BEAUCOUDRAY, history, life….

Documentary Resources

‘Those who forget the past are condemned to relive it’ - message from General de Gaulle broadcast by the BBC on 6th June 1944 : The supreme battle had started. The Resistance had been informed the previous evening that the landings were imminent. The elderly remember messages such as ‘the worker’s call on a misty morning’ or ‘its hot at Suez ’. Via these coded messages, the Resistance received the order to go into action across the whole of occupied France. The plan to sabotage communication installations, codenamed VIOLET, was set in motion during the night of 5th – 6th June. ‘Resistance PTT’ participated in a series of sabotage attacks on German telephone equipment. Ernest Pruvost, one of their national leaders was in hiding in the home of Mr. Fillâtre at Villebaudon. Wave after wave, the liberating army gained a foothold on the coast at a cost of enormous losses. The Resistance, whose actions also had a painful cost, played its part in these dramatic events. The following concerns the part played by the Maquis of Villebaudon-Beaucoudray whose story is told here. It was elements of an SS division that took the Maquis in a trap. They were assassinated for freedom 9 days after the landings. In 1982 Louis Mexandeau declared: ‘If the memory of 11 martyrs is so vivid 38 years later, it is because the sense of their sacrifice has not weakened’. Auguste Conte says ‘The dead govern the living’.  

Since September 1941, the framework of the Maquis had been put in place thanks to the efforts of Henri Le Veille, leader of the Resistance in Normandy. From the beginning, its main action had been to recruit men who’s sole concern was to resist the occupation by all the means at their disposal and its mission had been to collect and supplying information on troop movements and their telecommunications. By 1942, a web had been woven which allowed them to decipher coded messages sent between different occupying units.  

Over the years, the Resistance group had expanded. At the beginning of 1944, there were about 50 members in the department. Their actions had intensified, particularly the cutting of telephone lines, moving of weapons and receiving parachute drops. During the night of 9th – 10th May 1944, aircraft growled over the little hamlet of Sainte-Marie-Outre-l'eau, near Pont-Farcy, Suddenly, parachutes appeared, shadows on shadows. Containers full of arms, ammunition and other explosives landed with dull thuds. 3 tons! Their harvest was rapid. The PTT vans were quickly loaded and set off for Beaucoudray. In an abandoned farm, lost at the end of a labyrinth of country tracks, everything was unloaded and hidden in the attic: the parachute drop of weapons had been received by the PTT Resistance group led by E. Pruvost. 26 days went by. Just a few hours before the start of the landings, the postmen of the Resistance calmly and methodically cut telephone wires and cables. The job done, they reached the isolated farm on the morning of the 6th. The little group, who were waiting for others to join them and for a signal telling them how to help the airborne troops, got on with organizing their daily life.  

In fact, ‘the workers call’ was the order for a general attack to begin through wide scale sabotage. At Beaucoudray, the group met up in the village after carrying out their orders. On the 14th, a car containing two Germans arrived and came close to their hiding place before leaving immediately. Had the driver taken the wrong road? Suddenly, it’s the attack. Coming simultaneously from three sides, armed soldiers converged on the farm. It was the 14th June and German troops had found them.  

They were transported to a stable at a farm in Villebaudon. The next day, at about 4 o’clock in the morning, they were directed to a field. At 4H30, they were shot and buried in two communal graves. The American second division liberated Villebaudon on 28th July 1944 .  

When they were exhumed, some of the bodies had burn marks. Another had broken ribs. But they had not spoken because not one of those who got away had any problems. Their hands had been savagely tied together with wire. A shot in the neck had ended the hard lives of these men who chose that most difficult of paths: that of honor.  

A page of French Resistance history or how to kill a network….

On 15th June 1944 , on the edge of a hedged meadow, in part of a little hamlet within the district of Beaucoudray, in the fresh dawn of one of the longest days of the year, 11 members of the PTT network of Saint-Lô fell to German fire. It was thus that ended tragically the action that had been prepared a long time earlier and which was completed during the night of 5th - 6th June as part of operation VIOLET; the systematic sabotage of German telecommunications installations. An action which should have continued behind enemy lines but which was made impossible by the absence of men and, above all, equipment.   

Others have written much about the potential impact of this Resistance group – created at Saint-Lô at the end of 1940 by Marcel Richer – a group specially recruited from amongst postmen - initially intended to provide information to the allies on the strength and positions of German defenses – lookout posts, AA batteries, troop movements – then to conduct sabotage – and finally to provide armed technical support behind German lines once the frontline had been pierced. Reinforcements were to arrive by parachute so as to allow a concerted action.

Unfortunately these much-awaited reinforcements from the Special Air Service did not arrive. The postmen, isolated at a farm in the village of Le Blois where they had hidden after having cut the main German cables, were reduced to waiting. The breakthrough at the front did not happen….

Gossip, indiscretions or possibly a moment of inattention allowed a group of German non-combatants, who were staying in the village close to Réauté, to put a tail on the young men who’s behavior was different from that of the other villagers.

