France this week commemorates the deeds of a boy who died aged just six hailed as the youngest French World War II hero for carrying messages under his shirt to leaders of the resistance against Nazi occupation.
The name of Marcel Pinte — known as Quinquin — is to be inscribed on Wednesday into the war memorial in Aixe-sur-Vienne just west of the central city of Limoges.
As France Wednesday observes its annual public holiday to mark Armistice Day — remembering the victims of both world wars — a ceremony will also take place in the town to remember Pinte, who is seen as the country’s youngest resistance hero.
His father Eugene was himself a prominent commander, known as Athos, leading a strong local resistance movement around Limoges that would have 1,200 fighters by the end of the war.
According to family member Alexandre Bremaud, 28 — who has fought for recognition of Marcel — the father Eugene was able through his office work to invent false identities and even have access to official papers.
He formed his first resistance unit in 1941 at a village of Gaubertie where he rented a small farm and then made formal contacts with the wider resistance movement in France.
Eugene, his wife Paule and their five children got used to the rhythms of the regular secret meetings at the farm.
“It was a hidden place and very difficult to access,” said Bremaud, adding that resistance fighters found it “practical and discreet” to meet there.
At the Pinte household, resistance work and family life were inextricably linked. Marcel watched fascinated and was desperate to take part.
“At the start, he probably took it all as a game. But then he quickly understood how risky it all was,” said Marc Pinte, 68, the grandson of Marcel’s father.
– ‘Understood everything’ –
Marc Pinte recalled what his own father remembered of Marcel. He found it easy to get along with adults and was happy to spend time in the woods alongside the resistance fighters, getting to know their code calls.
“Everyone was surprised to see how he got involved like that,” said Marc Pinte.
He said that in the farmhouse it would have been impossible to sleep at night with “constant movement” of people, regular meetings or even a British parachutist hiding in the loft.
“It was natural that the boy got involved in missions that were appropriate for his age and his abilities,” he said.
Pinte said that Marcel surprised people with his “astonishing” memory and was entrusted with taking messages for resistance chiefs under his shirt.
“He understood everything at once. Naturally, no-one noticed him, no one was going to pay any attention to a boy,” he said.
A large deployment of resistance fighters arrived by parachute in the night of August 19, 1944, ahead of an expected battle around Aixe as Allied forces began to liberate France.
They were heavily armed and Marcel, as usual, followed his family. But a Sten sub-machine gun went off accidentally. Marcel fell to the ground after being hit by several bullets.
On August 21, just a a few hours before Limoges was itself liberated, Marcel was “buried in the presence of numerous battalions. The coffin was covered with the tricolour flag,” said Marc Pinte.
The emotion was great. At the beginning of September, British planes carried out a final parachute drop of arms to the area using black canvases in tribute to Marcel.
While is death was an accident, Marcel Pinte is officially considered to have “died for France” as a hero.
Eugene Pinte died in 1951, aged 49. He was buried next to his son Marcel at the cemetery in Aixe.
© 2020 AFP