The first agents to come from London were parachuted "blind". This meant that the pilot of the plane bringing them had to follow as well as he could a a plan agreed to in London., hoping his navigation was approximately correct, spotting beneath him what looked like a stretch of flat country, and saying to his passengers, "Jump". These jumps were always made by moonlight, and the moon helped the parachutist a little. But it was largely a matter of luck whether he landed on his two feet on level ground, or in trees, in a ditch, or on the roof of a police station - which is what happened to one of the agents who was parachuted later that year.
On the fifth of May, 1941, the first agent fromthe headquarters of Special Operations Executive, French section, in London, dropped into unoccupied zone of France. Before this, others had come to France, from de Gaulle, on Intelligence duties, and from the R.A.F., to send back information to London on weather condition. But now came the first man who was to be associated with "active" resistance in France.
His name was Captain Georges Bégué, or George Noble, as he was also known. Noble was the first radio operator, and, after him, for a time, all "radios" were to be called George. He was George the First. George Noble landed in the Dordogne and made his way north to Châteauroux. There he went to the house of a friend he had known before the war. He was welcomed, and Noble began trying to recruit men for the Resistance in the immediate area.
Five nights later, on the tenth of May, my brother Peter was also dropped "blind" near Châteauroux. He landed safely, buried his parachute, and walked to a railway station. He caught the morning train via Limoges to Brignac, a little station amounting to no more that a "halt", and walked a mile or so up the hill to my house. He arrived the next day, the twelfth of May.
There was much I wanted to know, after I had reassured him about his wife and children in Paris.
"What is the set-up in London? Who's the head of it? How big is it? What about de Gaulle . . . ?" Peter told me of his somewhat modest organization at 64 Baker Street, which was the headquarters for the newly founded French section of Special Operations Executive. As I listened to him, it sounded to me as though enthusiasm were more abundant than expertise, but this was neither surprising nor discouraging at this stage. Peter's landing was proof enough that something could be done. He had been sent over to assess the possibilities of the Resistance and to report back to London.
"We've done a bit of training already", said Peter, "but no one's very sure what sort of training we ought to be doing. Still we've made a start. There's not much else I can tell you. But you'll join us?"
"Need you ask?"
"No", said Peter. "Just a formality. Now we can tell London you're on strength.
"How will you tell them?"
"By radio". Peter told me of George Noble's arrival in France and said I should meet him soon. This was very good news to me, for this meant an end to our isolation from London and the Allies; those of us "resisting" in the field would now be in contact, however remotely, with the armies that would one day liberate France. To London I was to be known as Gautier; the people working with me would be members of Gautier's réseau, or circuit.
The Resistance was growing and becoming much more organized. Now it was time for the next step, time for the Resistance to be given its first teeth.
Through George the First we arranged with London for the first parachuting of arms and materials for sabotage. The containers were to be dropped on my land near Limoges. I had sent by radio a description of the ground and the route the aircraft should follow. The pilot, I said, should follow the Vienne from Limoges until it is joined by a little stream, until you see our landing lights in the form of a triangle.
Much later I discovered what had happened. The Vichy police were given a prize bag of Resistance men. Seventeen of my group were picked up. George Noble - Bégué, the radio operator who was the first agent to be dropped into France - was among those arrested. Also there were three agents who had landed in central France only a few days before. In making their contact with C., they, too, had walked into trouble. A man who tried to help them make the contact, called Robert Lyon, at that time working for an American relief organization in Marseilles, and a recent recruit to the Resistance, was also arrested. (Later in the war he returned to France to organize a réseau in the Lyons area.
My men went to the safe house, a rather isolated villa with a garden. As they walked through the garden toward the door of the villa, they were picked up. They said they the agent C. identifying them to the waiting police. None of this has even been proved. C. was never formally accused of treachery. What is irrefutable is that a score or more of men went to prison as a result of one man's betrayal, whoever that man may be. At first they were taken to the jail at Périgueux, where conditions were harsh. Then they were moved to a detention camp at Mauzac. Things were much easier there than they were to be later, and they were able to escape. Nearly a year after their arrest in Marseilles, they reached England.
George Noble's arrest was a big blow. Now only one radio operator was left in France to maintain contact with London: André Bloch, operating in the occupied zone.