I’m camped here in Pont de l’Arche right by the river. The town sits on the left bank of the Seine where it meets the river Eure. A bridge spans the confluence of the two rivers and provides the main route way into town. With a population of around 4,000 inhabitants, it is a quiet and peaceful little place. However, that’s not so for the history of this town.
It’s a ten-minute walk from the campsite to the centre of town. I’m taking rue Alphonse Samain from the quay by the river for about two hundred metres and then I’m taking a right onto rue André Antoine. Don’t miss the plaque on the wall on the right at the entrance to the street. There’s important information there.
This street leads down to the magnificent church of Notre-Dame-des-Arts, and I will take you there in another post. But today, I want to introduce you to the owner of the name of this street.
Lieutenant-Colonel Antoine was born on March 29th (also my birthday!), 1920 in St Dizier, a city on the far eastern side of the country. He studied at the École Centrale de TSF and worked as a radio engineer. He came to Les Damps, a small village just 1.5 kilometres west of Pont de l’Arche, to live and work. He joined the 8th Engineering Regiment in Versailles and fought for France until the armistice with the occupying forces was signed. He was demobilised in February 1941 and he immediately put his skills and knowledge to work on behalf of the resistance movement.
André quickly realised that there was an opportunity for him to take control. He created and organised small groups of resistance workers across the whole département of Eure. He masterminded and was involved in many incidents – intelligence gathering, recruitment of maquisards, sabotage, rescue of allied pilots are some examples – across the Eure and in neighbouring areas. He was eventually co-opted onto the Resistance Steering Committee in Paris and, working at this level, meant that he was frequently away from Les Damps.
Returning to northwestern France in January 1944, André found himself caught up in a large raid by the occupiers during which 75 known members of the maquis were captured. He was seriously injured by machine gun fire on January 16th in Beaumesnil and transported to the hospital in Rouen. Apparently, he was interrogated between operations and from the very first day he was arrested. He eventually died of his wounds on February 27th.
He was posthumously appointed to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and his body is buried in the small graveyard in Les Damps. The plaque above on the wall – which was erected on May 8th, 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of the end of hostilities – provides some context rather than the usual blue street sign that just gives a name.
There will be more from this interesting little town in the New Year.
If you enjoyed reading this post you might also like to take a stroll with me through Joinville or Pontivy or perhaps the little hilltown of Cordes-sur-Ciel