Guy Bieler: life and death of a Quebec James Bond
75 years ago, on September 5, 1944, the spy Guy Biéler was shot by the Nazis. In two years at His Majesty’s secret service, the “Commander Guy” has entered the legend. It is even possible that the exploits of this adopted Quebecker inspired Ian Flemming, the creator of James Bond. Here is his incredible story.
18 November 1942. The spy career Guy Bieler comes close to end before it even begins. During the night, a plane from England parachute south of Paris, in the middle of France occupied by the Nazis. Except that the pilot has lost his way. The spy Bieler and his two companions are dropped over a wooded area, about twenty kilometers from the target.
Parachutists jump at low altitude, to reduce the risk of being spotted. Can not maneuver. Bieler just has time to curl up to avoid impaling himself on a tree. The shock is terrible. The parachute shriveled. Finally, the secret agent lands on rocks, which break several vertebrae.
The two companions of Bieler were luckier. At first, they want to abandon him on the spot. What’s the use of being paralyzed? Could an airplane recover it? Against all odds, the wounded man managed to stand up. At the price of superhuman efforts, he walks several kilometers to embark on a train to Paris. During the checks, it is repeated that Bieler fell from a roof and that he goes to the city to consult a specialist. An ideal cover. (1)
Still, the mission starts badly. Very bad.
It’s heard. You have to be a bit crazy to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the UK organization responsible for sabotage missions in the heart of Nazi Europe. Legend has it that the “Direction” was born during the blitz in the summer of 1940, when hundreds of German planes bomb London. Drunk with rage, Prime Minister Winston Churchill would have given him an unequivocal order: “set Europe on fire”. (2)
In the field, the work of a SOE spy is dangerous. Almost suicidal. From the beginning, it is explained to him that he has a chance on two to stay there. In occupied France, the average longevity of a radio operator is around six weeks … (3) Emissions always take place at the same hours, making them vulnerable to the detection systems of the Gestapo, the secret police.
In case of capture, the agent knows that there will be no mercy. He can swallow the cyanide pill hidden in the hollow heel of his shoe. Otherwise, he must resist torture for at least 48 hours, while his companions take cover. Easy to say. Often, the executioners cut him the first joint of the fingers. Women are subject to a particular cruelty. It is not uncommon for them to have a sliced breast … (4)
Nevertheless, the volunteers do not miss. And the echoes of the exploits of the SOE, led by a certain Maurice Buckmaster (5), end up reaching the ears of Adolf Hitler himself. “When I’m master of London, I do not know who I’ll hang first. Winston Churchill or this Buckmaster, “said the Furher. (6)
Guy Bieler shortly after his engagement as a soldier in 1940.
A superman? No, an invalid
Let’s go back to Guy Bieler. Half-paralyzed, the unlucky spy spends months lying on a bed. At first, he hides the severity of his injury to his London superiors, to avoid being repatriated. But everything ends up knowing each other. The management of SOE is furious. He is ordered to return. Bieler gets away with explaining that he has already begun organizing operations. Remote.
In the spring, the spy starts timidly to walk again, even if the wound leaves permanent scars. “Guy Biéler walks like the hunchback of Norte-Dame, his head bowed, limping, says Guy Gendron, the ombudsman of Radio-Canada, author of a recent biography of the spy. In addition, he can not stand more than two hours in a row. ”
When Biéler went to Saint-Quentin for the first time in the north of France, his “contact” with the resistance did not hide his disappointment. Guy Gendron imagines the scene. “His look said a lot. He was waiting for an elite soldier to liberate the region from the most powerful army in the world. There came a small man, bending over, wandering like a wounded duck. To be honest, an invalid. “(7)
Supreme shame, the spy Bieler must carry his luggage, so much effort makes him suffer. But whatever. Skeptics will be confused. The charm and efficiency of Bieler are wonderful. A week after his arrival, the first parachute weapons is announced in the region of Saint-Quentin, by a coded message broadcast on the BBC. The words chosen are a nod to Quebec: “Stanislas College is in Montreal”.
The Musician-Tell network was born. It will eventually bring together 25 groups of resisters, including nearly 300 people. At 39, “Commander Guy”, as he is known, could be the father of several colleagues. They affectionately call him “grandfather”.
Explosive Crottin and Garlic Chocolate
To carry out their missions in France, the spies of the SOE have a revolutionary weapon, the “plastic” explosive. The wonder comes under the harmless appearance of a greenish modeling clay. Better, she smells almonds! At first, the material is so new that it does not arouse German mistrust.
In Lille, June 26, 1943, the “plastic” contributes to a smoking blow of the SOE. In the evening, spies disguised as gendarmes come to a locomotive manufacturing plant. Seriously, their leader announces that the factory will be attacked from one moment to another. They order everyone to empty the premises. In the shelter of prying eyes, the fake policemen then install explosive charges everywhere.
