TWENTY-FIVE

‘Inturned’

GERMAN POLICE CONTINUED TO CALL on Sylvia Beach in her isolated mezzanine apartment above the shell of Shakespeare and Company. She remembered that ‘the Gestapo would come and they’d say, “You have a Jewish girl–you had–in the bookshop. And you have a black mark against you.” I said, “Okay, okay.” And they said, “We’ll come for you, you know.” I always said okay to them. One day, they did come.’ On 24 September 1942, Sylvia was out. A rumour that honey was available somewhere near the Church of the Madeleine sent Sylvia off on her bicycle to ‘queue up for an hour or two, and perhaps come away without filling your can’. After waiting two hours for the precious honey, she cycled home to see Mme Allier, her concierge, weeping. She told Sylvia ‘that “they” had come for me and I was to get ready at once’. She put away her honey, and ‘they’ arrived in a large military truck. The first internment of American women in Paris was underway.

‘I must pack up only what I could carry,’ Sylvia wrote. ‘I thought as winter was coming and we might be taken to a cold German camp, woollies were the best: and flustered, with the soldier with a kind of dinnerplate hanging from his neck watching me as I dressed and hurrying me (schnel mächen), I put into my rucksack the woollies and by mistake two bibles and 2 complete Shakespeares as the most condensed portable reading.’ Adrienne came down to say goodbye. Mme Allier continued crying, and the coal man opposite ‘was for some reason in tears as well’. The commotion in the rue de l’Odéon brought out the neighbours, residents and shopkeepers alike, who ‘gathered as close as possible around the truck that I climbed into’.

The German truck was already carrying other American women. The first Sylvia recognized was her old friend Katherine Dudley, ‘dressed as though for a vernissage, very smart, and in her usual good spirits’. Katherine was one of the four glamorous Dudley sisters, daughters of a well-connected Chicago gynaecologist, who had come to Europe before the First World War. The eldest, Helen, was a poet and had for a time been the mistress of Bertrand Russell. Dorothy Dudley, who had once been engaged to John Dos Passos, was a writer and the mother of painter Anne Harvey. Caroline Dudley had been instrumental in bringing the Revue Nègre, featuring a young Josephine Baker and jazz clarinettist Sydney Bechet, to Paris in 1925. With her husband, Joseph Delteil, she wrote some of the pieces for the Revue that astounded Paris and added to the allure of black American jazz among fashionable Parisians. Katherine was an accomplished painter, known mainly for her portraits. She was taking care of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s Paris apartment in the rue Christine, near her own at 13 rue de Seine. Stein and Toklas were living at their country house in Bilignin in the Vichy Zone, where Americans were not being interned.

The truck trundled through Paris from the house of one American woman to another. Each time the Germans failed to find anyone, the women cheered loudly. ‘After they had rounded up any American women to be found,’ Sylvia wrote, ‘we went on a long truckride but shut in as we were couldn’t see where on earth they were to deliver us.’ The Germans deposited the women at the northern edge of Paris in a place Sylvia ‘knew in better days as the Zoo’, the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne. There, 350 American women were herded into the monkey house in which ‘we were the only monkeys’.

The Swiss Consulate in Paris, acting for the United States, prepared a report on the internments for the American Legation in Berne:

The arrests began Thursday morning September 24, 1942 and ended on the evening of September 26. In the meantime each woman was examined not only from a medical point of view but also regarding her identity. Certain ones were immediately released due to their poor health.

Upon arrival of each bus the French Red Cross distributed gratuitously chocolate, biscuits and English books for the travel.

Sylvia received presents from friends who came to the zoo. The Germans allowed the women to take walks ‘in a minute garden where, over the distant hedge we could see any friends who cared to come and have a try at making themselves heard and at hearing our voices in unison calling loudly for that something in the top bureau drawer etc.’.

