spectacular feats of disruption while flirting with unsuspecting German officers.
A few days before embarking on this mission she married a Canadien classmate, now Major Guy d’Artois, DSO, GM, Croix de Guerre.
Prohibited from serving together, lest the Gestapo should gain an opportunity of torturing a wife in front of her husband, they jumped into France separately, on different nights, many miles
apart, and neither knew until after the liberation of Paris whether the other was alive or dead. After a few years of reunion gunfire parted them once more. For the last twelve months Guy d’Artois has been serving with the Royal Twenty-Second Regiment, the renowned Van Doos, in Korea.
Now twenty-eight, Sonia plays with her children, darns socks, washes dishes, makes beds, goes shopping and bears with proud serenity all the anxieties and social restrictions of a wife whose husband is in action abroad. She is a lanky, slender, tweedy English blonde with the lowheeled stride of the southern counties. Her turned-up nose and pink and white complexion are strengthened by a firm mouth and chin. Her wide hazel eyes sparkle with good cheer.
Usually she dresses in simple country clothes but when she puts on warpaint she could easily be mistaken for a model of Swiss or Hungarian extraction. One of Sonia’s friends has described her as “a mixture of Jeanne d’Arc, Mata Hari and Mrs. Miniver.”
The drama of her undercover military record which, for security reasons, has never been revealed in detail before, lies not only in what she did but why she did it. Although she has no French blood Sonia has been from childhood a staunch Francophile. She was born Sonia Butt, at Eastchurch, Kent, England, in 1924. Her father, Group Captain L. A. K. Butt, was a regular RAF officer. Her mother, who was delicate, spent much time in the south of France.
Sonia was educated in France and finished up in boarding school at Vannes, on the Brittany Peninsula. She became familiar with the regions where the great battles following D-Day would be fought. Her French was pure. She says she felt just as much French as English. When in 1940 Winston Churchill offered the crumbling French nation joint citizenship with Britain Sonia says her reaction was one of “joy and pride.”
At that time she was fifteen. A few weeks earlier the Germans had broken through at Sedan. All the British in France began streaming for the Channel ports. As was customary in the case of minors Sonia had no passport of her own, being registered on her mother’s passport. Her mother was then on a trip to England.
Sonia had no money. The mails weren’t coming through. No British were allowed to re-enter France. All who left were subjected to close scrutiny. If ever there was a time when documents were vital this was it. Most girls would have considered themselves trapped. But Sonia cajoled her headmistress into lending her the fare and talked her way aboard a special train carrying British refugees to Calais. Jostled and ignored by the other fugitives she found herself, a lonely but well-composed adolescent, up against the French emigration barrier with no authority to pass. She was pushed aside while hundreds of others pressed by. She was the last to be examined. She talked her way around the officials and jumped aboard the last packet for England as the gangway was being raised. At Dover she talked her way through British immigration.
“In France,” Sonia explains today with a faint smile, “a girl matures earlier than in England.”
For two years she went to school in England. At seventeen she bluffed her way into the WAAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, twelve months under the legal age. But Sonia soon discovered that clerking as an AC2 in an RAF plotting room failed to match her dreams of martial valor. Another girl in her squad, Paddy O’Sullivan, who also spoke perfect French, said, “We are wasting our time here.” One day Paddy disappeared. Sonia made enquiries. The manner in which she was advised to forget Paddy aleYLed her to the existence of opportunities she was seeking.
She visited her father who was then a staff officer at the Air Ministry and asked him to pull strings. After she had pestered him for weeks he yielded. In the middle of 1943 Sonia was summoned to a luxurious apartment in central London. It was famous throughout the intelligence service for its opulent black bathtub.
This was the headquarters of a unit officially termed the French Section of the Western European Directorate of the Ministry of Economic Warfare, but always described by its members as “the Firm.” The boss of “the Firm” was a British officer, Colonel Maurice Buckmaster. His job was to train parachutists for liaison duties with the Maquisards in France. More than four hundred men and about fifty women entered France under Buckmaster’s command by parachute, small aircraft, rubber dinghy, fishing boat or submarine.
