Today, the causse above the riverside village of Cazals is a tranquil place with superb views of the Gorges de l’Aveyron. It’s covered with juniper and scrub oak and the only sounds are birdsong or the occasional whirr of a chainsaw. In 1943, it was even more remote and it was here that a group of Résistants, le Maquis d’Ornano, was established to further the cause and to receive parachute drops of equipment and agents. Last week, under a burning sun, our walking group visited the monument erected to mark a skirmish between Nazi soldiers and the Resistance group in March 1944.
I have written about le Maquis d’Ornano before, so I won’t repeat the story here. However, this gave me the opportunity to take my own photos of the spot. In fact, the story has several variations, which is perhaps inevitable after so many years.
We were privileged to meet a lady at the monument whose cousin, Roger Rigaud, was the leader of the group for a time. His name appears on the monument. He had absconded during a period of leave from a factory in Germany, where he had been sent under the Service de Travail Obligatoire (compulsory labour scheme). Rigaud’s code name was “René”. He was also known as “Petit Père”. He was injured but not killed during the battle in March 1944, but was captured by the Gestapo in May and executed, probably in August.
Rigaud’s cousin also gave us some more details about the skirmish. One of these was that the location of the maquisards’ bolt-hole was divulged by a local farmer who was threatened, along with his family, if he didn’t talk. Another version says that he was tortured and then shot anyway. Through the prism of years, the exact details are no longer clear.
What is certain, though, is that a fierce pitched battle took place and six maquisards were killed, three of them in the farmhouse just behind the monument, La Bourriette, which was then burnt. Even so, they managed to inflict significant casualties on the German troops. This is one of many such incidents that took place in France up to and after the Allied invasion in June 1944.
I relate these episodes not to glorify one side and vilify the other. In war, all sides do things that are shameful and appalling to a greater or lesser degree, but it’s generally the losers that are condemned for it. I do strongly believe, rather, that you achieve a better appreciation of a country’s present and its people by attempting to understand its history. This incident is just part of the complex jigsaw that is France’s past.
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