Drue Tartière, the American former actress and wife of Dr Thierry de Martel’s nephew, Jacques Terrane, had been picked up on 24 September from her house 20 miles south of Paris in Barbizon. Drue had left Radio Mondiale and become active in the Resistance, hiding Allied flyers in her house. She had rented a second house in the countryside as a rendezvous for résistants and a hiding place for British weapons and agents. She thought the Germans had arrested her as a résistante and feared that she might betray her comrades under torture. During two uncomfortable nights in German police custody with a 64-year-old American neighbour, Marion Greenough, she came to realize that she was being interned merely as an enemy alien. When she and Miss Greenough arrived in the Bois de Boulogne on 26 September, Drue wrote, ‘A crowd was gathered around the large glass-enclosed structure as our bus drew up to the big door of the Jardin d’Acclimatation. People outside the glass windows along the terrace were trying anxiously to catch glimpses of their loved ones within.’ Outside, rain poured on the old men, women and children desperate to know what would happen to their imprisoned mothers and wives. A report by the YMCA noted, ‘On Sunday visitors were not allowed, but friends soon discovered that by paying five francs admission to the Zoo they could reach a place where they could see and talk with the American women through a double row of gratings with German guards in between. Everyone considered it a great joke that they could pay admission to see their friends in the Zoo.’

In a make-shift dormitory on the second floor of the monkey house, Drue enjoyed a reunion with old friends. ‘The first person I ran into was Gladys Delmass, who had worked at the Paris Mondiale radio station after war broke out,’ Drue wrote. ‘She was a very bright girl from Hartford, Connecticut, educated at Vassar and Cambridge, England, where she had become an authority on Elizabethan literature. ’ Gladys was married to a Frenchman, Jean Delmass, who worked for the Vichy government. Drue saw another friend, the sculptress Elsa Blanchard, whose family she had known in Pasadena, California. She was introduced to Sarah Watson, directress of the Paris student hostel, the Foyer International des Etudiantes, ‘short and round, with the pink skin of a baby, snow-white hair, and a kindly, illuminating smile’. Drue thought her ‘soft South Carolina accent added to her charm, and her attractions were enhanced by a lively wit and keen intelligence’. With Miss Watson was another directress of the hostel, Mary Dickson. Sarah Watson introduced Drue to Sylvia Beach, whom she knew by reputation as the ‘proprietor of the famous bookshop in the Rue de l’Odéon, Shakespeare and Company, and publisher and friend of James Joyce’. Sylvia, although she did not mention the fact in her own account of being, as she spelled it, ‘Inturned’, was wearing the ribbon of the Légion d’Honneur that she had been awarded in 1938.

Sylvia was pleased to meet ‘our lovely Drue Tartière’ and to see again ‘our genius sculptress’ Mabel Gardner ‘in a long cloak, her golden hair like the angels in the Italian pictures’. Drue called Mabel Gardner the ‘sculptress who had lived in Montparnasse for many years’ and saw her as ‘a middle aged woman who looked somewhat untidy, but was perfectly serene and had a detached, mystic air’. Sylvia introduced Drue to Katherine Dudley, ‘friend of my friend “Baron” Molet and of Picasso’. Through Katherine, Drue met ‘Noel Murphy, a tall, blond, middle-aged woman who looked like a Viking. She had studied lieder in Germany and sang in concerts in Paris. Mrs. Murphy had won the Croix de Guerre in 1940 for her work in evacuating refugees under shellfire.’ After meeting many old and new friends in the monkey house, Drue noticed an incongruous sight.

My attention was drawn to a woman who was sitting on the edge of a cot with an ermine wrap around her feet. She was passing around a five-pound box of chocolates to her friends. I learned that she was Mrs. Charles Bedaux, at whose château the Duke of Windsor married Mrs. Simpson. Mrs. Bedaux said in a very loud voice that she did not expect to be with us long, and that she was waiting for Otto Abetz, the Nazi fifth columnist in France before the war and the new Nazi Ambassador in France, to come and get her and her sister released.