The spies disappear before the explosions. When the real gendarmes land, they are already far away. It takes months to fix everything … (8)
“Plastic” is not the only invention available to spies. In London, a special section of the SOE, the “Q-Branch”, is dedicated to the invention of gadgets and new weapons. (9) Among his creations, we notice a miniature camera, an explosive dung, a poison point pen and a choke lace. Not to mention the hairbrush containing a card and a saw. Ideal for a successful escape. (10)
In passing, we note that the work of the “Q-Branch” betrays certain prejudices. “(…) Thus its director, Charles Fraser-Smith, designs a chocolate filled with garlic to give bad breath to agents dropped in France. In his opinion, this makes them more similar to the “average French”. (…) We also have a button in which we can hide a compass. The compartment is unscrewed upside down. Fraser-Smith believes that this contravenes the “unshakable logic of the Germans”. He assures that no German will ever have the idea of unscrewing an object in the opposite direction. “(11)
The “Commander Guy”
Back on the field, with Guy Bieler. In the space of a few months, the sabotage missions of its Musician-Tell network are multiplying. Let us mention the derailment of about twenty trains, including a large convoy of aircraft parts destined for Italy. Or the destruction of 11 locomotives. Not to mention the extended interruption of the Paris-Cologne line 13 times. (11)
The damage caused by the network is so extensive that it reduces the need for attacks by Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft. Guy Bieler personally intervened to stop the bombings, which target the population against the British and their allies.
In the autumn of 1943, Biéler made a coup de maître. In the warehouses of the Society of Railways, he has the substance used to lubricate the wheels of the trains replaced by an abrasive material. As a result, the sabotage of the trains is accomplished by the maintenance crews, without them realizing it. The more employees lubricate the wheels, the more they will decay.
The Germans are slow to understand the scheme. At first, they think that breakage is caused by insufficient lubrication. They order to increase “frequency and dosage”!
“A man among the boys”
Over time, the vise eventually tighten around Bieler and his accomplices. As early as June 1943, the Gestapo managed to infiltrate the SOE. In Paris, she dismantles an important network of resistance fighters. Several caches of weapons are discovered. At the end of the year, the Gestapo is on the trail of a mysterious “White Commander”, the family name appearing on one of Guy Bieler’s fake identity cards.
Espionage stories end badly, in general. On January 14, 1944, Guy Bieler was arrested. First tortured in Saint-Quentin, he is transferred to Paris. In the hands of “specialists”. Nothing to do, the spy does not speak. After a few months, he is sent to a concentration camp in Germany.
Meanwhile, in the north of France, the “Commander Guy” has entered the legend. Halfway between Robin Hood and James Bond, with whom he shares some characteristics. Later, the director of the SOE’s France section, Vera Atkins describes him as “a man among boys”. (13) A significant tribute, when one knows that Mrs. Atkins was caricatured under the features of Miss Moneypenny by a certain Ian Flemming, the creator of James Bond.
Alas, the spy Bieler will know nothing. The “James Bond Quebecois” was shot on September 5, 1944, at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria. The registers of the establishment indicate that his jailers could never make him reveal his true identity. Until the end, he will have been known as “Guy the Canadian”. Very rare, the German soldiers make him a guard of honor, at the time of its execution. Ultimately, it seems that even SS executioners were moved by this indomitable character.
What remains of the court where the executions took place at the Flossenbürg camp in Bavaria.
Last year, Guy Gendron, now the CBC’s ombudsman, published a biography of spy Guy Biéler entitled The best of men . He answers three questions.
Q. How did Guy Biéler come to Quebec?
R. Guy Bieler was born in France of Swiss parents. He settled in Canada at age 20 to teach at a French Protestant secondary school in Montreal. (…) Later, he works for the Sun Life Insurance Company. Without exaggeration, we can say that the Sun Life building in Montreal was one of the safest places in the world. Great Britain had even chosen to store some of its gold reserves there [to protect them from a Nazi invasion]. Guy Bieler left all this to run a spying network in northern France, a territory administered by the German army. Surely one of the most dangerous places in the world, for a clandestine network.
Q. Why did he enroll?
R. Guy Bieler has always remained a free spirit. (…) A humanist who sought “the best of man”. In Montreal, he gave lectures on Proust. He had nothing to do with a Rambo. But he had a brother in France and a sister in Britain. Moreover, he had witnessed the rise of Nazism. This is probably what convinced him to enlist, leaving behind his wife and two young children. In hindsight, many people have claimed that we can not see the coming of Hitler. But everything was there for those who wanted to see. In 1933, the creation of the first concentration camp in Germany made the front page of the New York Times. We can not talk about a secret affair.
Q. What time does Guy Bieler reveal the most?
A. On December 24, 1943, Bieler celebrates Christmas with friends of the resistance. We sing. We Dance. Then, at the end of the evening, Bieler becomes very sad. He writes the address of his Sun Life office [in Montreal] on the back of a photograph. If ever he happens a misfortune, he wants his host, Camille Boury, write a letter to this address to tell this fabulous evening to his family. After the war, Boury will respect this will. He will write to Bieler’s wife. In the letter, we discover how much [the spy] was bored of his family. Even today, I can not read it without being moved.