the 177 of the Kieffer commando have all discovered a face | EUROtoday

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On June 6, 1944, American and Commonwealth troopers weren’t the one ones to set foot on the Normandy seashores. A handful of French marines, members of Philippe Kieffer's commando, additionally landed. Eighty years later, the journey and the faces of those 177 males at the moment are recognized due to the work of two fans.

“I'm in the water; I'm on my feet, the water reaches my chest, I advance painfully without paying attention to anyone, holding my machine gun well in the air. A hundred meters to go in the water, in the middle of the explosions, obstacles which stand before us like ordeals (…) We advance in the middle of a curtain of smoke. The bullets whistle and ricochet in the water. . I see Pinelli kneeling and kissing the soil of France, I do the same.

On June 6, 1944, Laurent Casagonla arrived on Sword Beach. This soldier, who celebrated his 19th birthday the day before, is one of 177 French berets from the 1st marine rifle battalion, known as the “Kieffer commando”. Injured in the leg from the first meters, this former student, born to a Corsican father and a Basque mother, decides to sing the Marseillaise to encourage his comrades who pass by him: “I not have any pants, blood drips from the thigh; 1000’s of sea lice infest the seaside and soar on the injuries. […] I can't do something, I'm paralyzed. I cry with rage at not having the ability to do something. Despite the ache, I’ve all my lucidity. Shit ! Shit ! Shit ! It’s my birthday, I’m not going to take a seat right here and die, that’s not doable!”

This unbelievable testimony, by no means printed, was discovered by Benjamin Massieu and Jean-Christophe Rouxel. This historian and this naval officer joined forces to retrace the journey of those 177 males, the one French fighters to have landed on the Normandy seashores alongside the Allies. In a e book entitled “Commando Kieffer: 177 faces of D-Day” (Éditions Pierre de Taillac), in addition they publish pictures/portraits of every of those commandos who turned nationwide heroes.

Men and tanks.
Supported by Duplex amphibious tanks, the lads of the Kieffer commando took management of the middle of Ouistreham on June 6, 1944. © Imperial War Museum

“Taking interest in those who had not spoken”

This work was began greater than ten years in the past. At the time, Benjamin Massieu, a professor of historical past and geography, who devoted a biography to Philippe Kieffer, the chief of this commando, was contacted by Jean-Christophe Rouxel, a fanatic of the historical past of marine riflemen. “Basically, this book was not supposed to be one. We simply had a common interest: retracing the journeys of the 177 and pooling our discoveries, our contacts with the families, etc. to create biographical files to put online”, says this historian.

Philippe Kieffer, surrounded by the first volunteers for the commandos during their passage through the HMS Royal Arthur school in Skegness in April 1942.
Philippe Kieffer, surrounded by the primary volunteers for the commandos throughout their passage by means of the HMS Royal Arthur faculty in Skegness in April 1942. © Benjamin Massieu Archives

Together, they put in place frequent documentation with a file for every commando and a listing itemizing their descendants. They rigorously comply with within the footsteps of those males who got here from very various backgrounds and who selected to proceed preventing to liberate their nation. Most have been born in mainland France, however some have been foreigners concerned in free France: an American, 4 Luxembourgers, an Austrian, a Swiss, a Quebecer and an Algerian. Many have been between 20 and 25 years outdated and had little or no navy expertise earlier than 1940. The youngest, René Rossey, was solely 17 years outdated. “They were kids with no experience who said ‘no’ to a Marshal of France,” summarizes Benjamin Massieu.

The two males aren’t the primary to have an interest on this unit arrange in 1942 by Philippe Kieffer, a former banker born in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, who responded to General de Gaulle's name by becoming a member of England. This battalion has just lately been notably highlighted due to the recognition of Léon Gautier, the final survivor of the 177, who died in July 2023. “Over the last twenty years, most of the survivors have been able to testify, but what interested us was “It was not solely to transcend testimonies alone, but additionally to take an curiosity in all those that had not spoken, who died earlier than the general public was fascinated about their story”, explains Benjamin Massieu.