At the start of the day, on 14th June, a German motorbike patrol reached the farm where the men of the Maquis had spent the night. There was no reaction. A mistake, men who were lost… false… at 10H30, the non-combatants arrived in force with the support of the S.S., machineguns in hand. The farm was rapidly surrounded. The Resistance man on guard was surprised and quickly overcome. It was the same for the men who were inside the farm preparing the midday meal. Shots rang out. Guy, a member of the Resistance, fell with a bullet in his thigh. Ernest Pruvost, the national leader, was busy finishing shaving outside and managed to melt into the abundant vegetation which was all round the farm. Three others were able to do the same: Richer, Deschamps, Raoult….  

Crouzeau, ordered to put his hands up, managed to shoot his adversary with his Colt but soon had to surrender. He was to have the terrible honor of being considered the leader. After a long interrogation and efforts to save the other men, Crouzeau simply declared to those who were questioning him ‘we are against you…’

Mrs Leblond who, accompanied by her son, had the difficult task of watching the farm’s exterior, suffered an equally long interrogation, as did her 11-year-old son. No one knows what unexpected grace saved them from being executed.

Conscious that the group was much larger than previously thought and aware that many residents of the region were involved in the affair, the Germans went on the hunt, sealing off the whole region and interrogating without mercy anyone they found who was considered ‘suspect’.

It was at this time that Alphonse Fillâtre and his wife, accompanied by a young relative and alerted at the last moment by a young boy from thereabouts, Bernard Lalle, tricked the nazi vigilance and the dogs sent to search for them.

But all the efforts were without result. No other member of the Resistance was found. But will the network not reform? Won’t parachutists appear from the sky to save the members of the Resistance? There must be an ending. After a difficult day when the allied aviation had shown itself to be particularly active, the Germans decided to transfer their prisoners at dusk to the village of Réauté , where they were locked in a stable with a very watchful guard.

15th June – 4 o’clock in the morning – a truck arrives suddenly – guttural commands - a few more minutes pass – a long burst of machine gun fire in the early dawn – eleven men no longer exist.

The bodies of these unfortunates were found after the liberation at the beginning of August; 4 on one side and 7 on the other at the exact spot where the monument was erected. They were tied up in pairs. The armband of the FFI was found (Forces Français de l’Interieur) on one of them, an illusionary sign of his belonging to this shadow army that the Germans never respected.

Every year, on the first Sunday after 15th June, a crowd, which is always large, takes part in a commemorative ceremony, perhaps to illustrate the line of poetry " ... Ou je meurs renaît la Patrie " (where I die my country is reborn)


Hope came from the sea: at dawn on 6th June 1944, the allies landed. For them, the town was a strategic crossroad that had to be destroyed. The station was bombarded from the 6th. During the night of 6th - 7th, hundreds of aircraft returned. Saint-Lô was flattened under the bombs and was left ablaze. The leaflets telling the residents of Saint-Lô to flee had been lost in the surrounding districts. Many civilians were killed including those in the prison where the Germans were holding about 200 prisoners, most of whom perished under the bombs. The main door was undamaged. For those who escaped the only way out was to flee towards the empty streets leading out of the town. The hedged farmland slowed the advance of the allies (battle of the hedges). On 29th June, Major Howie, commander of a battalion of the 29th US Division, launched an offensive. He was killed during the attack. His body, carried by his men, was the first to enter Saint-Lô. The battle of the streets started. The enemy’s artillery resisted until midnight. 

95% of the town was destroyed. It was the capital of the ruins, a desert without life. The authorities were faced with a difficult choice; leave the town in ruins surrounded by barbed wire as a symbol of a city martyred or construct a new town a few kilometers away, as proposed by Frédéric Pottecher. But the council and the residents were ready to fight to live where they had always lived. Thanks to the persistence of Roger Ferdinand, Georges Lavalley and Auguste Lefrançois, the town’s reconstruction was done on its original site. German prisoners helped to clear away the ruins. On 10th June 1945, General de Gaulle, head of the provisional government, came to give his support to the exhausted townsfolk. International solidarity also made its contribution and lent a helping hand. Swiss, Swedes, Irish…  sent huts to re-house those without homes. The head architect of the reconstruction, André Hilt, suggested that the city walls should be restored. On 6th June 1948, President Auriol laid the first stone of this reconstruction. Marcel Mersier, who succeeded André Hilt, spent all his efforts on this task, which lasted nearly 20 years. The Americans helped the reconstruction by building the France-Etats Unis Hospital, designed by the architect Nelson. At the time of its construction, it was the most modern hospital in Europe. A fresco by Fernand Léger decorates the entrance. The prefecture, which had been transferred to Coutances, returned in 1953. The inauguration of the theatre in 1963 marked the end of the reconstruction. It was named after the native of Saint-Lô, Roger Ferdinand, who was director of the Conservatoire National d'Art Dramatique (national conservancy for dramatic art).