Un mystère du maquis Tabou enfin éclairci !
Bulletin N° 15 - Année 1998
Qu'était devenu " James ",
New York, le 30 Novembre. Parfois James McGrew regarde fixement le public
et voit 14 hommes morts.
I am sorry I do not speak French so please excuse me sending this in English. I am sorry.
I spoke today to Jacqueline Pace about your family and their efforts to help my father, James McGrew, during the war. My family is very appreciative of the efforts of the many French citizens and of the sacrifice of their lives to help my father.
My wife and two children will be coming to France this summer before starting a cruise of the Mediterranean. I have asked Jacqueline Pace if she could join us to meet your family and to learn more about the French resistance.
As we solidify our plans I will reach out to see if you are ok with us visiting. We would very much like to come and say thank you.
4701 Almidor Ave
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
In Northern Burgundy, on any gray November day in 1943.
The German occupation had been going on for more than 3 long years already. We could hear every day the Allied planes coming from England passing over us several times a day to bomb either Germany or Italy (Torino and Milan particularly, 2 industrial cities). The Americans came during the day, and we could see their formations very high in the sky. The British came during the night very heavily loaded with bombs. We could hear the anti-aircraft batteries trying to shoot them down. Some succeeded. There were almost always more of them from west to east than east to west. Alas!
Some fliers were killed when their plane went down; others were able
to jump with their parachutes and pray that they were in friendly territory.
By that time the resistance movement was pretty well organized due to
The one I am most familiar with was the camp called Tabou in the hills above Chatillon. It had been started by Mr. Raillard, my neighbor, who was a woodsman, a forestry man who knew the forest very well. He had 2 sons, and one was in the age bracket targeted by the occupants. So he was one of the first to hide there. Not only did they want to hide but they wanted to use guerilla tactics to weaken the occupants. They had hidden weapons abandoned by the French army in retreat in 1940. They were supplied by air drops by planes coming from England. They were in contact with London, where General De Gaulle had retreated with a small band in 1940 saying in his famous harangue of June 18 1940:” France has lost a battle, but France has not lost the war.”
Soon after the debacle of 1940 the Resistance took shape. The Headquarters of the Free French Forces (F.F.I.) gave orders from London. Secretly, men were trained in guerilla warfare and radio communications. While the Raillards operated the radio, my girlfriend and I used to stand on the balcony and watch for the German patrols that could identify the radio signals.
On that November day the younger Raillard man, Robert, 18 at the time, asked me to accompany him to the camp. He had there an American Navigator named Lt James McGrew whose plane had been shot down north of the area. He had been sheltered in a farm for 2 months in the town of Bucey-en-Othe, but it was time to move him to avoid suspicions. He was brought to Ste Colombe by another Resistant, Julien Bon and after one night in Larrey he was brought to the camp on foot by Robert. They had to plan his return to England by the underground trail. I said yes right away; I was barely 18….I got into a car whose back seat was covered with machine guns and other weapons.
I had a nice visit with James McGrew, and the camp personnel made plans to have me take him somewhere to someone who would send him back to England eventually. They belonged to the Jean Marie network, a network controlled from London whose purpose was to get the aviators back to Britain. There were 2 ways: either through Spain or a pick up during a moon lit night by plane in France.
I did not realize the enormity of what I had done until a few days later; on December 1st 1943 the camp was attacked by the Germans. Those who were not killed in the attack were taken to the German Headquarters in Chaumont, 50 kilometers from there.
A notice appeared in the local newspaper “The Chatillonnais”:
“On January 11,1944, a German war tribunal, seated in Chaumont, condemned to death 11 inhabitants of the area. The condemned were members of an armed band of terrorists stationed in a forest camp near Grancey le Chateau and Pothieres. They had committed acts of sabotage using explosives in high tension wires and on a French saw mill, had attacked German soldiers and were guilty of numerous acts of pilfering detrimental to the French inhabitants.
The Sentence was executed.”
The Raillard family received this letter from the elder son Raymond who was one of the “terrorists”.
Chaumont, January 14, 1944
To my dear parents, brothers, sisters and friends:
We have been judged and condemned to death on January 11, 1944, and our call for pardon has been refused. We are going to stand in front of the firing squad this morning at 8 A.M.
In this last letter you will receive from me, a farewell letter, I want to thank you for the packages you sent .They made me very happy because I realized that I was not forgotten.
When you have the opportunity to see all my uncles, aunts, cousins,
give them hugs and kisses, telling them that I never ceased thinking
of them. Also, remember me to Andree and her family who are among the
friends I have not forgotten since November 29, 1943.
I know that you are going to feel a terrible pain when you find out this news, but you must be brave, telling yourselves, he died piously for France.
I was forgetting to say something to Grandma who is still sick I am sure. Give her a big hug and kiss her tenderly. As for my younger brother Rene: do good work at school and pray that this war will be “the last one”!! We do not want it again in 10 or 20 years. Our family has given enough men already: 2 uncles in 1914, and myself in this one.
I have to terminate this letter, with hugs and kisses to all of you, and it will be the last time, and I ask you to transmit my greetings to all my friends who never stopped thinking of me.
To my father, my mother, my brothers and sisters I ask hope for better days as I terminate this last farewell.
Your beloved son and brother who loves you with his whole heart. I
am now going to give my heart and my soul back to God.
We thought James had died too.
The bodies were thrown in a mass grave. The families were not able to collect them until the week before All Saints Day 1944-after the Liberation.
