On the night of 5 November 1943, maquisards of the Armée Secrète (Secret Army) rescued a sick companion from the hospital in St-Gaudens, France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. They left 100 francs wrapped around a note saying “thanks for taking care of him. Don’t tell until 7:30 or 8:00am.” The director of the hospital called the gendarmes at 7:00 am. The gendarmes called the Germans. They also noted that the sick man’s fiancée had been seen eating dinner at a restaurant in town the night before but had also disappeared.

Five weeks later the captain commanding the AS arrived at the same hospital in dire need of medical care. The director of the hospital refused to take responsibility for the captain but did provide the care he needed. Somehow or other, his maquisards spirited him out of his hospital room despite the three Feldgendarmes (German military police) and five French gendarmes guarding him.

These stories aren’t about Dutch-Paris, but they tell us something about the atmosphere in which Dutch-Paris operated. Dutch-Paris sent aviators and Engelandvaarders over the Pyrenees into Spain in the region controlled by that unit of the AS. They relied on the AS to police the clandestine trade in passages and to keep a sort of order in the region.

If the AS had acted rashly, it would have brought more German troops into the region as well as reprisals. The Germans used reprisals in the form of the arrest and execution of hostages and the burning of villages to discourage sabotage and attacks on their men. It would have been almost impossible to send evaders into Spain through an area in which the AS and the Germans were in open warfare both because of the increased numbers of enemy soldiers and because reprisals tended to turn the local population against the Resistance.

The AS in that area, however, demonstrated a thorough awareness of how important the good will of the local population was to their own survival. They paid their bills, for example, by leaving money at their sick comrade’s bedside. They also allowed the director, who everyone needed to remain at his post in the hospital, to save face.

The note said not to tell the police about the escape until 7:30 or 8:00. The director told at 7:00. Now maybe the director was a collaborator at heart and telephoned the police as soon as he found out. Or maybe he found out at 3:00 am and waited until 7:00 because he supported the Resistance whole-heartedly. In either case, the police could not accuse him of helping the Resistance because he had called earlier than the note requested. Half an hour probably made little difference, and it’s likely that whoever wrote the note knew full well whether the director was a collaborator or a resister. He either knew that the director would call early and planned accordingly, or told the director to call early to allay any suspicions and planned accordingly.

Having established themselves as good customers at the hospital in November by paying their bill and organizing the escape so that the hospital was not punished for it, probably made rescuing their captain from that same hospital in December easier than it might have been. Of course they did not know their captain would need surgery, but any military unit will need a hospital eventually. And every community needs a hospital. By protecting the hospital in St-Gaudens from reprisals, the AS exercised the kind of public relations that made it possible for them to hide among the local population and help to liberate France.