René Duclos, a discreet courier from Coutances, is spotted by the Resistance
Born in 1899, veteran of the Great War, René Duclos lives in Coutances. In 1939, he was mobilized again and left for Cherbourg, where he was taken prisoner, a few months later, in June 1940, when the Germans arrived. With several comrades, he manages to leave company with the occupants and joins Coutances where he is finally demobilized. He then resumed his job at the French Post as a PTT courier on the railway lines. He was assigned to the “allège postale”, a wagon without compartments where bags of mail from post offices near the stations crossed were stored and sorted. Packages and letters are thus received at each station stop, the wagon playing the role of traveling post office, on the Lamballe-Coutances, Coutances-Lison-Caen or Coutances-Cherbourg routes. Alone in his post office on rails, René Duclos was quickly considered as an interesting potential agent by the people of the Resistance.
Where René becomes Hyppolite 323 and joins the Centurie
In December 1940 or early 1941, in Lison, he was approached and recruited by Gaston Picot, of Neuilly-la-Forêt, as a P2 agent, within the Centurie network, on behalf of the Civil and Military Organization. Now known under the pseudonym “Hyppolite 323”, its mission is to gather intelligence and circulate mail between members of the network as it travels. Its radius of action then focused on northern Brittany, La Manche and part of Calvados. From the end of 1942, with the establishment of the STO (Compulsory Work Service), René Duclos also circulated false papers, recovered in the area of Saint-Lô, thanks to the OCM members present at the Prefecture of La Manche, for the benefit of young refractories from the Coutances region. On several occasions, René Duclos also communicated information to two railway workers from Coutances, members of the “Front National Francs-Tireurs et Partisans” network, but without ever revealing his commitment to them. Arrested in July 1942 during the big roundup in the communities of the Communist resistance in Coutance, the two men disappeared, without however denouncing their PTT informant. Finally, on many occasions, René Duclos lodged at his home, without saying anything to his wife or daughter, SOE agents, on mission in France, who wore the clothes of railway workers or postmen but spoke very little. avoid revealing their English origin.
A delicate task: intercepting mail destined for the Feldkommandantur
But the most complex task René Duclos has to perform is intercepting mail from private individuals destined for the Feldkommandantur or local annexes. There are letters often filled with denunciations or information likely to help the Germans, in particular in their fight against resistance (possession of weapons, anti-German activity, listening to the English radio, Gaullist remarks, etc.). This work required time and prudence, some letters being simply destroyed, others going back to the OCM members of the Prefecture who falsified them and put them back in circuit, having however warned the people concerned beforehand! In this task, he is frequently assisted by another postman from Coutance, recently hired.
Winter 44 the moment to sum up
Having finally managed to slip through the cracks, René Duclos witnesses the bombardment and destruction of Coutances, then the liberation of the city. At the end of July 1944, he managed to re-establish contact with the OMC, which appointed him as a member of the Departmental Committee for the Liberation, as well as a tenured juror at the Court of Justice of La Manche. He sat in Coutances from the winter of 1944 and judged the facts of collaboration, denunciations, etc. Quickly, René Duclos obtained from the departmental service of the Veterans, the title of “Volunteer fighter of the Resistance”.
Thank you to the family and to the generous donors who will recognize themselves. An additional piece of history is entering the museum, it will be exhibited there in a few weeks with its history. So that we never forget the sacrifice of these men, for our Freedom.