Sylvia was surprised to see, as more and more women arrived, American nuns from convents all over the Occupied Zone. The community of American women in France, Sylvia wrote, was an extraordinary mélange: ‘There were Americans coming from every kind of milieu–a number of artists as it was Paris, a number of French war-brides of American soldiers from World War I, some teachers, some whores, some dancers, a milliner or two, a poet or two, a lady who lived at the Ritz, the wife of Bedaux the spy and quite a few crazy women whose case was not improved by capture.’

Sarah Watson was, in Sylvia’s words, ‘busy trying to make us all as comfortable as though in her pleasant hostel, which was with only these cots around the walls, close together, and as we discovered soon when it rained, water dripping from a leak in the roof on our faces’. The conditions affected some of the women more than others. ‘Sick women were lying on their cots, moaning,’ Drue wrote. ‘Nervous and anxious wives and mothers were walking up and down restlessly. Everybody was crammed together in this uncomfortable room, where puddles of rain had gathered from leaks in the glass roof.’ Worse, Nazi guards lurking in the bathroom ‘did not seem at all embarrassed at the duty of watching us’. Many of the women, including Sylvia and Drue, had doctors’ letters certifying that internment would damage their health.

After a dinner of ‘soup, meat loaf, and potatoes and German black bread’, the women retired to their dormitories. Some of them cried, until, as Drue noted, ‘this wailing gave way to a cacophony of snores’. In the darkness, leaking rainwater drenched Drue’s feet. German soldiers with flashlights stomped into the room to count the women. A few screamed, and one blurted, ‘Don’t look now. I’ve got a man in my bed.’ Drue wrote, ‘When the Germans had counted methodically up to a number, like forty-four, some of the women would shout, “sixty-four,” and get them so mixed up that they had to start all over again. The soldiers yelled roughly, “Sei still!” but it did no good. The women roared with laughter at them.’ Sylvia remembered, ‘All night long, they would flash the lights in our faces. To count us. They went around counting us, and we were never the same number. And they found this a great bore.’

In the early morning, soldiers woke the women and went to the gallery above the dormitory to watch them get dressed. Not every woman, Drue commented, was embarrassed.

As they were putting on their girdles and stockings, the women resented this intrusion and shouted remarks at the Nazis. One of them, who wore a big pink hat and a silver-fox cape and had henna-dyed hair, let down the front of her slip, bared her heavy breasts and dashed eau de cologne under her armpits. Putting her hands on her hips, she shouted up at the Nazis, ‘I do hope you’re enjoying yourselves! ’ They retired hastily.

Some of the women were released quickly because of ill-health or age. Miss Greenough, who would be over the 65-year age limit in two weeks, was permitted to return home. Fern Bedaux was freed for other reasons. Drue watched as a ‘group of French collaborationists, obviously personages high in treachery, arrived with an important German in uniform. They were very respectful to Mrs. Bedaux, helped her pack her things, and out she swept while the rest of us were enraged at this exhibition of the power of social and political influence.’ United Press reported from Vichy a few days later, ‘Mrs. Charles Bedaux, who was arrested at the castle she and her husband provided for the honeymoon of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, has been released but her French-born husband is still interned at St.-Denis.’

On Monday morning, 28 September, the Germans took 292 of the American women from the monkey house to buses just outside the zoo. They gave each one ‘a sausage, a small piece of cheese and a loaf of bread’. Among this group of Americans were Drue Tartière, Gladys Delmass and sculptresses Elsa Blanchard and Mabel Gardner. While they waited to board their bus, a nurse screamed, ‘My God, Drue, you still in this country!’ It was Ruth Dubonnet, American wife of André Dubonnet, the former First World War aviator and friend of Charles Bedaux and Aldebert de Chambrun. Ruth, who looked ‘very chic in her Red Cross uniform’, shouted again, ‘What are you doing here?’ Then, even louder, she demanded, ‘Is it true what I’ve heard about Jacques being killed?’ Drue shuddered and shouted back, ‘No, I don’t think so, that’s the first I’ve heard of it.’

