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Obituary: Cecile Rol-Tanguy

Heroine of the French Resistance who smuggled weapons hidden in her baby's pram and posted anti-German leaflets

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RESISTER: Cecile Rol-Tanguy

RESISTER: Cecile Rol-Tanguy

RESISTER: Cecile Rol-Tanguy

Cecile Rol-Tanguy, who has died aged 101, was a heroine of the French Resistance and liberation of Paris. Between 1940 and 1944, she led an intensely hazardous existence, bringing up a young family in enemy-occupied Paris while working as the liaison officer of her husband, Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, the commander of the Forces Francaises de l'Interieur (FFI) of the Paris region.

In constant danger of arrest, deportation or death, she dodged patrols and checkpoints, smuggled weapons - revolvers, ammunition and hand grenades - hidden in a sack of potatoes in the pram she was pushing or concealed beneath bedding with her baby on top.

She typed and circulated anti-German leaflets or pasted them on walls and hoardings under cover of darkness.

On August 18, 1944, a general strike was declared. Henri and Cecile established a covert command post in an underground shelter in the Place Denfert-Rochereau where information was gathered, communiques relayed and orders issued.

Cecile frantically typed copies of the insurrection order for Henri to sign. At dawn on August 19, these were posted throughout the city and were the signal for a popular uprising. Street fighting broke out and barricades were erected across streets.

Almost 1,500 Parisians died in the conflict, but on August 25, General Dietrich von Cholitz, the German military governor in command of the garrison of some 20,000 troops, signed an instrument of surrender. Henri's signature preceded that of General Philippe Leclerc's, the commander of the Free French 2nd Armoured Division.

Marguerite Marie Cecile Le Bihan was born on April 10, 1919, at Royan in south-west France. Her father, Francois, was an electrician, trade unionist and co-founder of the French Communist Party. Cecile grew up in Paris in a highly politicised family, her parents frequently hosting left-wing exiles and refugees.

She left school aged 16 and was working as a shorthand typist a year later when she first met Henri Tanguy. A good-looking man 11 years her senior, a foundry worker and union official, he was also a committed communist.

Within a few weeks of their meeting, Henri went to Spain to serve in the International Brigades in the Civil War. In 1938 he returned to France, having been wounded in the arm. A close friend, Theo Rol, was killed in the battle of the Ebro and Henri added Rol to his surname in his memory.

In 1939, the couple married. A year later, Francoise, their first child, was born, but died as a baby. By then Germans were closing in on Paris. Her father was arrested in a round-up of communists. He was subsequently deported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered. Henri was also arrested and, when he was freed, he went into hiding.

Cecile had lost her father and her baby daughter and for many months did not know where her husband was. "I had nothing left," she said later. "Only work would help assuage the terrible grief." She, too, became a resister.

After the French surrender and the establishment of the Vichy government, Henri was demobilised. He joined the Franc-Tireurs et Partisans, leading armed groups and carrying out sabotage. He tried to persuade her to work with a different Resistance group because they would both be shot if he was arrested.

Cecile refused. She continued to act as Henri's liaison officer but for the rest of the war they lived apart, meeting whenever they could.

In September 1945, Cecile was awarded the Resistance Medal. Henri served as an officer in the French army until he retired in 1962.

Cecile died on May 8, the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

She is survived by her four children.

© Telegraph

Belfast Telegraph