For Berthe Marquaille, every moment the Germans remained in her home of France was an insult.
It wasn’t just that they were invaders – though that was certainly enough – it was the atrocities that they committed along the way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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