A Picture from History: Berthe Marquaille & the Shelburne Line

For Berthe Marquaille, every moment the Germans remained in her home of France was an insult.

A trio of German soldiers returning from a training exercise while in France, 1941. (Photo: Rare Historical Photos)

It wasn’t just that they were invaders – though that was certainly enough – it was the atrocities that they committed along the way.

German soldiers among Parisians on Bastille Day in 1940. (Photo: Chas. Baulard/ Bettmann/CORBIS)

She’d seen what they had done to those whom they suspected were part of the Maquis; she had seen the bodies. Rumors spread that entire French towns were being massacred after even a single German was found dead.

And it was because of all this she understood what would happen to her too, should it be discovered what she was doing.

Members of the Maquis, a group of French and Belgian guerilla resistance fighters. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Behind Enemy Lines

After the Allied forces were pushed into the sea at Dunkirk, many soldiers and airmen found themselves left behind in enemy-occupied territory after their evacuation.

They were left alone. Should they be caught, they would either be executed on the spot or sent into abysmal POW camps.

Allied troops on the beach of Dunkirk as they wait for evacuation. (Photo: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images)

Berthe joined up with the “Shelburne” network of the French Resistance, doing what she could to create a hub for the underground railroad that was trying to get these soldiers to safety.

The Shelburne Line (Brown) may have been the shortest overall, but it ran completely through occupied France. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Resistance

Two of these soldiers would find themselves in Berthe’s home.

She was returning with a long loaf of bread, a small wedge of hard cheese, and a few berries in a small wicker basket. It wasn’t much because the farms weren’t running anymore — but it was what she had.

Many pilots, such as Lonnie Moseley pictured above, continued to be shot down and stranded in France throughout the war. With the aid of resistance fighters, he was able to successfully escape. (Photo: The Imperial War Museum and the Lonnie Moseley family)

As she closed her door behind her, quickly locking it, she went to the soldiers. It was not just food she had, but information. They were to move to the next safe house in three days.

Moments like these were what helped over 300 airmen evade German capture and return to England via the Shelburne Line.

End of the Line

But eventually, Berthe’s participation in the resistance came to an end.

One of her neighbors – a fellow Frenchwoman – turned her into the German authorities.

Berthe was executed on August 28, 1942. It is likely that she was tortured before her death, as this was the common custom of the Germans to try and extract as much information as possible about other resistance networks.

A group of Maquis Resistance fighters executed by Nazis in 1944. Many members of resistance groups who were caught suffered the same fate. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As was the case with so many other members of the resistance, information was scarce, and many of the individuals who helped these soldiers have been overshadowed or forgotten over time.

A Photo of the Denain War Memorial

You can find Berthe’s name listed on the Monument aux morts de Denain, one of the few remaining reminders of who she was and what she had done.

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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