Drue knew that her husband, Jacques Tartière, was dead. Since the fall of France, when Jacques escaped to London to join Charles de Gaulle, Drue had denied all knowledge of his whereabouts. She told the police in Barbizon that she was waiting for his return, possibly from a prisoner of war camp, and let them believe she had a lover. This gave Drue a reason to remain in France that the police would accept. It also removed suspicion from Jean Fraysse, the putative boyfriend, when he stayed at her house in Barbizon to pass messages to his agents. Fraysse, Drue’s former director at Radio Mondiale, had enlisted Drue in one of the earliest Resistance networks. Taking part in the Resistance was her way to support her husband and his country. Jacques was killed fighting for the Free French in 1941, when the British captured Syria and Lebanon from Vichy. Drue told no one of his death, lest the Germans investigate the widow of a Gaullist officer. To continue working effectively as a résistante, the former Hollywood actress posed as a harmless wife abandoned by a roaming French husband.

At the Paris zoo on the morning of 28 September, Drue feared that Ruth Dubonnet’s chance remark, if overheard by the Germans, would endanger Jean Fraysse and the rest of his network. No one else appeared to hear, but Drue was not reassured when Ruth, whom she now saw as a collaborator, said, ‘I’m going to get you out of this, don’t worry.’

Drue asked the French driver of her bus to send a letter to one of her accomplices in Barbizon. The driver, who said he was ashamed to be driving for the Germans, hid her letter and promised to mail it. He recognized Mabel Gardner, his neighbour in Montparnasse, and offered to convey messages for her. Mabel recited a list of greetings for the cobbler, his daughter, the cheese seller and the rest of the neighbourhood. The driver told Drue that Mabel was ‘much loved in our quarter’. As the buses pulled out, the French husband of the other sculptress, Elsa Blanchard, arrived. He was in tears. Elsa smiled at him, but, when he was out of sight, ‘she broke down and wept’. The transfer of the Americans would take place at the small Pantin station, a less conspicuous venue than one of the mainline terminals. Nonetheless, the secret got out. Students from the Foyer International des Etudiantes somehow learned that their directress, Sarah Watson, would be there and were waiting when the buses drove up. The Germans would not allow the girls near, so they screamed goodbye to Sarah over the railway tracks.

Sylvia recalled being driven ‘to a remote railway station, where a train of miserable third class cars were awaiting us. Our destination was not mentioned. The cars were sealed up, we started on a journey lasting all day and into the middle of the night.’

Drue, Gladys Delmass, Elsa Blanchard and five other women shared a compartment in a filthy third-class carriage that had not been cleaned from its last load of prisoners. The train headed east, reaching Nancy that night in the midst of Allied bombing. The German guards locked the American women into the train and ran for shelter. When the raid ended, German Red Cross nurses distributed hot coffee to the soldiers. The Americans asked for some, but the nurses ‘took pleasure in throwing the dregs from the empty cups in our faces’. One German soldier gave Drue water from his canteen. In the morning, the train arrived in Vittel.

Vittel was a luxurious spa town in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France. An enterprising lawyer from Rodez, Louis Bouloumié, had transformed the village into a resort with lavish hotels, casino and thermal baths shortly after he bought its Fountain of Gérémoy in 1854. The bounty of hotel rooms had made it an ideal locale for interning British women in France in 1940. The camp was a large fenced-in area where most of Vittel’s hotels were grouped around a beautiful park. Only barbed wire in the storm-fences and Nazi flags signalled that Vittel was a prison rather than a resort. Red Cross inspections in 1940 and 1941 reported that Frontstalag 194 at Vittel was the best German camp in Europe, although most other camps were so horrible that comparison was meaningless. Inmates lived in hotels. They did their own cooking and ate in their rooms. They received mail, monthly visitors and packages of food from their families and the Red Cross.

