French diplomats use war heroine to strengthen Auld Alliance

Much-decorated war heroine Emilienne Moreau-Evrard, pictured on a visit to London in 1944. Photograph: ANL/Rex/Shutterstock
Much-decorated war heroine Emilienne Moreau-Evrard, pictured on a visit to London in 1944. Photograph: ANL/Rex/Shutterstock
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A heroine who aided Black Watch soldiers in the Great War is to be honoured this week as the French diplomatic service opens new premises in Edinburgh to strengthen links with Scotland.

On Wednesday, the Princess Royal will name the main auditorium of the new French Institute and French Consulate General in Edinburgh Salle Emilienne Moreau-Evrard.

The new home for the French Institute and Consulate General is the former Lothian Chambers on the Royal Mile. It is being officially opened at a time when France wants to underline its commitment to Scotland and the UK, despite the challenges posed by Brexit.

A host of dignitaries including Nicola Sturgeon, the French Ambassador Monsieur Jean-Pierre Jouyet and Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Frank Ross will attend the ceremony remembering Madame Moreau-Evrard (1898-1971).

Moreau-Evrard was a teenager and living in Loos under German occupation at the outset of her heroic story.

In September 1915 aged just 17 she met with Black Watch soldiers who were leading a counter attack to take back Loos. She provided them with details of enemy positions.

The intelligence proved crucial and enabled the regiment to bypass the Germans and minimise losses as they fought to re-take the city. Moreau-Evrard carried wounded soldiers to a first aid station she set up in her home.

At one point, she left her home, armed with grenades, to save a British soldier who had been caught under fire. With the help of some British soldiers she incapacitated two German soldiers who had set up an ambush in a neighbouring house.

Shortly afterwards when the house was surrounded she seized a revolver and shot two enemy infantrymen through the door.

For her gallantry, she was decorated with the Croix de Guerre avec Palme and was also given the Croix du Combattant. The British awarded her the Military Medal, the Royal Red Cross (first class) and the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem.

During the Second World War, she fought valiantly with the Resistance and narrowly escaped arrest by the Gestapo. On another occasion she escaped from the Germans through a network of cellars. She was awarded the Croix de la Liberation by General Charles de Gaulle.

Yesterday Emmanuel Cocher, the Consul General de France and Directeur Institut Francais d’Ecosse, told Scotland on Sunday: “We are very keen to acknowledge the role played by Scottish soldiers, who fought in World War One and Two. We also remember a young French girl who took the very brave step of helping British soldiers and fighting with the Resistance These were heroic acts and shows how the French people responded to the heroism and gallantry shown by British soldiers.”

For the last 70 years the Consulate General was located in three adjacent town houses in Randolph Crescent in Edinburgh.

The first Consulate of France opened before the French Revolution in Glasgow. It closed with the Revolution and re-opened after the fall of Napoleon before moving to Edinburgh in 1817.

The move to the Royal Mile was authorised by the highest French authorities and has seen a seven-figure sum invested in the new premises, which aims to be a cultural centre as well as a Consulate. From January next year the Institute’s French classes will move to the new premises as will its 30,000 book library.

It is hoped that arts organisations will use the rooms and that the public spaces, including the Salle Emilienne Moreau-Evrard will host concerts, cultural events, receptions and weddings. Cocher said the UK’s withdrawal from the EU made it more important than ever to foster Scotland’s Auld Alliance with France.

“We are in very uncertain times and really the only certainty is developing and nurturing an official French presence in the Scottish capital,” he said.