Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Post-war legacy of Martine Bernard

1. One of the 'Martine Bernard Centres', Lille
[44, rue du Pont Neuf, Lille, Nord, France]. 
2. The Rue Jacquemars Giélée, Lille.
3. The "Catho" (Catholic University of Lille). 
4. Wartime home of the Bernard family
[36, Jacquemars Giélée, Lille] 
 For additional information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information


In the years following the German Occupation of France a number of associations came into existence for the purpose of helping the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the disadvantaged. For example, among those who found themselves homeless were released prisoners, refugee families and orphaned children.

There is still a need in the 21st Century relief associations in France and in other Western Countries. Often, the charitable associations that were founded following the Second World War still assist the underprivileged and disadvantaged of society. This is the case in Lille and the northern region of France where the 'Association Martine Bernard' can still be found.

In 2013 the headquarters of the Martine Bernard Association could be found at 9, rue d'Archives, Lille. The association also has a number of centres in Lille and around the northern region. One of these is the Martine Bernard Centre at 44, rue du Pont Neuf, Lille which can be seen in Photograph No 1 (above).

The Martine Bernard Association was founded in Lille in 1951. Since then it has provided practical assistance to many disadvantaged people in the French northern region. This association is named in honour of Martine Bernard (1918 - 1948) who was a member of the French Resistance during WW2. After being arrested by the Gestapo Martine was imprisoned for a time in Loos prison for assisting escaping Allied soldiers and airmen. Through the association that was named after, the legacy of the wartime heroine Martine Bernard has continued to live on.

Before moving on to the next section one may ask a number of questions:

Who was Martine Bernard?
What did she do in the war?
Why is there an Association named after her?
How did the Martine Bernard Association come into existence?
How has the Association evolved over the years to remain a 'living legacy'?

These are among the questions we shall now consider.

Tuesday, 09 July, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Who was Martine Bernard?

Martine Bernard (1918 - 1948) was the daughter of Mr Étienne and Mrs Marie Bernard. Martine was born in Paris (16th 'arrondissement') on 26 March 1918. On the eve of the Second World War the Bernard family home was in Lille (Nord), on the Rue Jacquemars Giélée (Photograph No. 2 above). By this time, Martine had trained as a staff nurse with the French Red Cross.

Upon the outbreak of war in 1939, Martine Bernard was mobilised and was posted to a hospital at Bapaume (Pas-de-Calais). Following the fall of France in June 1940 she arranged the transport for many of the seriously wounded French and British soldiers. Some of these wounded prisoners were initially taken to hospitals in Lille and eventually to POW camps in Germany.

After being demobilised, Martine Bernard became a leader at the 'Secours National' (National Aid) in Lille. The 'Secours National' was an organisation that had been founded in France in the early days of the First World War. It provided logistical and moral support to the men serving in the French Armed Forces, their families, and civilian victims of war. Additionally, the 'Secours National' also provided social services support and collected warm clothing for soldiers and prisoners. With the onset of the Second World War the need for the 'Secours National' began once again. It was also the ideal cover to help escaping soldiers, airmen and civilians.

Wednesday, 10 July, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

What did Martine Bernard do in the war?

During this early period of the German Occupation, Martine Bernard joined a Resistance Network dedicated to assisting prisoners, escapees and British soldiers attempting to reach the French Unoccupied Zone. Martine and her family worked for the Ian Garrow / Pat O'Leary escape line. Among those that Martine worked with in this clandestine activity was Sister Olga Baudot de Rouville (nom de guerre 'Thérèse Martin').

Like Martine Bernard, Sister 'Thérèse' was a Red Cross nurse who had been mobilised at the outset of war and was now based in Lille. Her main base at this time was the Catholic University of Lille, known as the "Catho" (Photograph No. 3 above). While many of the seriously wounded Allied prisoners were treated at the "Catho" there were some who were cared for elsewhere in Lille, such as the Military Hospital (rue de l'Hôpital Militaire) and a Convent on the Rue Roubaix.

According to Olga Baudot de Rouville's personal memoirs of the Occupation, in the early days the Bernard family assisted her and the rest of the escape line in a number of ways. The tasks that Martine and her family took on for the escape line included the following:

(1) the provision of civilian clothes for escaping Allied servicemen (some of it belonging to the male members of the Bernard family);

(2) welcoming 'passing guests' into their home, giving them board and lodging.

(3) visiting the public administration building (the 'Fushalle') to obtain the forms for false I.D. papers etc.;

(4) acting as a courier;

(5) receiving and carrying mail and parcels for the prisoners of war.

Wednesday, 10 July, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The betrayal and imprisonment of Martine Bernard

Martine Bernard's activities in the French Resistance continued until Monday 5 January 1942. That was the day that the Germans arrived at the 'Secours National' headquarters in Lille to arrest her. She had been denounced.

The person who betrayed her was believed to have been Harold Cole one of the most treacherous 'double agents' of the war, whose 'nom de guerre' was 'Paul'. In his personal account about M.I.9 ("Saturday at M.I.9), the Allied escape organisation of WW2, Airey Neave describes Harold Cole (1903 - 1946) as "... at once the most interesting and dangerous of our opponents".

After the Germans had arrested Martine they went to the Bernard family home at 36, rue Jacquemars Giélée, Lille (Photograph No. 4 above). On the following day, Tuesday 6 January 1942 Martine's father, Étienne Bernard, was also arrested. The house had been turned upside down searching for anything to do with the Allied escape lines.