All were British subjects and all spoke excellent French. Most of them were born in the United Kingdom but they were reinforced by officers from Quebec, Mauritius, the Seychelles Islands and other Frenchspeaking corners of the Commonwealth. In the words of General Sir Frederick Morgan, the planner of D-Day, they “pitted themselves each individually, in lonely personal deadly combat against all the powers of Nazi darkness.”
This valiant band organized and armed the Maquis to speed the final annihilation of the Wehrmacht. The most famous among its members was Odette Churchill, GC, whose exploits were made into a film three years ago. More than a hundred and fifty of them, including a score of women, died in battle or in the concentration camps of Buchenwald and Ravensbrueck.
As Sonia waited for an interview Paddy O’Sullivan, her former fellow clerk, passed through the outer room. Paddy ignored her and Sonia made no gesture of recognition. A few minutes later she was given a rigorous French test. Before she left Sonia was advised to say nothing of the interview to anyone. She spent the week end with her father in a London suburb. “Seen anybody interesting today?” he asked her. Sonia says: “I went dumb on him and he nodded gloomily.”
Two weeks later she was transferred from the WAAF into the FANY, the Field Army Nursing Yeomanry, the elite of women volunteers, who wore khaki but whose rank was kept conveniently vague. She was put into a station wagon with drawn blinds and driven to an old house in Surrey. Here she met other new arrivals, including Guy d’Artois. He wore parachute wings and had come from the Canadian Special Service Force in the Aleutian Islands.
Within a few hours they were calling their new quarters the Looney Bin. They had to unravel puzzles for a psychiatrist they irreverently dubbed “the trick cyclist.” Officials asked them snap questions like “How many windows in the east wing of this house?” Both men and girls climbed trees, jumped from high walls, crossed rivers on ropes and wriggled through obstacle courses. They were all, women included, taught how to slaughter a sheep, gut a rabbit and break a man’s neck before he could scream.
In the mess they were encouraged to drink and knew that great interest was taken in their capacity. After one heavy session Sonia woke up to find an officer sitting at her bedside. He was there to hear whether she talked in her dreams and, if so, in what language. At mealtimes all conversation was in French. Those who made bad slips soon vanished. Anybody who left his knife and fork resting together on the plate English style, instead of apart, French style, was rebuked. They were not allowed to leave the grounds or make a telephone call. All their mail was censored.
Still in the same squad, Sonia and Guy went to another camp in the Midlands nicknamed the Cookery School. They mixed explosives from household acids and demolished bits of railroad track and trees. They learned the niceties of putting abrasives in piston housings and axle boxes. During booby-trap training a degree of levity was fostered. Thus, when the instructors drew up their chairs at table, opened their bureau drawers, or lifted windows, they were frequently 8haken by miniature explosions. Even
toilets were sometimes booby-trapped.
On this course Sonia, a willowy eighteen-year-old girl, showed herself as handy with a Bren, Tommy gun, pistol and grenade as most of the men. She also learned how to fire and strip a wide variety of German, French and Italian weapons.
She constantly heard comments that she was too young for the job ahead. But her reports were so good there was no excuse for dropping her. Besides, Buckmaster had noted that she had an attribute invaluable to a secret agent—sex appeal.
On the west coast of Scotland Sonia and Guy made twenty-five-mile hikes over the mountains in snow and fog, reporting en route to obscure check points which they found by map and compass. They also had to master radio communications and the Morse code. They rode bicycles and motorbikes and drove every kind of vehicle on wheels.
When they went on to the Parachute School at Ringway, near Manchester, they knew they were almost through. For Guy the jumping was easy. Sonia found it hair-raising but she never
balked. As she was about to make her fifth and final practice jump she turned around in the aircraft and looked into Guy’s eyes. Then she gave him a wicked wink. When they hit the ground a few seconds later Guy proposed and Sonia accepted.
