Our escape was the combined work of my wife on the outside and Georges Bégué on the inside. My wife, who had been given `provisional liberty', appeared at the camp each week with a basket of books, food and clean linen. She would leave with the previous week's dirty linen. This innocent arrangement - it was in any case watched over by the guards - had become a part of the camp routine.
My wife was in charge of arranging the escape. This involved her geting in touch with the network to find those who had taken over from us. She also had to find one or more of the exterior guards and persuade them to come accomplices; these guards were nothing to do with the camp itself, they were auxiliaries who patrolled the perimeter fence, carrying weapons and always following the same route. The auxiliaries were poorly paid; many of them were refugees from Alsace. Their zeal for supporting the Vichy régime was not infallible; and Gaby, who after each visit would spend the rest of the day in the only hotel in Mauzac, used to have coffee with them, talking to them and even trying to show them that an Allied victory was a certainty. She got to know one guard in particular, who combined his patrol duties with those of running a bar not far from the camp. Soon two other men also began to look fairly `co-operative' . . .
One day my wife told me that Curly had the whole operation in hand. He had arranged a safe hiding place and a car for the great day . . . Everything was ready!
We were up to date with our crawling practice. We had been training each morning during the physical exercise sessions, English fashion, crawling about on the ground between the barbed-wire fencing, under the eye of an almost admiring guard.
We urged Georges Bégué to do his best to make us a key. We helped him by covering the noise of his tools by bellowing the most obscene songs at the tops of our voices, for several hours at a time. Georges regarded his key - made from tins of top-quality sardines in tomato sauce - with the anxious tenderness of God contemplating his creation.
But when he tried to open the lock, between two patrols (we had timed them), our efforts were in vain.
And when my wife returned, she made us even more impatient: `It's all ready,' she told us. `There will be no particular risks except at the frontier. Someone will meet you in Spain.'
`And what about the guards? So far there's only one who is likely to help us.'
`No. There are two now.'
`How will we know the second one? We can't afford to make a mistake.'
`You won't have to talk to them. But I've arranged a way for them to communicate with you.. They'll bring you notes in tubes of aspirin, and you can reply in the same way. Always deal with the guard you know, he'll pass on messages to the others.'
This precaution produced a `happy' error. The last key that Georges made functioned marvellously well. The two escape props - V-shaped wooden trestles, the same artist's work - were ready. I wrote down all the details of the escape plan and the necessary instructions, slipped the note into a tube of aspirin, and tossed the little torpedo to the guard I was sure of. Gaby was due to come in two days' time.
`Well!' she said, as soon as could talk in peace. `We've certainly had a narrow escape! That tube you sent to Welten the day before Wednesday . . .'
`Welten didn't see the second guard that day; he went to the guards' cloakroom in the mess and slipped the aspirin into his friend's jacket pocket - only he'd got the wrong jacket!'
`Who found it?'
`The mess sergeant. He wanted to talk to me before I arrived.'
`You told him you didn't know anything about it?'
`Of course I did. he wasn't really convinced, though. But he's offered to help you escape himself - because he likes your face and because he wants 50,000 francs.'
`Oh no, not him too!'
`Yes, I'm going to give him fifty halves of 1,000-franc notes. He'll stand watch for you. When the car arrives, he'll let you know if the coast is clear by flicking on his cigarette lighter. All you have to do is tell him which day.'
The last days of waiting were particularly long and wearisome. Our escape was decided for the night of 16 July.
My wife's final visit, with the children, on 14 July, was rather sad. She gave me a sleeping pill for those of our companions about whom we weren't very sure. For the first time, her nerves got the better of her and started crying. Then we parted.
The 16th was the longest day I've ever known. At last it was night. The moon began to climb. It shone brightly over the surrounding countryside and on the barracks; as bright as the night of the parachute drop at Villamblard.
Georges Bégué tried the key for one last time. Pigeonneau had decided not to come with us. His lawyer had assured him the charges against him would be dropped.
There were eleven of us left on teh escape party. We started drawing lots to see who would go first. I drew third place.
`Gentlemen, who's forgotten to go to bed?'
`No one. There's already a dummy in each bed.'
`Are we all here? It's almost time.'
Pigeonneau and Breuillac were watching the guards patrolling the camp. They had just returned to the guardroom. The door opened without a creak. But there was no signal telling us we could leave. What was going on? A bit late, our look-out appeared. The first man was already creeping out. He crawled quietly, slyly, soundlessly towards the barbed-wire fencing. The guard Welten whistled and tapped his stick from time to time on the wire; he managed to make more noise than us. One by one we slipped under the fence, hearts beating. As I crawled underneath it I caught my clothes on the barbed wire and was ripped from top to bottom. A little later I noticed that I was bleeding profusely.
`Is that everyone? Ten, eleven . . .'
There had been thirteen of us altogether, including the guard and the mess sergeant who was leading us. We'd done it in exactly eleven minutes.
`Let's go then!'
We certainly didn't waste any time covering the three kilometres separating us from the car.
Seated in the Citroen, hidden away in a hollow, Curly was waiting for us with Raoul Lambert - a pilot who'd been one of the founders of the Libération-Sud movement, and who played a very brave part in helping to arrange this escape, as did Lucien Rachet.
How fifteen of us managed to get into that car defied all the rules of capacity. But it must be the laws that are wrong, for we succeeded in getting in, squeezed together fraternally and reducing our vital space with heavy sighs and foul profanities.
Curly was meant to drop us about fifteen kilometres further on. The days was beginning to filter through the light morning mist. When he dropped us, all thirteen of us, in the middle of a stretch of heather, it was six thirty. We waited in the dew for about an hour before we saw him reappear.
We organized ourselves into a line and strode out into the forest, using tracks and mysterious
paths. It took us nearly three hours to reach our hiding place - a dilapidated, abandoned house
and barn, but with admirable organization someone had prepared for our visit. Biscottes,
jam, soap, razors - in the thirteen days we were there, our friends helped to give us back a new
sense of our identity . . .