A good priest in St. Nazaire
To the Editor,
I am writing about the article about plans for the city of Follansbee to fly flags and banners with photographs of local veterans and their branches of service. What a great idea.
At a time when the Catholic church and some priests have fallen under a dark cloud, one priest listening to an underground message of World War II shines bright.
The Rev. Francois du Plessis of Grenedan (1921-2013), a priest and son of the commander of the dirigible Dixmude, was a chaplain of the FTP and FFI marquisards of the pocket of St. Nazaire. In 2017, his book recalling a life of service was published.
In October 1944, 130,000 civilians and a large number of women and children were allowed to leave the pocket under convoys that were arranged by the Red Cross with the assistance of de Plessis.
Those born too late might not recall the name of Pierre Holmes, whose “The French Speak to the French” sent nightly coded messages to the French Underground during World War II. His broadcasts were portrayed in the 1962 movie “The Longest Day.”
The station was Radio Landers, and some of those messages brought back to mind include “John loves Marie.”Among the most famous was Beethovens’s Fifth Symphony — the first four notes make the Morse code dot-dot-dot-dash, for victory.
Surely, the D-Day are lines from the French poet Paul Verlaine work’s “Autumn Song.” Verlaine’s life is recollected in the 1995 film “Total Eclipse,” (David Thewlis) and Arthur Rimbaud (Leonardo DiCaprio.)
The first three lines of “Autumn Song, “ Long sobs of autumn violins,” meant that Operation Overlord was to start in the next two weeks. These lines were broadcast on June 1, 1944.
The second three lines, broadcast on June 5, 1994, were “Would my heart that a monotonous languor,” and meant that the invasion would begin in 48 hours. At 23:15 hours, the time of the message, the Germans believed the words were meant for all members of the French Resistance. But they were really sent to one group, south of Orleans — the Ventriloquist — to start blowing up railroads and bridges. As the invasion unfolded in 1944, St. Nazaire and the Atlantic facade were important. On July 31, 1944, Adolph Hitler ordered that it be defended to the last man.
The five key points included Brest, the fiercest battle in operation Cobra, and the capital of Brittany, which the Allies retook. Lorient, St. Nazaire, LaRochelle and Royan would remain under German control until the end of the war.
The U.S. soldiers would find a good priest in the St. Nazaire pocket.