The new internees, apart from a few invalids who were taken in ambulances, walked from the train station through Vittel to Frontstalag 194. ‘As we marched along,’ Drue wrote, ‘weary and dispirited, the Englishwomen who had been interned since 1940 hung out of the windows of the hotels where they were quartered and gave us a wild reception. They cheered, shouted greetings to us, and sang.’ Like Drue, Sylvia remembered that the British internees ‘cheered us as we arrived. We were to join them in what, thanks to their genius for colonizing, was a model internment camp.’

The somewhat squalid Hôtel Central was being renovated for the Americans, but it was not ready. The Swiss Consul explained in a report for the US State Department, ‘The haste with which the arrests were made did not permit the authorities to prepare a building where the Americans might be placed upon their arrival.’ Until the Hôtel Central was ready, the British women had to make room for their American allies. ‘While awaiting the opening of the Hôtel Central the director of the camp placed the new arrivals in the Grand Hotel where they were temporarily assigned to the large rooms already occupied by two or three British internees,’ wrote the Swiss Consul. ‘Additional beds were placed in these rooms so that altogether four persons were accommodated. Each of these rooms had a private toilet and bath … Everywhere the conditions of sanitation and ventilation were perfect.’

Frontstalag 194 already housed 1,123 women, mostly British, and 282 mainly older men, who had been released from the Saint-Denis camp to be with their wives. Married couples stayed in the Hôtel des Sources, and most of the British women lived in the five-storey belle époque Grand Hotel. Not all of the British women were pleased to share space and, for the first week, their Red Cross packages with the Americans.

The fresh arrivals had to deposit their money with the Germans, who allowed them to keep 600 francs each and to draw another 600 francs monthly from their accounts. Drue hid an extra 3,000 francs and her medical certificate in a shoe. As soon as she could, she approached the camp’s commandant, whom she described as ‘a short, stocky German with a pleasant face’. Captain Otto Landhauser was in fact an Austrian, who had been a physical education and singing teacher before the war. Drue asked him whether she and her group of friends–‘Elsa Blanchard, Katherine Dudley, Princess Murat, Gladys Delmass and Noel Murphy’–could share a room. Landhauser and his assistant, an officer named Damasky who had lived in Canada for fifteen years and spoke English fluently, ‘agreed at once’. German officers inspected the women’s luggage for ‘paper, envelopes, flashlights, which were forbidden for fear of signaling to planes, and reading matter, which was returned after examination by censors’. Drue said to the Gestapo officer going through her suitcase,

‘There’s nothing in there that would interest you. Why bother?’

He looked up at me and smiled. ‘Gee, why the hell didn’t you go home?’ he asked.

‘How do you happen to speak English like that?’ I asked.

‘I worked in a sugar factory in Yonkers until the war started,’ he said. ‘Do you know Yonkers?’

Although a Gestapo officer, he planned to return to Yonkers as soon as the war ended. After the suitcases had been cleared, Senegalese men, probably prisoners of war, carried them into the hotel for the women. Drue and her companions found their room, where two Englishwomen were waiting for them with a pot of tea. One was an old friend of hers and her husband’s, Mary Walker. Mary had been suspected of working for British intelligence, and the Germans had held her for four months in solitary confinement at the Santé Prison in Paris. ‘She looked terribly broken in health and was obviously still suffering from the nervous shock resulting from her experience.’ The living quarters were better than anything Drue had expected: ‘Our big room had a balcony overlooking the Vittel parcand a valley of the Vosges. It was fine, rolling country, but fog often settled in the valleys and made the weather miserable. There were tennis courts, a bowling green, and even a maypole, and some of the women had brought along tennis rackets or managed to get some sent to them.’

