Colonel Rémy

1904-1984
Colonel Rémy.©Chancellerie de l’Ordre de la Libération

In 1940, Gilbert Renault, alias Rémy, set up the biggest intelligence network in free France: the Confrérie Notre-Dame that was to carry out numerous actions in France. His biographer, historian Guy Perrier, talks about his actions, in particular in 1943.

 

Stunned by the collapse of 1940, Gilbert Renault, a devout Catholic close to the ideas of l'Action Française, a movement however that he was never to join, refused to admit France's defeat. Leaving his wife and four children behind, he left the town of Vannes and sailed for England where he joined general Charles de Gaulle, with whom he forged links of admiration and affection that were never to be broken despite their future differences. De Gaulle assigned him to the 2nd bureau, which was to become the  Central Bureau of Intelligence and Operations (BCRA) led by colonel Passy, whose real name was André Dewavrin, who asked him to set up a network along the Atlantic seaboard, where the Kriegstnarine was harassing British ships.

Thus began a new life for this impulsive, eccentric and chivalrous adventurer, who had worked for a long time in film as a producer after taking up numerous other occupations. After numerous trips between England, occupied France and Spain, Remy soon had informants in every port. On 6 January, 1942, after visiting the Notre-Dame des Victoires church in Paris, he baptised his movement the Confrérie Notre-Dame (CND) whose success was to gain him "unprecedented prestige with the Intelligence Service" according to Sébastien Albertelli, author of Services Secrets de la France Libre.

The network became the largest network in free France, it processed and forwarded mail from several networks: the Civil and Military Organization (CMO), Libération-Nord, Fana (Communist). After a stay in France at the end of 1942, Rémy went back to London on January 11, 1943 and would not come back to France until the Liberation. It was at this time that he brought the Communist leader Fernand Grenier to meet General de Gaulle, an event with far-reaching consequences. For Remy, whose monarchist beliefs were totally contrary to those of the Communist Party, the fate of his country must transcend ideological divides!

While the Confrérie Notre-Dame continued its intelligence work, a serious event occurred that disrupted the activity of the network. On 6 October 1943, a CND agent, Parsifal, fell into the hands of the German Security Service, the Abwehr. He was interrogated by a Belgian collaborator, Christian Masuy, who submitted him to the bathtub torture. The agent could not bear it and revealed the names of important members of the network. This was a major blow to the Confrérie Notre-Dame.

Remy came up with a contingency plan to put his organisation back on track and wanted to return to France. But London believed that colonel Rémy was more useful in London to help prepare for the allied landings, as part of the Sussex plan which intended to use French soldiers on inter-ally missions. In England, Remy had the joy of spending Christmas 1943 with his wife at their small home in Elwood and hearing the message of support that he had recorded the day before being broadcast by the BBC and aimed at the resistance fighters imprisoned in France.

Named a Companion of the Liberation on 13 March 1942, Rémy was to become the proponent of a very unlikely cause after the Liberation: that of attempting to reconcile Gaullists, resistants of all persuasions and anti-German petainists! He became a militant of the Gaullist RPF (Rally of the French People) in the aftermath of the war. He defended the idea, refuted by most historians, that general de Gaulle and Pétain were complementary, the first representing 'the sword of France' and the second 'the shield'. An assertion expressed in several of his books devoted to his action in the resistance, but that de Gaulle himself refuted without however this harming their friendship and the esteem de Gaulle had for him.

On 28 July, 1984, Rémy, the No 1 secret agent for free France passed away, a few days short of his 80th birthday. François Mitterrand, President of the Republic, hailed him as "one of the most glorious heroes of the Resistance, who will forever remain the honour of France". Two years after his death his last book was published, simply entitled: La Résistance.

 

Guy Perrier, historian, In Les Chemins de la Mémoire, 235/april 2013