7th January 2006, 00:01
Susan Travers - Tomorrow To Be Brave
"Amilakvari was deputy ot Lieutenant-Colonel Magrin-Vernerey, who used 'Monclar' as his nom de guerre. Monclar was a stocky, grey-haired man with combed-back hair and a disconcerting, swashbucking air, a Frenchman through and through. It was his job to instil in the men the great traditions of the Legion and to sustain its honour and that of the Free French, even if that meant fighting and killing their own countrymen. It was a prospect that filled all of them with foreboding but, with someone like Amilakvari leading them into battle, they would be better able to follow.
Monclar was a terrifying little man, someone people (especially women) tried to avoid whenever possible, not least because he was prone to persistent bouts of hiccoughing which made it difficult to keep a straight face when talking to him. Unfortunately for me, on our final night at sea he threw a cocktail party for all the officers and I was placed at his right hand to translate for him to the ship's captain, while everyone else was getting merry. My mood didn't improve when the colonel warned me that he'd advised that I might not be allowed to continue on my journey with the legionnaires. I spent a restless night wondering how I would manage to sneak ashore.
We landed at Port Sudan, on the Red Sea, on 14 February 1941, and, to my delight, nobody challenged us at the harbour about women being on board. One of the nurses told me that Tony Drake was already there. I had lunch with him ashore, but our ardour had been cooled by the experiences we'd both enjoyed since we last met.
"I'll see you around", he said, with an affectionate kiss, as we parted.
I nodded and wondered if we would.
[Adjudant-Chef Susan Travers about Colonel Monclar, "Tomorrow to Be Brave", p.88-89]
When I dared to ask a few questions of my own, however, he wa sless open. he had been sixteen, when the First World War broke out, he told me. leaving college, he had served with the infantry and been awarded the military medal. Spurning further study, he had stayed on with the army after the war, and seen duty in the Alps and in Marocco. When the Second World war was declared, he had led the 13DBLE as a captain in the battle of Narvik in Norway, not very far from where I had spent the early months. His success there had guaranteed him promotion, a fact which made his wife very happy. But once France had fallen, he had fled to Britain with six friends, catching a fishing boat to Jersey in order to join de gaulle's forces. He'd sailed with the 13 DBLE for French Africa on the Pennland, the sister ship to the Westernland, on the same day as I did. His "defection" to the Free French was a move which upset Madame Koenig greatly, not least because it meant that her husband was officially branded a traitor.
"Have you any children?", I asked politely, as the mention of his wife.
"No", he replied, after a short hesitation. "None of my own, anyway; my wife has children from her previous marriage".
"And what is your wife like?", I asked, realizing from his quick frown that I might have overstepped the mark. I played with my glass as I waited for his response.
There was an uneasy silence between us for a while. When he spoke, his tone was measured.
"Wealthy, well connected. An aristocrat", he said, his eyes far away. "Sometimes overprotective and overambitious for me".
Whenever he spoke of his wife, I noticed that his face clouded over slightly. But he was too professional a soldier to let me know too much. Choosing his words carefully, ever the politician, he directed the conversation away from the personal matters each time I tried to pry. painfully aware that he was my employer, not my friend, I didn't pres shim further.
[Adjudant-Chef Susan Travers about her first dinner with Colonel Pierre Koenig, "Tomorrow to Be Brave", p.138-139]
But the destination was not now their greatest concern. Believing that we must have been the only escapees from Bir-Hakeim, the general was beside himself.
"I'm a general in charge of nobody", he said. "All my men are dead. It'sbeen a complete disaster. I should have never attempted the breakout."
Listening to the two men taking so earnestly, I was distressed at the anguish in their voices. The general sounded like a broken man, bitterly disappointed at the failure of his mission.
As the dawn turned to morning and we drove wearily on, his sense of dishonour seemed to become too much for him. "There's only one thing for it", he announced suddenly. "I am going to give myself up top the next enemy vehicles we come across. At least then I can led my men in captivity."
Amilakvari was shocked as I was. "Think what you're saying, mon general", he urged. "You'd be a gift to German propaganda. Can you imagine what mileage they' make of your capture? besides, for nothing in the world would I, Prince Dimitri Amilakvari, become a voluntary prisoner f war. I beg you, please, to wait until we have more information."
I listened to all of this in astonishment. I couldn't believe that, after all we'd gone through together, the general was prepared to give himself up so easily. Displaying what the general used to call my flemme britannique, I sat up and told him to stop feeling sorry for himself.
"I've gone to a great deal of trouble to get you out, and now I think that the least you can do is to try and stay out of the German hands", I told him crossly. "I've stuck with you for this long and I'm not prepared to be separated from you now". Like Amilakvari, I was also quite adamant that the last thing I wanted to become was a willing German captive.
I took the wheel again and we continued across the desert for several more hours....
[Adjudant-Chef Susan Travers about General Koenig and Colonel Amilakvari during the breakout from Bir-Hakeim when Koenig became so depressed that he was willing to give up to the Germans, "Tomorrow to Be Brave", p.229.]
There were moments of levity too. The general returned to Alexandria and was asked by the English to help arrange a boxing match between some mighty Cairo boxers and his finest legionnaires. Large amounts of money were riding on the outcome. Only too happy to oblige, the general agreed, and the match went ahead with a young legionnaire called Adjudant-Chef Dormoy in the ring. For the first three rounds it looked as if Dormoy would not survive. he barely fought his monster of an opponent and too a severe beating. The English, who'd placed their money on the Egyptian, were delighted. But then, completely out of the blue, the young Dormoy landed a mighty blow to the chin of his opponent, felling him. It was a knockout. The referee lifted Dormoy's arm and named him the winner. Collecting their winnings, the general and his men left the building rather hurriedly with their young pugilist, failing to tell the English that his real name was Francis Jacques and he was European boxing champion.
[Adjudant-Chef Susan Travers about boxing match in Alexandria, "Tomorrow to Be Brave", p.243-244]
Some interesting excerpts from Susan Traver's book "Tomorrow Be Brave" which I received as a gift this Christmas Eve from my Dutch friend. Thank you Jan!
7th January 2006, 00:14
Actual or Ex Legionnaire
Major Forum Poster