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Red River Scrapbook: The Bill Reese Story-part 2: With the Maquis
By Lt. Col. William H. Reese/Edward Southerland
May 30, 2017
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With the Maquis
by William Reese

Lt. Col. William H. Reese
Recap: William Reese was a nineteen-year-old P-51 pilot flying ground support missions over France when he was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire. With his plane on fire, and too low to bail out, he made a wheels-up belly landing in a small patch of farmland. With a bloody gash on his forehead and a broken nose, Reese climbed out of the downed plane and made it into the woods, just evading two truckloads of German soldiers who were searching the area. After being helped by a French farmer, he started for the village of Èpagne. On the way, he met a man on a bicycle.

A special note as to the Maquis: The Maquis (ma-ki) were a largely rural arm of the French resistance movement against the Germans in World War 2. The individual fighters were known as maquisards from the The term is Corsican, and generally translates as “the bush.” The maquisards were locals, men who had fled to the mountains to avoid conscription, and the forced labor drafts introduced by the Germans.

One of the hundred of Maquis bands that fought the Germans in occupied France.

They operated in large and small groups, armed with weapons taken from the Germans or later supplied by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) or the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In northern France the units were diverse, with nationalists, socialist, communists, and anarchists united in the hatred of occupying Germans. While not the only group fighting the Germans—there were dozens—the Maquis came to symbol the resistance movement.

With the Maquis

He got off his bike and led me off the road into some bushes, all the while yakety yackking in French, but he did get the idea over to me that I was to stay hidden here, and he would be back. Sure enough, in a little while he came back with another man and a spare bike. I got on, and the three of us took off down the road and away from the village.

We came to another small village, which had a tavern, and they took me into the kitchen in the back where they fixed up a pillow and some blankets and had me lie down on the floor. I was beginning to feel like it had been a full day, and then, believe it or not, they got a doctor to attend to my wounds.

Several in this group could speak some English, including the doctor, who put sulfa powder on my wounds and bandaged my forehead. He said my nose had been broken lengthwise, but thought it would heal okay. I had been shot down about 2:30 p.m., and it was dark by now, but the day wasn’t over by a long shot.

I was lying on the floor just opposite the door going into the barroom, and we could hear a lot of commotion in there. One of the Maquis—to this day I can’t believe he did this—opened the door a crack so I could see into the barroom. It was full of German soldiers in uniform, drinking beer. I’m sure the smile on my face would have been described as sickly.

About an hour later, one of the Maquis rushed in and with the usual burst of French, things started happening. It seems the Germans had originally thought that I had perished in the plane, but later on, they had found my parachute and Mae West. They found my tracks leading into the woods and had lined up about one hundred soldiers abreast, armed with machine guns (It was dark when this took place.), and marched through the woods gunning every dense thicket they found. Now they were searching all the villages in the area.

The Maquis took me to a barn near the tavern, got me up in the hayloft and hid me behind quite a few bales of hay. They told me that the Germans usually searched haylofts with pitchforks to look for hiding places, but for me to just stay still. They felt there was too much hay in front of me, and they didn’t think the Jerries would find me. I thought I might as well make do, so I made a makeshift bed out of the hay and went to sleep.

The Germans did search the tavern, but never did come to the barn—at least I didn’t wake up until the Maquis woke me up the next morning. We then took off on our bikes for the little village of Èpagne, where, I was told, I would be staying with the mayor and his family. And what a family they turned out to be—Papa Doizlet, Mama Doizlet, and sons Andre, fifteen and Henri, seventeen.

Papa and Mama

I lived with this family for almost four weeks, and they treated me like a favorite son. Everyday I witnessed feats of bravery and love that I will remember and cherish to the end of my days. Papa Doizlet was not only the mayor; he was also the head of the Maquis for this entire section of France. Andre, the youngest son, could speak a little English, and no one else in the family could say anything in English but the word “American.”

When I first arrived, I sensed that Papa and Henri seemed sort of unhappy, and at first, I was afraid it was because of me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Fortunately, Andre was able to tell me the problem.

It seems that on the same night that I was at the tavern, Papa and Henri were on their way to do a little sabotage on a German train parked near a small town and waiting until after midnight to continue on. On their way, they saw a German truck moving slowly along the road with its blackout lights on (just small slits with the rest of the headlights blacked out), so they thought they would use one of their four sticky bombs on it. Sticky bombs were like big hand grenades covered with a soft sticky substance so they would stick to whatever you threw them at, and in four or five seconds explode.

Henri threw one bomb at the truck, and it stuck on the windshield—scratch one truck and crew, but they had not noticed two more trucks with no lights on that were following the first. Each of these trucks had two soldiers up front and ten in the back. Papa and Henri threw their three remaining sticky bombs and used the Sten machine guns to mop up.

The old man and young boy killed twenty-six Germans that night, so I couldn’t understand why this would make them unhappy, until Andre explained. He said they had received specific instructions by radio from England to use the sticky bombs only for the sabotage of trains.

Mama Doizlet greeted me with a big meal served with outstanding red table wine. Two things I really remember about Mama—her cooking and her love for everybody around her, but especially for Papa.

She knew that each morning when she said good-bye to Papa, it might be the last time she would see him, so her good-bye kiss in the morning was sexual experience by itself—two old folks kissing up a storm. And of course, when Papa came home, the reunion was even more enthusiastic. One thing was obvious to all, and that was the deep physical and emotional love these two had for each other.

I also remember some memorable meals that Mama whipped up on one of her two stoves, one used coal, the other wood. Poached eggs for breakfast with homemade bread, squab, roast beef or fish for dinner and, of course, table wine at every meal. I did not drink another drop of water during my stay with this wonder family.