Early in 1944 they were sent to a comfortable billet in Weymouth Street, in London’s West End, and they knew things were getting hot. They wanted to go to France together and with the idea of clinching this prospect got married. It was the worst thing they could have done. Quietly Buckmaster informed them that a joint mission was out of the question. Sonia bristled and said if she were not allowed to accompany Guy she would exercise her right, which obtained up to the moment of embarking, of throwing up the job.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “that that is your decision.” He apologized for appearing melodramatic and explained that in the event of their capture the Germans would have no compunction in torturing them in front of each other for information. The lives of hundreds of others would thus be jeopardized. Sonia says that a feeling
“like a little frozen mouse” ran up her spine. But she knew she couldn’t back down now. She bowed to Buckmaster’s decision and said she was sorry. A few days later Guy disappeared.
Sonia was then given four foolscap pages of single-space typing to memorize. It was packed with names, dates, times and places. The orders were set out in cold military fashion under the headings: Information, Intention,
Method, Administration, Intercommunication. Today she keeps a copy of them, together with all the forged documents she carried.
She was bound for the Department of Sarthe, at the hinge of Normandy and Brittany. Its capital, one hundred and forty-five miles southwest of Paris, was Le Mans, an industrial town of about a hundred thousand, surrounded by rolling thickly wooded country. Near Le Mans, Rommel had set up his anti-invasion headquarters. The presence of so many German troops in the area had intimidated most of the population and recruits for the Maquis were hard to find.
A few months earlier another agent, Captain Christopher Hudson, had
jumped into the area under the code name Albin. He was a regular British officer, aged around thirty-five, who had been educated in Switzerland. Sonia, under the code name Blanche, would be Hudson’s courier. Three similar missions before theirs had failed to raise any effective Maquis. One mission had been wiped out.
Sonia would have forged identity and ration cards in the name of Suzanne Bonvie. Her rendezvous with Hudson would be a small chateau on the outskirts of Le Mans. The chateau was owned by a young Maquisard whose real name was Bonvie. Sonia’s cover story was that she was Bonvie’s cousin come to visit him because her parents in the north of France had been killed and their home demolished by British bombers. Care had been taken to ensure that all records in the town where her fictitious parents were supposed to have lived had been destroyed by a Maquis raid. Sonia recalls thinking: “What a lot of trouble they go to.”
But there was more. She was given a bundle containing four afternoon frocks, two sports outfits, six pairs of real silk stockings, gaudy wedge shoes and fluffy underwear, all made in France and in keeping with the uppermiddle-class standards to which she supposedly had been raised.
They also gave her a money belt containing two hundred thousand francs, at that time worth four thousand dollars. After the war she would have to account for her expenditures. The bills were undetectable forgeries made by currency printers in England. A note had been made of all the numbers and after the war Britain would call them in and give the owners genuine cash in exchange. Sonia could spend as much as she liked providing it remained in keeping with her role. When she needed more money she was to ask Hudson and he would get it for her. Meanwhile two hundred thousand francs was as much as she could carry without bulging around the waist.
She was also given three separate addresses in neutral Madrid to which she could write in code if the heat was on and she needed to escape. Then a Lysander, a small aircraft which could land on a short field, would come and collect her at a specified point.
• Buckmaster gave her a final briefing and heard her recite her cover story three times. Then he cross-examined her on it, trying to trip her up. Finally, in the strangled accents of an Englishman faced with delicate matters he said, “You’ve got to be grim inside, ot course, and as hard as nails, nut outwardly . . . well it happens that you have been chosen for this job because . . . because you . . . you . . . you get along well with people. Do you understand?”
Sonia replied demurely, “I understand.”
In early April 1944, two months before D-Day, Sonia took off in a bomber. Accompanying her were a British radio operator and a French youth who’d been flown out from the Maquis for a weapon-training course. In a couple of hours they were over a field, thirty miles from Le Mans, and the pilot saw signals on the ground. Sonia watched a red light in the fuselage and when it turned green she jumped. An RAF sergeant threw her bundle after her. Then her two companions jumped. Everything went wrong. The aircraft was flying at only seven hundred feet and Sonia had hardly collected her wits before the ground was zooming up to meet her. She landed badly and winded herself. When she recovered she heard the rumble of motors and on a nearby road saw a moving column of trucks.