Sylvia’s migraine headaches earned her a place in the hospital, which was run by English nuns, on the first night. Her friend Sarah Watson joined her. Sylvia ‘fixed up a kind of supper for us both on an electric plate’. The nuns let Sylvia serve breakfast to the other patients. Among them were two charwomen, ‘who were very pleased at having their breakfast in bed’. Another woman, also named Sylvia, had lived in the Ritz and did not regard breakfast in bed as anything less than her due. Sylvia called her ‘the Giraff’. This lanky grande dame had brought all of her jewellery, including a pearl necklace that she asked Sylvia to fasten around her neck when she delivered the breakfast tray. The ‘Giraff’ wore ‘dainty nightgowns, so sheer that the German doctor was shocked to see her so plainly through them’. Medical care was excellent, under the direction of a German, Dr von Weber, with five other physicians, four French and one Scottish.

Dr Donald Lowrie, the YMCA representative in Geneva, reported on 29 October 1942, a month after the American women had been installed at Vittel,

All the previous reports we have had from Vittel and conversations with women here who had escaped from there give a picture of a camp which has practically all the features of a regular resort which Vittel is–space in the summer for tennis and other games, besides extensive parks, all open to the use of the internees. To be sure there is barbed wire around all this and it is actually an internment camp where the inmates, as Paris tries to point out, enjoy many comforts which those in liberty do not have.

Sylvia Beach, Drue Tartière and most of the other American women, despite living in a de luxe prison with better food and amenities than they had at home, wanted to leave. Sylvia, who was already feeling cut off in Paris, missed Adrienne and the rue de l’Odéon. Drue was desperate to resume her work for the Resistance in Barbizon, her only reason for staying in France. Like many others in the camp, Sylvia and Drue used medical certificates from their physicians to make a case for release.

When the Americans’ Red Cross packages finally arrived, Drue was delighted with her box of ‘tea, coffee, butter, marmalade, canned meats, puddings, and cigarettes. It was like receiving a fine Christmas present to get one of these boxes with things which had been unobtainable in occupied France, and it was wonderful to smoke English cigarettes again.’ Her maid in Barbizon, Nadine, sent ‘a dozen eggs, a few potatoes, some apples and other fruits’. Sylvia ‘fattened up considerably on their contents: in fact we were far better off than were our friends at home who were continuing to do without condensed milk, sugar, coffee, prunes, chocolate and cigarettes, which we indulged in at our camp’. The women also bartered the contents of their care packages for soap and other luxuries.

Sylvia compared the British favourably with her countrywomen: ‘We American internees were not much respected by our gaolers. They were accustomed to the English women who were serious people and not frivolous and lighthearted as most of us were. They had established themselves in the Grand Hotel, where they worked on their tea in a spirit of cooperation and discipline, keeping the Germans busy with their demands.’ The Englishwomen prepared meals for one another, ‘each with the name of the internee and the hour it was to be cooked and when to be taken off the stove’. Teatime was busiest. ‘The lift going up and down full of women with trays, with teapots and bread and butter and cakes: murmurs in sweet English voices, “have you had your tea? are you going to have your tea? …” They were all provided with teapots and cups and saucers and whatever else might be lacking in the camp.’

Ninetta Jucker in Paris heard from a few of the American women released from Vittel that relations between the Americans and the British were not as cordial as they should have been between Allies:

For the first few weeks they were billeted on the Englishwomen who were obliged to make room for them, and did so, I regret to say, with a very ill grace, though the Germans told them maliciously that they were to stage a reception for their Allies. They were no better pleased at having to share their Red Cross packages with the Americans until these received their own, so that although the English camp was very much larger, more comfortable and better organized than the one assigned to the United States citizens, it seems that the American women met with such cavalier treatment at the hands of the British that they were very thankful finally to be removed to a hotel of their own. Some of them however revenged themselves later by stealing the produce from the British vegetable gardens while their owners were at lunch.

Drue Tartière observed that ‘antagonisms cropped up between some of the Englishwomen and some of the Americans, and the English were particularly incensed when one American woman was taken away from Vittel in a beautiful private car, allegedly sent for her by [Spanish dictator Francisco] Franco’. Before she left, this woman gave a banquet in a local hotel for Nazi officers. ‘The Englishwomen hissed her and were only prevented from stoning the car as it drove out of the barbed-wire enclosure by the presence of German guards.’

