dilluns, 30 de juliol de 2007

Roger Rieu and Manel Vidal, link agents from the Wi-wi net

By Annie Rieu

Background
Roger Rieu Thoumaset, from Jacqueli house, was born on 5th July 1920 in Rieu, a little village in the Capvert valley (Seix, França), his mother was a farmer and his father unknown. He had an older brother and two stepbrothers younger than him. His stepfather was a farmer and his mother earned her living doing several jobs: street-seller, needlewoman, making glasses, etc. Roger married in 1944 with Josefina Mias (a Catalan republican daughter, exiled in France in Febroary 1939 crossing through Pertús). They had three daughters and two sons. Roger helped his mother and his stepfather doing the farm work and he also worked with other neighbouring farmers.
Manel Vidal was born in Isil (Pallars Sobirà, Catalonia) in 1899; he belonged to a poor farming family. He had two daughters and three sons. The flood of 1937 destroyed his house.
During the Spanish Civil War, Manel guided through the Pyrenees Mountains some people who were escaping from Franco’s government. During these journeys Manel carried some food in order to bring it to his exiled cousins in France: he carried several pork aliments from Isil and brought from France things like coffee and tobacco, scarce in Spain. The authorities became suspicious he was a smuggler because of these journeys and he was imprisoned accused of smuggling. He stayed in Sort’s prison for a few days, there he was known as anti-Franco and he was deported to Aragón for two months, to Los Corrales (Ayerbe, Huesca).
Thanks to these journeys to France he knew a lot of people in Couflens and Salau (Ariège, France), local people and Spanish exiled. He built some close relationships with these new French and Spanish.

The Wi-wi network
Jean-Marie Morère (native to Soueix, Ariège) was the Wi-wi network chief in Marseille. On 1943 he got in touch with Roger and on 25th June Rieu enrolled himself in the network as a volunteer for the duration of the war. Roger was a link agent and he passed every fortnight, sometimes every eight days. For every journey he got 10.000 francs. None of his family knew what he did. His mother told him he was a lazy sort and she thought he dealt in saccharin.
Manel was 45 years old when Jean-Marie Morère asked him to be a network link agent. He accepted the mission for economic reasons and for personal and ideological reasons too, like Roger.
At the beginning of the network creation, Jacinto Bengoetxea (a refugee from Navarra who was a bus driver working for the Itté company) transported the mail from Saint Girons to Soeix. The network’s chief in Saint Girons was Felicien Carrère, from Soueix and his son Marcel Carrère, link agent, he miniaturised the information received. They had some places for use as mail boxes, for example Barthélémy Gabarre’s home at Saint Girons or Caroline’s drugstore at Couflens. Roger and Manel were passeurs between the two sides of the border.
To carry out his missions, Roger rode an old bicycle, wore rags and said he went to visit doctor Lagorce because he must be treated for supposed malaria contracted in Morocco or Algeria when he was serving in the army. He hid the messages in unusual places like the bicycle handlebar or in the air pump. His astuteness allowed him to escape from the Gestapo controls without any problem but with very much fear. Once he carried in a basket a pistol taken to pieces and covered by cherries. He left the basket in a German passenger’s lap who travelled to Couflens by bus.
The network members’ appointments took place in the Café Madrid in Saint Girons, thanks to the complicity of a waiter named José Da Silva. The messages changed hands inside the café’s toilets. The messages were carried from Marseille to Saint Girons by Morère, or by a young girl and sometimes by a priest (who was a passeur). Roger carried the messages to Angouls and he crossed the frontier by foot through the Vinyals pass, situated between the Aulà and Salau passes. Then Roger went to Borda Petit, a property of Manel, who picked up the messages. Sometimes Manel waited for Roger in the hillock or in the middle of the way to Borda Perosa. The messages arrived to Barcelona thanks to Manel’s care.
Sometimes the network members had to carry messages from Barcelona to Marseille.
Roger had friendly relations with the Spanish exiles in Haut Salat. The nearness between the Occitan and the Catalan languages made communication easy.

The most important actions of the Wi-wi network
The most important messages carried by the network members were:
- The plans of the Marseilles anti-craft defense.
- The plans of the submarine base at Cap Janet.
- Information about the sabotaged ships in Toulon.
- Information concerning the defense installations at the Italian border.
- Information on armoured trains based at Callade les Aiguilles, in the Marseilles suburbs.
But the most exceptional reports were concerning the torpedo aircraft (Fockewulf pursuit plane), and the mines installed by the Germans all over the French coast. These two treasured messages gave important information about the places where the Germans hide their airplanes. So that the Allies could bombarded effectively these places.

Life after the World War and recognition
When the war was finished in France, Roger Rieu enrolled himself for three years in the 2nd explorer skier’s Company on 1st October 1944. He was sent to Tyrol (Austria). After, he refused to go to Indochina and he was demobilized on 20th April 1946.
Then, he returned home and he continued working as a farmer and keeping goats. During many years he earned his living doing several precarious jobs. In 1957 he became a provisional worker in the Electricité de France Company and in 1960 he was contracted in the Salau’s factory to be the watchman.
In Febroary 1946, Roger was decorated with the Croix de Guerre Étoile d’Argent by General De Gaulle and the Blacksmith Juin. After, he obtained the Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre avec palmes, on 5th de July 1951. The United States decorated him with the American Legion in 1994. He retired in 1980 and he died in 1997, when he was 76 years old.

Manel left Isil in 1950 and emigrated to Saint Girons for the rest of his life. He and his family were lodged at an aunt’s home until they sold their flock to buy a little house with the money earned. Manel worked for the Navarre Company and in the subterranean laboratory built in Moulis. Every day when he had finished his work, he did overtime to feed his family. Later, he worked for the Azalini Company, a sawmill enterprise in Saint Girons. He retired when he was 68; he only had worked in France for 14 years.
Manel has never received any recognition for his work in the Wi-wi and he didn’t obtain the Carte d’Ancien Combattant until 1980. His daughter brought it to him when he was in hospital where he died a few days later. He was 81 years old.