The house of the secret army - Of Jones-the-Bones, Mrs Bones and the Welsh-speaking tribes of Brittany - CycleBlaze

May 23, 2022

The house of the secret army

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AIRMEN were always more valuable than their planes. Aircraft came out of factories by the hour but not their pilots.

There was therefore a race when a plane was downed in the war. The Germans wanted to take the crew prisoner; the Resistance wanted to start them on a house-to-house journey across Europe, to get them back to Britain.

Some, perhaps, knew that they were going to La Maison d'Alphonse - Alphonse's house.

There never was an Alphonse. His was another made-up name. And maybe because of that we had never heard of him before seeing this sign on the outskirts of Plouha.

And there the story unfolded.

Rather than a single Alphonse, there were a dozen. The story is complicated but it ends with a group of Resistance men and women taking downed airmen to the beach at night and putting them on small boats that sailed for England.

"Alphonse's house was on this site in 1944, the home of Jean and Marie Gicquel, members of the Shelburn network"
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You'd miss it in a car. Just a bend in the road with a signpost and a plaque in a wall. But unmissable in the people's history of the war.

We were approaching St-Brieuc now, a town of regional importance. The route took us with no little smugness on an old road that shadowed the unpleasant near-autoroute that cuts through the centre of town, a decision which appealed in an era when the car was king but which the city has had to live with ever since.

We rode beside the river and then up the long hill to the centre. And there we asked directions to the station.

"Oh," said a genial man happy to chat. "That's difficult."

And out came a lot of prenez à droite, allez tout droit, prenez à gauche until none of it made sense.

"Is it far?" we asked, thinking at least we could set off the right way and then ask again.

"Three kilometres, maybe?"

We set off. It turned out to be 700 metres.

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