Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Resistance hero 'told to leave'

Capt Peter Lake, during World War II
Capt Lake was known by his French field name Jean-Pierre Lenormand

A British officer who trained French Resistance fighters during World War II was told to "go home" by Charles de Gaulle, newly released files show.

Peter Lake was awarded the Military Cross and France's Croix de Guerre for his actions in the run-up to D-Day.

But just three months after the Allied landings, the leader of Free France told him he had "no business" there.

Mr Lake died in June aged 94, but his account of the meeting has been released by the National Archives.

It is contained within his Special Operations Executive personnel file and describes a meeting with Gen de Gaulle in the town of Saintes, south-west France, on 18 September 1944.

Nom de guerre

Mr Lake, then a captain, spoke fluent French and was known by the field name Jean-Pierre Lenormand.

He decided to join a number of French officers who went along to greet the general, but was surprised by the conversation that followed.

We don't need you here. You too must go home. Au revoir
General de Gaulle

General de Gaulle: "Jean-Pierre, that's a French name."

Mr Lake: "My nom de guerre, mon general."

Gen de Gaulle: "What are you doing here?"

Mr Lake: "I belong to the Inter-Allied Mission for Dordogne, and I am at the moment with Dordogne troops at Marennes, mon general."

Gen de Gaulle: "But what are you doing here?"

Mr Lake: "I am training certain troops for special operations."

Gen de Gaulle: "Our troops don't need training. You have no business here."

Mr Lake: "I obey the orders of my superiors."

Gen de Gaulle: "You have no business here, I say. You have no right to exercise a command."

Mr Lake: "Mon general, I exercise no command."

Gen de Gaulle: "We don't need you here. It only remains for you to leave. You too must go home. Return, return quickly. Au revoir."

Later, Mr Lake noted: "The whole dialogue passed very quickly and in a tone of voice which there was no mistaking.

"It was so unexpected that I must confess I was far too taken aback to reply intelligently, and I think the majority of those present had similar reactions."

Capt Peter Lake, during World War II
Capt Lake was parachuted into France in April 1944

Despite the incident, Mr Lake was highly regarded by senior Army commanders and was referred to in an official report as "modest, unassuming, but possessed of considerable authority".

"His dust-up with de Gaulle showed him to be a good diplomat, level-headed and intelligent," the report added.

Mr Lake was parachuted into the Dordogne on the night of 9 April 1944 and immediately began training teams of resistance operatives.

To do this he organised "evening classes" in subjects such as sabotage, but recalled that his first sortie was with fighters who were "armed like pirates, behaved like pirates and expected me to do likewise".

After the D-Day landings on 6 June, Mr Lake said the situation became "very precarious" as the Germans stepped up attacks on the resistance.

Nevertheless, in mid-June he carried out a daring operation to blow up a major railway line.

Mr Lake returned to Britain in October 1944 and went on to have a successful career with the UK consular service.

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