Alix Marrier d'Unienville has died. She was one of the last RF Agents.
The author of “RF is for Real Friends”, who had the privilege of meeting with Alix and visiting her several times in Paris, pays homage to her on this webpage.
On 31 March 1944, despite a morning phone call saying departure would not be today, and a bad bout of flu, Alix finally left from 1 Dorset Square with a companion and a couple of RF officers.
Of this petite woman (1m54) of 25 years, her commendation for a post-war award said “she jumped with great coolness and took up her duties with efficiency.”
Her alias was MYRTIL (from the Molière series of pseudonyms); her cover name changed from Michell (for training purposes) to Aline Davelan, a student from Bordeaux born on 9 October 1922. She was also given another ID with papers, Aline Renault née Tezenas du Montcel, born on 9 June 1916 in Lyon. Her field name, i.e. how she was known in the Resistance, was Marie-France. Her English cover story was as a student at Sciences-Po; but soon she added another identity, forged in France, of a young woman whose husband was a prisoner-of-war.
She parachuted into France in the night of 31 March 1944 from a Halifax aircraft with another agent called CATHAU, several dozens of containers, some personal luggage and a suitcase containing 40 million francs that she was due to take to Paris. On her, she was carrying two million francs in small denominations, in a pocket on the back of her jumpsuit acting as a cushion. She landed in a landing zone called DENTELLE in the Loir-et-Cher, in a tree, which took her three quarters of an hour to disentangle herself from. She could hear dogs barking in the vicinity and was very frightened. She walked until dawn until she asked a young boy how to reach the farm that was her “relais”. On Palm Sunday, 2nd April, she took the train to Paris to join the man she was sent to assist, Roland Pré @ ORONTE (another Molière pseudonym). He was the civil delegate for Northern France, one of the two deputies to Alexandre Parodi who headed the Délégation Générale du CFLN. They knew the Allied Landings would happen soon and the Délégation’s mission was to put in place administrative structures that would be operational when the regime changed (for example the commissaires de la république, the préfets etc), not a mean task when they were still operating clandestinely. The challenge was to impose these new men in charge as the legitimate interlocutors of the Allies, in opposition to the AMGOT (Allied Military Government in Occupied Territories) that the Americans were in favour of. ORONTE’s boss, Parodi, was in effect the successor to Jean Moulin. Their HQ was above the Luce grocer’s shop, Place de Passy. As an organiser of W/T services (for which she recruited a number of women), Alix was specifically in charge of the reception and transmission of cable messages between the UK and resistersaround Paris. It entailed a lot of walking around Paris, going from rendez-vous to rendez-vous; a lot of waiting too, a lot of memorising addresses and phone numbers.All this was to stop. In what looked eerily like one of the training exercises, but caused by the imprudence of a fellow resister, she was arrested with TRISTAN (real name Pierre-Henri Teitgen, future minister) and another man at their rendez-vous point in front of Le Bon Marché store. It was the very windy morning of 6 June 1944, a comrade had told her an hour earlier that the Allied landings were happening. As TRISTAN whispered to her, “ce n’est pas de chance d’être embarqué le jour du débarquement.”
They were taken to the German military police headquarters on Avenue Foch. She was interrogated, but not tortured. They did not seem to suspect she had come from London, despite the presence in her effects of the tell-tale cyanide pill. Then taken to a women’s prison at Fresnes, she feigned madness and persecution mania in order to be transferred to a place from which she could hope to escape. “Oh, I just did a lot of silly things. I told them that all my food was poisoned and refused to eat anything for a week”, she later said. The ruse worked and she was transferred to a hospital. The hardest bit was done, the next step would be freedom. She was convinced that by thinking all the time of escaping, she would make it possible. At that time, the Nazis, realising that the Allies were approaching Paris, began to move their prisoners to Germany. And so, on 15th August 1944, Alix was put on one of these trains de la mort, the last train of prisoners going to Ravensbrück (over 3,000 passengers/prisoners, less than 300 survived). The train often stopped due to blown up bridges and tunnels. 36 hours into the journey, and hardly 60 kilometres from Paris, Alix attempted an audacious escape during one of the stops. She hid in the countryside, helped along by courageous villagers, until the Americans arrived and one of their jeeps eventually took her back to Paris.A fellow resister and lifelong friend, Jean-Michel Rémy, wrote:
“Myrtil, placid, efficient, punctual, was blessed with such composure that allowed her, almost the only one amongst the deportees on the trains of horror […] to carry off a miraculous escape.” (our translation)
Several days later, standing in front of her building, before the caretaker gave her a spare key to her flat, she mused:
“It was here that I had heard news of the landings and immediately set off on this long journey in the depths of the night. I crossed the same threshold that I had on my way out two months earlier. Just two months. It seemed to me that between those two doorways, a whole lifetime had gone by. And no doubt it was the case as, from then on, a barrier would separate these two eras: Before and After.”
After. She would have to make a new life for herself. A new life for the new her. She worked briefly for a weekly magazine called Nuit et Jour then for Le Parisien Libéré. But her heart was not in it. She later was an air hostess for Air France and won the Albert Londres literary prize for her book En Vol, journal d’un hôtesse de l’air. For her war work she was awarded the Croix de Guerre, the Légion d’Honneur and the MBE.
Alix, thank you, and RIP.
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