In Early December 2014, members of ELMS gathered in London for their ‘Ici Londres’ Dinner. The title does not represent the location of the meal but is a commemoration of the ‘Messages Personnels’ broadcast by the BBC to agents and resistance workers in the occupied countries during WW2. The helpers, resistants and SOE agents led lonely and dangerous lives – the BBC messages provided a link, giving coded details of meetings, drops, arrivals etc.
In 1940, the BBC opened its studio to the first members of the resistance who fled France’s occupation by Germany. Radio Londres was born and would become the daily appointment of the French people for four years. It opened its transmission with : “Ici Londres ! Les Français parlent aux Français…” (“This is London! The French speaking to the French…”), now a very famous quote in France. It was the voice of Free French Forces under Charles de Gaulle, who, on 18 June 1940, made his famous Appeal of 18 June, inviting his compatriots to resist and rise against the occupation. By means of broadcasts from Britain, the French Resistance found a voice that could be heard on the continent, serving to counter the Nazi propaganda broadcasts of Radio Paris and Radio Vichy. Realizing the negative effect that it had on their occupation, the Germans quickly prohibited listening to Radio Londres.
It all began when an SOE agent in France, Georges Begue became worried that the safety of his wireless operator was being compromised whilst broadcasting. He discussed with SOE ways of informing him of a parachute drop or agent drop, without using the ‘pianist’ or wireless operator, in order to avoid being located by the highly efficient direction finding and radio-location system used by the Abwehr. The European Service of the BBC agreed to broadcast messages that would be broadcast openly, but only intelligible to those who understood the code.
The broadcasts, at 1930hrs and 2115hrs each night, began with the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – imitating the ‘dot, dot, dot, dash’ of the Morse Code for the letter ‘V’ [for Victory!]. This was followed by a bland, unbiased, recount of the day’s wartime news – disasters and victories delivered in the same expressionless voice. Then it was the turn of the ’Messages Personnels’, delivered in a more nonchalant tone; to most listeners, including the Gestapo, the messages were ‘gibberish’, but to those in the know it was a call to action, confirmation of the outcome of an operation, or a warning! In addition, the broadcasts were considered a way to counter the Nazi propaganda broadcasts from Radio Paris and Radio Vichy.
By the 1st June 1944 messages were broadcast on a vast scale, examples being: “Jean has a long moustache”; “The postman has fallen asleep”; “Grandma is eating our sweets”. Amongst the jumble of nonsensical messages were ones referring to the invasion of Europe. The first of these messages was to put the Resistance forces on stand-by; it used prearranged words by the poet Paul Varlaine, “Les sanglots longs des violons de l’automne” (The long sobbing of the violins of autumn). The message reached Resistance groups all over France. Radios were put away for the night and weapons and kit prepared for the next message. At 2100hrs on the 05th June 1944, a second message was broadcast calling for action: “Blessent mon coeur d’une langueur monotone”. (Wound my heart with a monotonous lanquor). Resistance groups all over France recognised their call to action and subsequently carried out over 1000 attacks on the occupying forces that night in preparation for D-Day.
The messages were a life-line to France, an invaluable means of communication, morale boosting……….. and a concentration camp or death sentence to the listener if caught by the Gestapo listening to ‘ICI LONDRES’!
This year the ELMS group combined their annual ‘Ici Londres Dinner’ with a Saturday stroll around the streets of London, taking in landmarks such as The Edith Cavell Memorial – the WW1 nurse executed for providing assistance to allied soldiers, Carlton Gardens – the wartime headquarters of General de Gaulle, the Stafford Hotel – a favourite venue of Nancy Wake, and the Bomber Command Memorial. On Sunday morning the group gathered with the regular congregation at St Clement Danes, the RAF Church on the Strand, for the Morning Service and later took lunch in the nearby historic ‘Cheshire Cheese’ on Little Essex Street.
There is more information about the ‘Ici Londres’ broadcasts in the ELMS Newsletters.