One of the items to show up on the expense reports of two of the Dutch-Paris couriers is “cigarettes.” For example, on 30 June 1944 a couriers spent 1,000 French francs on ten packets of cigarettes. On first glance, it’s hardly surprising that anyone smoked during the Second World War, let alone men traveling through occupied territory with false documents and carrying microfilms full of military intelligence.

But they did not submit the costs of their daily newspaper or the shoe shines that were essential to their disguises as legitimate businessmen. So why would the Dutch government-in-exile effectively accept paying for these men’s cigarettes? And why do cigarettes figure on only two of the courier’s expense reports? Furthermore, why do cigarettes only appear in late 1943/early 1944 and the summer of 1944? Did these men stop smoking for a while as they patched up the network after many of their colleagues had been arrested over the course of several weeks? It seems unlikely.

There must be something more to these cigarettes. One possible explanation is that they bought the cigarettes for the men they were escorting. So the cigarettes from January 1944 were smoked not by the resisters but by Allied aviators being smuggled across western Europe by the resisters. But they did not buy cigarettes during every convoy of airmen, let alone every convoy of Engelandvaarders.

Another avenue of explanation lies in the fact that Europeans used cigarettes like currency during the war, and especially at its end. The price of cigarettes fluctuated over time and locale, but they were accepted everywhere, unlike currency. You could only buy things with Belgian francs in Belgium, but you could buy things with cigarettes anywhere. In fact, people lost so much confidence in the wartime currencies, that there were places where traders accepted nothing but cigarettes (although the economy never got that grim in western Europe).

This might explain why the cigarette purchases appear only intermittently. Better quality cigarettes had greater trading power but were harder to come by. Perhaps the couriers bought the good cigarettes when they had the opportunity, which was at only certain times.

If the couriers bought the cigarettes as a form of currency, then there are several ways they may have used them. They might have given them to the men they were sending over the Pyrenees as a form of pocket money for them to use after they left Dutch-Paris’s care and made their way into Spain. Or they might have given them to families in hiding to use for bartering.

Or the couriers might have used the cigarettes as a convenient form of bribery to grease the many palms that inspected their false documents, sold them train tickets or black market meals or hotel rooms, or let them out the back doors of train stations or cafés. Cigarettes could also be used as discreet thank yous for the myriad people who helped Dutch-Paris through their jobs, by providing information, shelter or rationed goods.

Say you happened to be walking along the French side of the Swiss border with some mud on your knees from crawling under the barbed wire and a gendarme asked you for your papers, what would you do? If your false documents were good, as Dutch-Paris documents were, it could go two ways. If you acted nervous, the gendarme might get suspicious and take you in for questioning. But if you remained calm, maybe lit up a cigarette and offered one to the gendarme like a copain, commented on the weather and acted like you understood that the man was only doing his duty but you regretted that he had to waste his time like this because there was nothing suspicious about you, chances were good the gendarme would let you go. The Dutch-Paris couriers were masters at cultivating such friendly encounters. They even chatted to German officers in trains about morale at home in the Third Reich.

After the war no one concerned thought that the cigarettes needed any explanation or perhaps that they were important enough to explain. I suspect that they used the cigarettes that they charged on their government expense reports to buy some thing or some one’s good will. If they smoked any cigarettes themselves, they undoubtedly paid for them with their own money.