It was a bright moonlight night and in a few seconds she would be visible fom the trucks. She went through the drill for releasing her parachute, but it wouldn’t come undone. She dropped to the ground and dragged the parachute as she crawled to the far side of the field. She had expected a reception committee led by a man called André but she appeared to be alone. Getting down low in the ditch she began to cut her parachute away with a knife. Suddenly she heard a movement in the hedge. She drew her revolver and said, “Is that you, André?” Two old men appeared. “André,” said one of them, “was killed by the Boche last Tuesday.”
The old men were flabbergasted when they saw Sonia. They said they were expecting men. Sonia told them two men had jumped with her and they’d best go and find them. No, said the old men, others would look after them. They must get away quickly. “What about my bundle of clothes?” hissed Sonia. “Leave it,” said the old men. “The convoy has made things dangerous.” They helped her to bury her parachute and then they set off on foot.
In the distance the German convoy continued to roll by. The old men told her the ranks of the Maquis were so thin that young men could not be spared for reception committees. All ni*ht they walked across fields. In the morning they took to a highway. For a few miles they got a lift on a farm cart. Then they walked again. Sonia had jumped in a sweater, divided skirt and ski boots, garments that would not attract attention in those days of French rationing. But she was unbearably hot.
Soon a German patrol car came down the road. Sonia saw the menacing helmets, submachine guns and potatomasher grenades of the occupants and her heart pumped fiercely at this first close-up sight of the enemy. As the car passed one of the men shouted the German equivalent of “Hi Ya, Babe!” Sonia was so relieved that her responsive wave and smile were genuinely gay. The incident gave her confidence. She knew she fitted well into the French scene.
The trio walked on openly, passing for refugees, and throughout the day German trucks continued to grind by. Sonia was thankful for her long training marches in Scotland. At midday they halted briefly for bread, wine and cheese at a little inn. Then on they went again, Sonia marveling at the endurance of the aged guides. When night fell they had to avoid the curfew so they took to the fields once more. Early in the morning of the second day they reached the chateau. Sonia had been walking for thirty hours.
There she met the men who had jumped with her. Others had collected them and guided them in. “In a way,” says Sonia, “I was glad they traveled separately. I had always been scared witless of being with the English lad, the radio operator, because he spoke French with a hit of an accent.”
They told her her clothes bundle had landed slap on the highway just before the arrival of the lead truck in the German convoy. The truck had stopped and a German soldier had got out and picked the bundle up. It was ominous news. She was surprised to find that Bonvie, the owner of the chateau, and her supposed cousin, was “just a young lad, about two years older than I.” Hudson was there too, looking worried.
In most parts of France the Maquis were operating in groups of up to three thousand men. Their ranks were swelled daily by Frenchmen between the ages of eighteen and thirty-two
who were avoiding compulsory service in German labor battalions. The Department of Sarthe, especially around the capital Le Mans, was overrun with German mobile reserves located strategically behind forward troops dug in along the shores of Normandy and Brittany. Gestapo surveillance was acute.
Most of the one hundred and fifty Maquisards Hudson had managed to raise were youngsters from Paris. They were ill-armed and scattered in three groups fifty miles apart. By day they hid in the woods. By night they
carried out acts of sabotage against targets specified by London in coded radio messages. Hudson’s most urgent need was more men. He told Sonia she would help to find them.
After twenty-four hours’ rest she journeyed into Le Mans with Bonvie to meet contacts and visit the “safe houses” where she could be sure of shelter. She recalls a feeling of exultation at her inconspicuousness. Three days before she had been strolling down Piccadilly. Now she was threading her way through crowded streets in enemy territory. The French civilians
betrayed no open hostiïty toward the swarming Germans They ignored them. Yet the aura of hatred and suspicion was intense. Sonia herself was more fascinated by the drama of her situation than scared.
“We entered lots of places where Bonvie was known,” she says. “We were knocking at doors and climbing up and down stairs all day. Everywhere I was greeted with guarded warmth. ‘So madame is one of us?’ they said. 'Bien!' I was proud of the urbanity and deep defiance of these people. They were ordinary middleclass folk, shopkeepers, small businessmen, dentists and the like, the backbone of France. These were the people I was fighting for. They were the people in whom I had always believed. But there weren’t enough young lads among them.”