Sylvia wrote to Adrienne to thank her for sending some ink and to ask her to thank Françoise Bernheim for mailing a package of ‘beautiful fruit … Kiss her for me.’ Although she and Sarah Watson had a room ‘with a pretty view from the window’, she pleaded, ‘Set me free as soon as possible by papa 2.2.’ ‘Papa 2.2’ was her name for Gordon Craig, whom she had helped out of internment almost a year before. She may have been hoping that the Gestapo contact who had released Craig and provided him with basics to get through Christmas would use his influence again. She added that she was saving cigarettes and chocolates to give to Adrienne and Maurice Saillet, her assistant in the bookshop, when they came to visit.

Adrienne and Saillet turned up at Vittel to see Sylvia. A German guard, assigned to observe their meeting, pretended not to notice when Sylvia passed Adrienne food from her Red Cross package: ‘A can of condensed milk rolled on the floor–right under the table at which the officer was seated,’ Sylvia wrote. As she left the camp, Adrienne used her cloak to conceal Sylvia’s delicacies that were unobtainable in Paris.

In October 1942, Dr Edmund Gros died at home in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was 73. His obituary in the New York Times lauded his work for the Lafayette Escadrille in April 1916, when he had recruited pilots for the French Army’s American flying squadron from his house in the rue du Bois de Boulogne. When the American Expeditionary Force arrived in France, the Escadrille was transferred to the US army as its 103rd Pursuit Squadron. Gros’s long career encompassed directorships of the American Hospital and Library between the wars. His tireless service for both institutions during May and June 1940 undoubtedly hastened his death. He had left France in the autumn of 1940 a broken man. The realization that the Germans, whom he had opposed in two wars, had at last conquered France may have added to his depression. Nelson Dean Jay and Edward B. Close sent a telegram to Gros’s widow on behalf of the hospital: ‘There is no one who did more for the American Hospital than he and he will be greatly missed by all his many friends and colleagues.’ Eugene Bullard, who took a job as a longshoreman at the US Navy Yard in Staten Island after his arrival from France in 1940, remembered Dr Gros differently. To Bullard, he was the white man who tried to prevent qualified black Americans like himself from flying for either the French or American armies.

In September 1941, Bullard had written to the US army asking whether he needed American government permission to join the ‘English, Canadian or Free French Army of General Charles de Gaulle’. Bullard, aged 46, was deemed too old to enlist in the American army. So, he appointed himself recruiting agent for de Gaulle among African-Americans. He urged young black pilots to join de Gaulle’s air force. Unlike America’s first black air unit being formed at Tuskegee, the Free French squadrons were fully integrated.

Bullard stayed close to the French-speaking community in New York and probably had more in common with them than with his American neighbours in Harlem. His daughters, with the help of former Ambassador William Bullitt, were brought to New York in 1941. After their arrival, Bullard checked into New York’s French hospital for the injury his back suffered in the artillery blast at Le Mans. He was exhausted from the war, his flight from France, his loss of status and the shock of living once again in a segregated society. But there was good news: one of his visitors at the hospital was the old Foreign Legion comrade he had given up for dead at Chartres in June 1940, Bob Scanlon. Scanlon told Gene he had been wounded and could not find Bullard in the mêlée after the shell hit. He too had made it safely home and missed their good life in France.

Before an American Legion reunion in New York, Bullard received an anonymous letter: ‘Your extended sojourn abroad has perhaps made you forget that in the States white and colored people do not mix at social functions. It would be to your advantage not to attend the dinner on Monday night or to join in any social activities of Paris Post No. 1 in the future.’ Bullard, who had never backed down from a fight in war or peace, went anyway. His old friends, many of whom had contributed towards the cost of his daughters’ fare to America, welcomed him.

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