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  • The Eighteen Year Old Problem: Murder in WW2 France January 27, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    digging your own grave

    Beach had, as a historically-inclined teenager, a recurrent dream, where he was on an island in a lake and a Viking boat full of blond psychos was coming toward him (and there was nowhere to go and nowhere to hide). The extract below has something of the same terrible inevitability. Certainly, having read this a decade ago, Beach has never been able to properly get rid of it. We have the SOE officer, the luckless French teenager and the cruel but practical partisans. The reluctant middle class British witness, Duncan Guthrie, aged 33, probably grew up on elevensies on the terrace and tig played in luscious fields on the Downs (he came from Sussex), worlds away from the grim live-and-let die of central France under German occupation.

    Sometime in August, a local French farmer came in with a boy who was having a holiday on his farm. He was a Parisian and when the farmer’s wife went to make up his bed, she had a look at his suitcase and he had armlets with the French version of the swastika and all sorts of flags and things. They had him arrested and brought him into our [Partisan] camp. He admitted that he was a member of the Nazi Fascist organisation in Paris, but he was only about eighteen or nineteen and a very presentable young man. We looked through his correspondence and I was very struck by the fact that he wrote to a friend in Paris, obviously someone of about the same age, and said ‘We had a lovely evening last night, we picked up a couple of girls and they were very nice. I have been reading recently an awful lot, and I have been reading Kipling, and what a wonderful writer he is.’ I thought, well, I don’t know, I am not a Kipling fan, but some of [the boy’s] writing was lovely and at that age I think I, too, would have liked Kipling. This was a chatty sort of letter and it made him very human to me. They had this little trial and he was found guilty. And there we were in the forest and I remember there was one chap, who I did not like very much from Marseilles, who was a busy chap at the Resistance and as tough as old boots and very brave and fierce and all that sort of thing, and he came along and gave the boy a shovel. I suppose [the boy] knew he had been condemned to death. I said to Gapeau [another member of the team] ‘We can’t shoot him’ and he agree and so I said ‘Let’s go to the commanding officer and say so,’ so we did. We said, ‘You can’t really shoot this chap, he’s only eighteen. What’s he really done? He just had some badges in his luggage.’ The commander said. ‘No. All right. But what can I do with him?’ I didn’t know what to say. I knew that we couldn’t have prisoners when were living under the trees in the forest. He said ‘I will give you an hour. You come back in an hour and tell me what I can do with him and we won’t shoot him.’ Gapeau  and I sat down and we couldn’t think of anything to do with him. So, after an hour, he had his shovel and he dug his grave and a few minutes later, two shots rang out. I wasn’t there. I couldn’t face it but a Frenchman who was there said how brave he had been.

    Very Kiplingesque… Beach remembers an Italian account where some Garibalidisti celebrate Christmas day of 1944 by eating, singing and shooting an eighteen-year-old Fascist after lunch. Grim wars for the heartlands.

    Any way out? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Russel Miller, Behind the Lines, 162-163