Veteran Léon Gautier, during a ceremony in tribute to the 177 marines of the Kieffer commando, on June 6, 2019, for the 75th anniversary of the Landings, in Colleville-Montgomery.
Veteran Léon Gautier, throughout a ceremony in tribute to the 177 marines of the Kieffer commando, on June 6, 2019, for the seventy fifth anniversary of the Landings, in Colleville-Montgomery. Damien Meyer, AFP

During their analysis, they realized that a few of the 177 had remained silent about their participation in D-Day. This was the case of François Voirin. This soldier from Meurthe-et-Moselle left his spouse and son in a single day, in 1942, to hitch the Free French Forces. Fighting at Sword Beach with the Kieffer commando, this man didn’t reconnect together with his household after the conflict. His descendants had no concept of ​​his heroic previous earlier than the 2 authors contacted them, as Benjamin Massieu describes: “His grandson was convinced that his grandfather was a coward who had abandoned his Jewish wife and son “He was utterly unaware of what he had achieved. It was subsequently an entire household affair that this work turned the other way up.”

Read alsoD-Day: the family of veteran Léon Gautier says stop the memorial business

The long quest for the face of Emile Renault

As the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings approached in 2014, these two enthusiasts also noticed that they were missing the faces of 21 of the 177 marines of D-Day. Very quickly, thanks to the help of many people and the mobilization of social networks, 20 portraits were found in a few months. All that remains is to get our hands on that of Émile Renault, a young Breton sniper, killed on June 6, 1944 in Ouistreham, a few hours after setting foot on French soil.

For several years, Jean-Christophe Rouxel, who considers himself a “Sherlock Holmes” of the archives, set out in search of this face, multiplying calls for witnesses. In a group photo taken during marine training in 1943 in the United Kingdom, only one commando remains who cannot be identified. The naval officer therefore starts from the hypothesis that it is very probably Émile Renault. He also obtained photos of other members of the family of this soldier from Côtes-d'Armor.

It is ultimately only in 2023 that the situation becomes unblocked. “A brand new eye allowed us to evaluate the whole file and discover a group photograph which was already current on one other biography. We in contrast it to the one I had and one of many faces corresponded to the face of our unknown. We then cross-referenced it with the pictures of his mother and father and his sister. The validation occurred naturally,” describes Jean-Christophe Rouxel. After 9 years of analysis, Émile Renault now has, due to them, a recognized face. A problem that he completely wished to take up: “A biography is much more meaningful with a face to look at. Even though they had been forgotten after the war, the absence of a face was a double punishment for those concerned.”

This shot of the "class FNFL 337" trained in Skegness in June 1942 gave a face to soldier Émile Renault.
This photograph of the “FNFL class 337” fashioned in Skegness in June 1942 allowed us to present a face to soldier Émile Renault. © Benjamin Massieu Archives

Research work nonetheless in progress

With the discharge of their work, the 2 authors hope to acquire new info. For them, their work is much from completed, underlines Jean-Christophe Rouxel: “There are always treasures in the drawers! I am a witness to this, regularly receiving unpublished documents from families for multiple biographies on different conflicts and eras. The magic of the Internet and today's digital backups allow so much that there is still time to save what remains to be saved.

After decades of research, this enthusiast is not about to leave these men who marked him with their “bravery” and their “sacrifice for a great cause which seemed right to them at the time”. His comrade Benjamin Massieu also believes that there is still “rather a lot to find” to make known “these marginals, these rebels and these idealists who had put themselves ostracized by French society to pursue a perfect”.

Their duty accomplished, the members of the commando returned to their pre-war lives. As death approached, some chose to be buried in Normandy, near the places where they fought in 1944, others asked that their ashes be scattered at sea facing the beach where they landed on June 6, 1944. Not all of them kept in touch, preferring to turn the page on this episode in their lives, but a few kept an unwavering bond, as Benjamin Massieu likes to say: “I keep in mind particularly that Jean Morel all the time had a field of biscuits in his trunk as a result of he had made a pact with Louis Lanternier and Michel Vincent. One of them was buried with a bottle, the opposite with the glasses and the third with the biscuits, for. to have a good time collectively after they meet once more within the 'elder's paradise'.

Members of the Kieffer commando gathered in June 1994 at Sword Beach, fifty years after landing in Normandy.
Members of the Kieffer commando gathered in June 1994 at Sword Beach, fifty years after touchdown in Normandy. AFP – MYCHELE DANIAU