This would have been the end of the story, if in 2006 Vianney Harpet,
the nephew of Julien Bon, one of the martyrs, had not written to me asking
me for a picture of myself in 1943. I found one with four members of
the Tabou camp; we had gone to a football game together. Vianney had
started a history of the Resistance movement in Northern Burgundy, and
sent me a copy of 2 articles concerning James McGrew, the Navigator I
had met in the Tabou camp in 1943. The articles were from a newspaper
in the area where James had parachuted in September 1943.
The son adds: needless to say he did not become a star. He acted briefly on Broadway on his return but drifted towards writing. He spent his life as a writer in Los Angeles after the war.
There is so much more to discover as James rarely talked about his war experiences. He never wrote about them either.
On January 15, 2007 I blindly sent an e-mail to Gwilym McGrew entitled “your
father in November 1943 Tabou maquis”. To my surprise I received
an e-mail back less than 3 hours later on the same day:
This was followed by his address and phone number. This was the beginning
of a correspondence that produced a historic
Gwilym told me that he and his family were going to France at the beginning
of July and from there on a Mediterranean Cruise for 6 weeks. He asked
me to go with them for a reunion of the Tabou camp on July 7 and 8. My
first reaction was to say yes, but the task was too daunting for my 82
years, and, after much reflection, I had to decline.
Then I had to find a replacement for me, someone who was fluent in both languages and willing to undertake this task. I had an old friend Suzanne Mullins who had married an American and had moved back to Chatillon when her husband retired. She was willing and able and really did a wonderful job. I arranged everything from here on the east coast by e-mail with Gwylim on the west coast (3 hours difference) and by telephone with France (6 hours difference).After the McGrews left the U.S. They were in direct contact with Suzanne and everything went very well as you will see.
We found out from Gwilym quite a few things about James’s life after the assault on the Tabou. When he ran during the raid he broke through the forest, saw some SS in front of him and so laid down in the field to hide in the “grass” which we now know was a wheat field. As he lay there he saw a German firing a machine gun at him that eventually hit him in the chest. As he was laying down the bullet grazed him and went into his skin, then skipped off a rib and went out again which left two scars on his chest, one from the bullet entering and the other from it exiting. He was then handcuffed and taken to a truck to be taken away and a German hit him in the face and broke his nose. He was in solitary confinement, he was interrogated, but not abused, other than starving him, getting him down to about 90 pounds.
He did witness a young French man being interrogated in the same room as him. The Germans were hitting the young man trying to get information and eventually the Germans sent a waiting German shepherd dog upon the man. The dog went for the young man’s throat and killed him. Lt McGrew saw all this happen.
He was in solitary confinement on death row for several months, in the Chaumont prison. James McGrew was well read and had many poems committed to memory, he started trying to scratch the last stanza of a poem called “Thanatopsis” above the door of his cell. He got a few lines marked before the Germans stopped him. Here is the last stanza he started to carve as he said he had come to accept the belief he would be executed.
So live that when thy summons comes to join
The family was unable to see his cell during their trip…unfortunately.
No wonder James McGrew wanted to forget and did not want to talk about those days and did not write anything about this period of his life.
The McGrew family, Gwilym, his wife Peggy, their daughter Colleen and their son James, arrived in Paris on the 3rd of July 2007, went to the Eifel Tower and were thoughtful enough to e-mail me a photo of all 4 of them in front of the Eifel Tower and at the same time I received a basket of goodies to make me forget I was not there.
I did miss two extraordinary days which were recounted to me by Francoise Millot, the wife of a Chatillon historian.
On July 7th 2007, Suzanne Mullins, my old friend, took the 3 survivors of the Tabou camp to Chaumont to meet the McGrews. After the introductions they all went to the prison (they only were able to see the outside), then to the Stele de la Vendue where their bodies were found. It was one of the many very moving moments of the 2-day experience.
After lunch, Suzanne took them all to a commemorative stele, marking
the place where another American Lieutenant was killed in 1944 during
the battle to liberate Chatillon. He had been parachuted behind enemy
After a delicious meal at the home of the Millots, the McGrews returned
to their hotel.
Then they followed the path that Robert Raillard and James took to get to the Tabou Camp. The mayor of the two villages adjacent to the Tabou were waiting for them in front of the monument of Pothieres, the monument that immortalized those who gave their lives for the liberation of France. The exact place where the camp was located is marked by a stele, far inside the forest. Again, it was a very moving moment for all present and to feel so close to those who lived these tragic moments. The tour was completed by going to the tomb of another Resistant Julien Bon, who lost his life shortly after the raid on the Tabou Camp. On several occasions Julien Bon’s family had also sheltered James McGrew in the attic of their home and when Julien was eventually tracked down and killed by the SS he was wearing an Air Force watch that James McGrew had given him in appreciation for his friendship and courage.
At noon, Gwilym treated them all to a banquet at the Hotel de la Cote
d’Or, a famous gourmet four star restaurant. It was an immense
success like the whole week-end. At dessert time, while they were served
a beautiful cake decorated with the American and French flags, 3 members
of the Chatillon marching band played the American anthem and 2 Souza
Suanne Mullins and Francoise Millot prepared an album of stories, photographs and memorabilia and sent it to the McGrew in the fall. They were touched.
After their return to the States, the McGrew family sent 3 marvelous financial gifts back to the people who had helped their father. To Bucey-en-Othe, the little village of 400 inhabitants where James McGrew parachuted, a $20,000 check to be used for whatever they need like equipping their school with computers… To the 2 little churches St Phal and Villiers le Duc, $12,500 each for their renovation. The latter were remitted by Robert Raillard himself, as he is the one who was the most connected with James McGrew.
No need to tell you that the recipients were stunned by the generosity
of the McGrews and will never forget them. This is the end of a beautiful
story, although tragic and sad for me to recall.