I certainly remember the first fish dinner—a six or seven-pound fish of unknown lineage. I was offered first choice, which Andre said was the head. I declined and suggested Papa should have the honors. He readily agreed, whereupon he broke off the head, cracked the skull with his teeth and sucked out the brain with much gusto. Then he ate the “cheeks,” the small succulent pieces of meat down by the rear of the jaws.

The meals were cooked to perfection, and the french fries melted in the mouth. I gained about ten pounds during my ordeal, although all was not fun and games.

In the evening, if something special had happened that day, Papa would bring out a bottle of Schnapps and fill little shot glasses for everybody. This Schnapps was something else. A drop on the furniture would go right through varnish or paint. Dip you finger in it and pass it over a candle, and it would flare like lighter fluid. This was not a sipping drink. One gulp and you finished it off and then could keep track of it as it wended its way through the stomach.

About the only visitor we had during the day was the local gendarme. The first time I saw him, he was in the house before I was aware of it, and I thought I was in big trouble. He laughed and gave me a big hug. About then, Papa came in and the gendarme handed him a small bag. Inside the bag were four more sticky bombs, so then I knew how the goodies were delivered.

Inside the Maquis

I should digress a moment to explain something. The Germans had every intention of staying in France forever. The realized that to do that at least two groups of people would have to be treated reasonably well, the farmers and the police. The first so they would continue farming and supplying food for the populace, and the second so they could help maintain order.

These two groups formed the backbone of the Maquis resistance. With luck, daring, courage and raw guts, they were able to successfully operate right under the Germans’ noses. An example comes to mind.

Papa was carrying papers identifying him as a Maquis leader, and he was carrying a .45 pistol when he was stopped by a group of German SS soldiers who were retreating on foot to the east. They were lost, and the day was cloudy and rainy. They asked Papa just one question, which way was east? Without hesitation, he pointed west; they thanked him and went on their way, west. If they hadn’t been is such a hurry, if just one soldier had is compass, if.... This is the kind of guts these Maquis had.

I get company

One evening about two weeks after arriving at Epagne, we were about to have some Schnapps, when there was a knock on the door. A couple of local Maquis had another evader, a young Canadian.

He had been a tail gunner on a British bomber. His plane was on a night bombing run when it was hit and exploded immediately, and my Canadian buddy found himself sitting in the air with no airplane around him. Fortunately he was wearing his parachute and made a successful landing, and again, fortunately, the Maquis got to him before the Germans. He was the one to survive out of the ten-member crew.

His introduction to the Doizlet family was to join us just as we were having our Schnapps. He said he was thirsty, but something was lost in the translation. As they were out of shot glasses, they handed him a water glass full of Schnapps, which he started to chugalug thinking it was water. About his third gulp, he realized something was amiss, and turning a rather pretty shade somewhere between red and purple, he ran outside and solved the problem. He claimed it burned just as much coming up as going down. He survived, and we really did enjoy each other’s company. Having someone to talk to did make the time pass faster.

A couple of days later, Papa came home with champagne for all and very dry cigar for me. Patton had just broken out of Normandy and could be in our area in just a few days. The cigars and champagne were buried at the start of hostilities, and now Papa felt the time had come to start enjoying them. We had champagne with every evening meal, and I had one of the very dry cigars every evening.

Something else happened about his time that really lifted our spirits. We heard some aircraft one afternoon and ran outside to find some 9th Air Force P-47s working over a German truck convoy just a few blocks away. We all ran to a nearby hill, sat down and really enjoyed the ensuing action.

The P-47s had about ten trucks trapped on the road and were setting up a pattern to take care of the rest. I was really amazed at the damage eight .50 caliber machine guns would do. These were large trucks, which would be moved sideways off the road when the .50s hit them. They were turned completely to junk.

The destruction was complete, and I know the P-47 pilots got a kick out of the people on the hill jumping up and down and cheering them on. When they left, they flew over us and rocked their wings.

On the move

Things started happening pretty fast now. The Maquis were ordered to try and hold the two cement bridges in our area, one at Epagne and the other at the little village upriver where I crossed the day I was shot down. The Germans were pulling back and trying to slow the Americans down by destroying bridges.

Papa decided that the time had come for the Maquis to come out of hiding and disguises. They would have to man the bridges and fight for them, but before that, two things had to be done. They had to get all the women and children in as safe a place as possible, and they needed to capture a female German spy who had been living in the area since 1939 and working as a prostitute. Just recently, they had finally realized what her real job was, and now they wanted to hold her for the Americans to interrogate.

Andre was able to make me understand most of this, and then came the shocker. They wanted me to be one of the guards for her, and if she tried to escape, I would be the one responsible for shooting her. As a matter of fact, I was the only guard who would have a gun, which I was then given. It was a really nice Llama .45 automatic with several clips of ammo. It was a real beauty, and Andre indicated that it was Papa’s own weapon.

I had two teenage boys to accompany me, although neither could speak English. They picked up the woman that night, and Andre said we would have to spend the night in the woods. He decided to take the place of one of the boys since he could talk to me. The next day, we would walk down into the forest and stay where the women and children were stashed.

We walked about four or five miles in the direction of the hideout, then settled down for the night with a rope around my wrist and her ankle. Her hands were tied also. She was about thirty-years-old, could speak some English, and was quite confident that this was all a mistake. Thank God, she didn’t try to get away.

Early the next morning, we started out for the hideout, which turned out to be the damnedest thing; it belonged out in the Wild West of the U.S.A. It was a stockade with a ten-foot log wall around what looked for all the world like a fort. It was really large, with stables and barns on the ground floor and living quarters above, and the place was alive with about sixty or seventy wives and assorted children. Some of the women were armed, and all were very curious about us.

Next week: The Bill Reese Story-Part 3: Death of the spy.