However, the Germans did fail to recognise a large stash of compromising documents that had deposited there by Martine's main Resistance contact Sister 'Thérèse' Baudot de Rouville. Having believed that she was the one who was going to be betrayed by Cole, 'Thérèse' had left this small leather bag stuffed with the compromising papers with the Bernard family. At the top of the bag were several prayer cards from the 'Secours National' bearing the image of the little French Carmelite nun St 'Thérèse' of Lisieux. By some miracle the Germans failed to recognise this bag contained the documents they were looking for!

Étienne Bernard was released after 3 months in prison. Martine was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and served 9 months before being released. Neither of them betrayed other members of the Resistance.

Wednesday, 10 July, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The foundation and development of the Martine Bernard Association

As previously discussed, Martine Bernard's Resistance group had been mainly in supporting escaping soldiers and airmen. Her Resistance group gave these hunted men shelter, food and clothing. Above all, they gave these men hope and in most cases, their freedom.

With this personal experience of prison life, enforced exclusion from society and isolation, Martine Bernard wished to turn this into something positive in the post-war years. It was Martine's intention to open a centre to welcome those who had been released from prison and support the fight against recidivism which could still be found in parts of society. However, before she was able to bring this plan into being, Martine suffered from a devastating polio affliction from which she died on 22 August 1948. Nevertheless, the idea had been born. There were others among her friends and contacts who shared Martine Bernard's vision and the positive contribution that such a centre could bring.

Thus, on 28 March 1951 the founders of the 'Accueil Catholique' (i.e. a Catholic Welcome Hostel) asked the family of Martine Bernard for permission to give her name to their association in order to commemorate the memory she had left to the people of Lille. This was the beginning of the Martine Bernard Association. It provided a shelter for up to 60 people.

In the early days this centre, along with initiatives by other like-minded movements, helped excluded prisoners have a way back into society. It also helped develop the laws on social security. The Association was confirmed by a Government Decree of 29 November 1953 which recognised the legal existence of places of shelter. These were as follows:

"... people leaving hospital settings, rehabilitation or re-education centres and finding themselves penniless and homeless, people released from prison or in danger of falling into prostitution ...".

Between 1951 and 1956 the hostel was operated by volunteers. In the main, the Association was funded by voluntary donations. The funds were able to welcome almost former male prisoners. Given the large number of people who sought assistance, the centre had to diversify its activities. It led to the creation of a "refuge" or "shelter" and then guaranteeing the distribution of soup to the hungry (i.e. a soup kitchen).

Those who were being helped had also to demonstrate certain features. These founding principles have remained. Those accommodated must show that they are trustworthy and making an effort to turn their lives round for the better. In particular, those being helped have to show they hope to find, or re-find, a job. In the early post-war years unemployment was not as rampant as in some later periods and so there were jobs available. Those who felt they would be content simply to beg were "... put back on the right road ..."

Wednesday, 10 July, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Martine Bernard Association of today

At the time of writing this article in 2013 a Board of Directors, numbering 10 in all, managed the Martine Bernard Association with Mr Jean Max Lefebvre as President. Below is a summary of the mission and activities of the Association throughout the Nord department.

The overall aim of the Association:
To accommodate and integrate people at risk of poverty.
Individual support is provided to support the social needs of those suffering from great physical, mental or moral distress.
To meet this aim, in 2013 these were the services offered by the Association in Lille and the surrounding area:

1. A roof for the night, a place to sleep, breakfast on cold winter mornings or for people living on the street
[i.e. Urgent Medical Assistance Service (S.A.M.U.), 15 places].

2. An Accommodation and Social Welfare Centre for single men at Lille, 30 places. Its main priorities are to be a welcoming place, to allow the men to rebuild their lives, regain their confidence and in themselves and plan for the future;

3. An Emergency Accommodation Shelter for single men at Halluin, 32 places.

4. A long-term residence for families in difficulty (the Eugenie Smet Residence) at Loos, 35 places.

5. Three 'half-way' social housing allowing time to re-adjust to life in independent housing at Ebblinghem, Marcq-en-Barœul and Haubourdins, 43 studios /apartments.

6. Six places for those in need of urgent care or medical attention, Lille, 6 places.

7. Rented family social housing to assist families re-gain their autonomy, various locations 78 accommodations.

8. Rented single person housing for men, various locations, 10 accommodations.

9. Work placements in restoration, laundry work, building work, masonry, etc., various locations (e.g. Lille, Loos, Ebblinghem, etc.).

10. A wide range of cultural activities to re-mobilise and energise those in difficulty.


Wednesday, 10 July, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


At the time of writing this article there is no memorial plaque in Lille commemorating the all too short life of Martine Bernard. Indeed, outside of the area in and around Lille, the wartime service and sacrifice of Martine Bernard is not widely known. In many respects, her life's work and her name have continued long after her death through the Martine Bernard Association.

For the Martine Bernard Association, the main aim is, and always has been, to return those it helps to independent living and autonomy. This is the real long-term post-war legacy left to Lille and the surrounding area by Martine Bernard. It is a fine and noble legacy and it is a "living legacy".


This article is dedicated to the memory of Martine Bernard and also to the Association that bears her name.

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Nelson Mandela


(1) Association Martine Bernard,
Administrative Headquarters,
9, rue des Archives,
59800 LILLE,

This is a link to the French-language website of the Martine Bernard Association:
Association Martine Bernard

(2) Musée de la Résistance (Resistance Museum)
16 Place de l'Abbé Bonpain
59910 BONDUES,

(3) Cumbria County Archives & Local Studies Centre,
Whitehaven Records Office,
Scotch Street,

Wednesday, 10 July, 2013  

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