She got rooms with a quiet family of sympathizers and bought a bicycle. The recruiting procedure was laborious. A dressmaker threw a small party for “the poor girl from the north who has lost her parents,” a doctor’s wife asked her to dinner, a notary invited her for the week end. A nod, a gesture, a fixed look from her hosts indicated that men to whom she was introduced might make Maquis material.
Sonia would use her wiles and get the prospects to invite her out for a drink. Over a drink she would guide the conversation to war. “If only there was something I could do,” the men would say. At this point Sonia would suggest a bicycle picnic.
Out in the country, under a tree or by a stream, the conversation would become less guarded and when Sonia felt it was safe she would invite the men to join the Maquis. If any one of them had jumped up and tried to cycle away Sonia would have shot him on the spot. “But I never had to kill anybody,” she says, “at least not like that. If it had been necessary, however, T would have done it. I wish I had done it in one case.”
Sonia recruited scores of Frenchmen. Many came to her in small groups. Several times she entered Hudson’s camps with half a dozen rookies trotting at her heels.
One day in Le Mans she saw a French girl, a notorious consort of German officers, wearing one of the dresses that had been in her bundle from Britain. She never knew whether the Germans suspected it had been dropped from an aircraft or had merely fallen off the back of a truck. She had bought new clothes for herself in Le Mans with forged coupons.
Sonia made a point of eating in restaurants frequented by German officers. Frequently she accepted drinks from them. She told her story of being bombed out in the north so bitterly that they took her for a Nazi sympathizer.
“Many French who didn’t know me scowled at me,” she says. “I was taken for ‘an officer girl.’ Because of my fair hair some of the French thought 1 was German. There were German officers who suspected I was in their own secret service. I left them to puzzle. It all helped to confuse the issue.”
By D-Day Hudson had raised a force of five hundred men, split into half a dozen camps in the woods around Le Mans. Arms had been dropped during
three consecutive full-moon periods. The men even had British chocolates and cigarettes. Rations were bought on the black market with bills from England or foraged from sympathetic farmers.
Each man carried forged identity papers and learned several cover stories by heart. Many of their documents came from an underground print shop in Paris controlled by the Maquis central command. This shop turned out thousands of papers monthly ranging from permission to enter restricted military zones to supplementary cheese coupons.
Sonia now moved into one of the camps and slept under the stars. Nearly every day she cycled fifty miles with messages to other camps. “A girl could always get past control points better than a man,” she says. “A bicycle was the only form of civilian transport in those days so my machine aroused no suspicion. My identity cards from London were checked scores of times and never questioned. Once I even got a bit careless. I found myself at a check point with English cigarettes on me. That was unforgivable. Fortunately I was not searched.”
Recruits began their service by cutting telephone wires, were promoted to blowing up rail tracks, then to bridges, later to factory installations and locomotives and finally to harassing convoys. Prolonged engagements with the enemy were avoided. The policy was hit hard and run.
After the landings in Normandy activities were intensified. Every night Hudson’s sections were operating against targets of fleeting opportunity and targets indicated by radio from London. Sarthe was a whirling mass of German troops as Rommel, by desperate footwork, switched his divisions from sector to sector in an effort to control the burgeoning beachhead. The Maquis flitted among them like gnats at a herd of bullocks, imposing a nervous strain that eventually led to panic.
As the Allies kept their foothold in Normandy French confidence increased and more and more men joined the Maquis. Sonia had to help with the weapon training.
Standing under the trees before a group of sheepish recruits, while sentries guarded the woodland paths which approached the secret camps, she would show them how to fire and strip the Bren gun. Sensing their embarrassment she would say, “I know I am only a girl but we are short-handed. This weapon takes a bit of figuring out. But when you know it you will be able to use it better than I can.”
One squad was ready for target practice. Ammunition was short and with Hudson’s permission Sonia led the squad to a hill, several miles from the camp, which overlooked a highway. They lay waiting until a line of German trucks rounded a curve below them. Then the Brens opened up. Tncendiary bullets flashed into the gas tanks of the lead truck and set it on fire. The following truck crashed into the ditch.
