Un Grand Bordel

ISBN 1-903953-00-6
RAF memoir
  • softback
  • 140 x 205 mm
  • 218 pages
  • monochrome photos

by Norman Lee & Geoffrey French


A 428 Sqn air gunner's adventures with the Maquis and US Special Forces after being shot down

‘On one occasion the Duke happened to ask me what I thought of the Maquis, and I replied in good French slang, "Ce n’est qu’un grand bordel!" – which literally translated means, "It’s nothing but a big brothel" but as far as I was concerned meant "It's nowt but a bloody shambles!"

The Duke slapped me on the back and laughed till the tears ran down his face... ’

It was during the winter of 1943/44 that Norman Lee voiced this opinion of the Free French guerrilla army to one of its leaders. By this time, Norman, a 19 year-old RAF air gunner, had already survived 17 missions with RAF Bomber Command before being shot down. He had baled out of a burning Halifax bomber and, with the help of a considerable number of pro-British civilians, evaded capture in Nazi-controlled Luxembourg, successfully made his way across the border into Vichy-controlled France and joined up with one of the Maquis groups hiding in the hills around Clermont-Ferrand.

Dressed in stolen German uniforms, the paramilitaries hid in the mountains, awaiting the call to arms, eating, drinking copious quantities of French wine and .... doing very little else! It was at this time that Norman voiced his opinion of them to 'the Duke'.

Six months later the Maquis would prove Norman wrong when they took the war to the Germans following the D-Day invasion. He played his own small part in helping them to do so, first as a weapons instructor, then by fighting alongside them in combat against the German forces.

In this entertaining book, Norman relates his adventures during these dramatic days with vividness, modesty and quiet humour. The latter still causes him to chuckle at the memory of having spent more time on active service wearing a stolen German uniform than a British one.