Obituary: Jeannette Guyot, French Resistance fighter

Jeannette Guyot
Jeannette Guyot
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Jeannette Guyot, French Resistance fighter. Born: 26 February 1919, Sevrey, France. Died: 10 April 2016, Sevrey, France, aged 97

Jeannette Guyot was a rare breed of resistance fighter, one who fought against the German occupation throughout the course of the Second World War. Despite capture, interrogation and escape from France, with her steadfast patriotism and bravery, she insisted on returning to her homeland where she faced the possibility of capture, torture and execution on a daily basis.

She went on to become one of France’s most highly decorated agents and received three of the Allied Powers’ top military awards: France’s Croix de guerre avec palmes; America’s second highest decoration after the Medal of Congress, the Distinguished Service Cross, one of only two women to receive it; and the British George Medal.

Born in 1919 in the small village of Sevrey, south of Chalon-sur-Saône in eastern France, Jeannette Guyot was the daughter of Jean-Marie, a timber merchant, and Jeanne, a seamstress. With the fall of France in June 1940 and the creation of an occupied zone and Vichy France led by Marshall Pétain, she and her family joined the Resistance.

Initially, she worked with Félix Svagrowsky of the Amarante réseau (network) as a passeur, a guide, using her German-issued Ausweiss (pass), to smuggle people out of the German occupied zone in the north and across the Saône River into Vichy France. Whilst engaged in this work she met Gilbert Renault alias Colonel Rémy, who was now part of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Army.

Rémy established the Paris-based Confrérie Notre-Dame réseau and from August 1941 Guyot became one of his liaison officers, carrying mail, which included vital military, economic and social intelligence, into Vichy France, while continuing as a passeur. However, on one such journey in February 1942, she was arrested and imprisoned for three months at Chalon-sur-Saône and Autun. She survived interrogation and as nothing could be proved against her, was released, although her Ausweiss was withdrawn. Undeterred, she continued her work, accompanying about a dozen people a month across the demarcation line.

With the network’s betrayal by Pierre Cartaud in June 1942, many members were arrested but Guyot managed to slip away to Lyon under Vichy control. There she met Jacques Robert, another Free French officer trained in special operations in England and parachuted back into France in June 1942 to establish the Phratrie réseau. With the German occupation of Vichy in November 1942, there followed a series of arrests amongst the resistance and Guyot was now on the Gestapo’s wanted list. As a result, a rescue mission was initiated and on the night of 13 May 1943, she and two other agents were picked-up by a Lysander from the RAF’s 161 Squadron.

The following day, like all refugees arriving in Britain, she was interrogated by British Intelligence to ensure she was not a German agent and then the head of the de Gaulle’s counter-intelligence unit, who wanted to question her about her resistance work.

Soon after, Guyot was reacquainted with Rémy, who had escaped across the Channel a few months earlier, and formally enlisted in the Free French forces under the alias Jeannette Janin. Initially given a desk job, Guyot was frustrated and pestered Rémy to be sent back to France; eventually he acquiesced.

She was despatched with about 120 French men and women, to Praewood House, St Albans, for training by British SIS and American OSS instructors in the techniques of military intelligence and clandestine warfare.

With much of the railway network in northern France out of action due to saboteurs, the agents were taught to drive motor bikes and cars; they also learned night map reading.

After a number of false starts due bad weather and human error, Guyot, commissioned as a lieutenant, and three others were dropped near Loches, south-east of Tours. With the help of the resistance, their mission, Operation Calanque, was to prepare for the arrival of 53 Sussex teams to be parachuted into Northern France between April and September 1944.

As the pathfinder team, they faced ever increasing dangers as the Gestapo, who knew an Allied invasion was imminent, were now more active than ever and the German radio detection service had become highly effective. Nevertheless, over seven months they located 22 drop zones, organised 17 drops and prepared nearly a hundred safe-houses for incoming agents and built-up caches of arms and equipment.

Upon arriving in Paris, Guyot and her radio operator sought refuge with her cousin, who ran Café de l’Electricite, rue Tournefort in Montmartre. There she got to know others in the resistance and a few days later moved into Madame Andrée Goubillon’s apartment, whose husband had been imprisoned and who owned the café.

Post-war, the café was renamed Café des Sussex. As the mission’s principal liaison agent, Guyot travelled extensively throughout northern France and contacted large numbers of agents. Frequently undertaking the most dangerous assignments, such as reporting on Gestapo activities and verifying reports of the arrest or execution of any of the “Sussex” agents,

With the liberation of Paris in August 1944, Guyot was given clerical duties in the French intelligence service. Here she learnt that her father, also in the Resistance, had been captured and deported to Germany in early 1944 before dying at Cham in Bavaria, while her mother had been arrested and deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp, north of Berlin, where tens of thousands of women were murdered.

Fortuitously, she was among 300 Frenchwomen to have survived, having been sold by a Gestapo officer to the Swiss Red Cross in early April 1945.

Post-war, Guyot retired to Sevrey, where she married another Sussex agent, Marcel Gaucher and lived a quiet life, eschewing publicity. She is survived by two daughters, a son and several grandchildren.

MARTIN CHILDS