Sonia sighted her own Bren and joined in the firing. Most of the Germans were bowled over before they could jump into the ditches. Soon there was no sound save the crackling of the burning truck. In that tense silence Sonia sensed that the surviving Germans were preparing to counterattack. She rose with a smoking gun under her arm and grinned at her pupils. “Let’s go,” she said. “Next lesson is Tommy gun.”
One of the British agents in Le Mans was a Scotswoman, the wife of a French university professor, who had managed to conceal her origin from the Germans. Her home was used as a “letter box,” a place where intelligence of German troop movements was left. Here Sonia picked up the messages for transmission over the Maquis radio to London.
About a month before Patton’s armor broke through at St. LÔ, Sonia was in Le Mans to collect messages from the Scotswoman. “I walked up the street,” she says, “and though I saw nothing unusual I had a strange premonition that something was wrong. Something compelled me to turn back. At the bottom of the street I passed a man I knew. Without looking at me he said ‘It’s blown.’ ”
Sonia walked casually away, collected her bike from a garage, and cycled back toward one of the camps. About a mile from the spot where she should have turned off the highway she heard firing in the vicinity of the camp. She stopped. It was getting dark now so she sat under a tree by the roadside to think things out. Very soon, through the dusk, she saw one of her Maquisards trying to walk calmly along the road. She spoke as he passed. “Les boches,” he said. “They came while we were at dinner. Two hundred of them. Some of us are killed, some captured. We are scattering.”
Sonia cycled back to Le Mans. She had not eaten all day and was faint for food. She reckoned that if she ate somewhere where she was well known it would tend to disassociate her with the Maquis group which had just been raided. The restaurant she chose was full of German officers, many of whom nodded and smiled at her. It was so full there was only one vacant seat, and this was at the table of a man she knew was in the Gestapo.
With a winsome smile she asked him if she might share his table. He was delighted. “All the Germans,” she says, “even the Gestapo, wanted to be loved.” They had a light-hearted meal together. He insisted on picking up her check.
During the night she made her way to a rendezvous in the woods which had been fixed as a rallying point for Maquisards dispersed by a raid. Before dawn thirty-two of the fifty who had been in camp turned up. They lay low for a few days and then were merged into Hudson’s other groups, which reorganized in new camps.
Sonia heard that the first camp had been betrayed by one of the men she had recruited—the man she still wishes she had shot. Two English radio operators had been killed and their equipment seized. This meant Hudson was out of touch with London. It was impossible to make arrangements for the dropping of ammunition to replace that lost in the raid. Now the job was
to contact other Maquisards who had radio communications. Neither Sonia nor Hudson knew where these might be. Lateral communication between groups was discouraged as the roundup of one group might lead to a chain exposure of others through confessions under torture.
In Tours, sixty miles south, Sonia had a French godmother. She was certain this woman would be loyal to De Gaulle. She gambled on the godmother being still at the same address. Armed with a different set of identity cards and another cover story she cycled to Tours in two days. When site knocked at the door of a house she found herself face to face with her godmother, whom she had not seen for more than five years. The woman nearly fainted as she beckoned Sonia in.
Her godmother had friends on the fringe of the Maquis. Sonia was passed cautiously from one individual to another until finally she was led before another British officer. She easily convinced him of her true identity because they had been trained at the same school. He informed London of Hudson’s plight. Another radio operator was sent out and communications restored.
On Aug. 6 Patton’s columns thundered into Le Mans and found Maquisards under Hudson and Sonia containing a Luftwaffe battalion which was still defending the German airfield.
Hudson and Sonia went under American command and were put to work interrogating prisoners. Among the first men sent to Sonia was the Gestapo agent with whom she had dined a few weeks earlier. “You!” he said, his face turning purple, “you!” That’s all he could, or would, say.
Sonia and Hudson tired rapidly of their desk job and persuaded the Americans to let them make another trip behind the enemy lines.
At the old Gestapo headquarters they equipped themselves with documents which indicated they had been French collaborators. Sonia even had one German document authorizing her to carry a pistol. Today it occupies a place of honor in her scrapbook.
Between Patton and the Germans at this time there was a wide no man’s land. Sonia and Hudson drove across at top speed in a French car. They got away with a story that they were collaborators fleeing from French wrath and scouted behind the German lines for several days. Then they drove back full of useful information. Halfway across no man’s land they took an American flag and American documents from under the floor hoards of their car and in this way regained Patton’s lines. A second trip worked equally well.
On the way back from the third trip they put up their American flag too soon. One of the villages, which had been in American hands when they last saw it, had been reoccupied by Germans. As soon as Hudson saw German troops he stepped on the gas. The Germans opened fire on the csr when it was doing sixty miles an hour. Hudson was badly wounded in his shoulder but he managed to keep the car on the highway until they rounded a corner. Then he lost control and crashed into the ditch. Sonia and he at once took to the woods.
As Sonia was dressing Hudson’s wounds with bandages torn from (heir clothing another German patrol stumbled on them. Sonia said they were collaborators who had been shot up trying to escape. They were taken before a German colonel. He considered their story implausible and put them under guard overnight. The next day he lost interest in them as the A-mericans attacked. When he had withdrawn, Sonia and Hudson were arrested by the Americans and it was several days before they could re-establish themselves at Patton’s headquarters.
Later, in Le Mans, Sonia was set upon by an angry mob of French civilians, denouncing her as the blonde who had dallied with German officers in restaurants. They were just about to shave her head and parade her through the streets in disgrace when she was rescued by Americans.
That was Sonia’s last battle.
She was reunited with her husband upon the liberation of Paris at an advanced headquarters there set up by Buckmaster.
Guy d’Artois had commanded three thousand Maquisards near Lyons, in central France and built up the best communications system in the whole underground. Scores of secret switchboards in farmhouses had been connected by more than seven hundred miles of telephone wire all stolen from the Germans. In this way Guy had kept tabs on German troop movements over a wide area and through ability to give warnings and orders at long range had launched many effective attacks. The switchboards had been manned twenty-four hours a day by farmers’ wives.
After VE-Day Sonia and Guy volunteered for similar duties in the Far East. French Indo-China seemed to them an obvious field. “But then,” says Sonia, “I became pregnant and they drummed me out of the army.” The collapse of Japan canceled the need for Guy.
Guy d’Artois returned to Canada first and Sonia followed with a group of other British war brides in 1946. They settled in military quarters at Camp Shilo, Man.
The British awarded Sonia the MBE and Guy the DSO. Shortly after the war, at a reception in Ottawa, General Charles de Gaulle pinned on Guy’s chest the Croix de Guerre.
Within a year D’Artois was called upon again to display his daring. In 1947 he parachuted to the aid of Canon J. H. Turner, an Anglican missionary, who had injured himself in the Canadian Arctic. Former Governor-General Viscount Alexander added the George Medal to his decorations.
In 1948 D’Artois was posted to the Quebec garrison and the family took up residence in the charming old house on the Rue St. Louis. Here they spent many hours reminiscing. Sonia would ask Guy what he was doing at such and such a time in France. He would think for a moment and then laugh, “Why I was up all night talking to married women on the telephone.” Then he would ask her what she was doing and Sonia would reply tartly, “I was sleeping in a ditch with fifteen Frenchmen.”
For four years the D’Artois had a baby every twelve months, first Robert and Michel, then Nadya and Tina, all today between the ages of seven and three. There it would seem their story, which fits all the specifications of a popular novel, should reach its conventionally happy ending.
But life for professional officers is a game of cards and last March Guy was dealt orders for Korea. Sonia settled down with a shrug and a smile to the humdrum life of wife of an absent soldier.
Since Guy went away Sonia has had a maid to help her with the children. This gives her an opportunity to do a few evening chores for the IODE of which she is an enthusiastic member.
She loves Quebec City. It satisfies her FrancophUia. She is taking pains to see that her children grow up bilingual. “But it is important that one language should be dominant,” she says. “The boys go to an Englishlanguage school because English is more useful. The girls will go to a Frenchlanguage school because French is more becoming.”
Austen Chamberlain once observed that every Englishman had two countries—his own and France. Today Sonia has three and finds no conflict in her triple allegiance. She has lived according to the best traditions of the English ballad and the French chansons de geste. Few new Canadians have got off to a better start.