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Bernissart (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)

Last modified: 2005-02-26 by
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Flag resistance acts during the Second World War

On Pierre Bachy's website, Marin Marceau relates several acts of resistance he was involved in during the Second World War in Bernissart, a coal-mining village located near Mons, in Belgium. The whole page (in French) deserves reading; I am summarizing below the resistance acts involving the Belgian national flag.

Marceau Marin was captured on 20 July 1940 and released four months later, after having "sweared" he won't attempt anyhting wrong again the Nazi regime. Back to Bernissart, he joined the anti-German resistance movement organized in the colliery and took part to several propaganda (including selling flags of the allied nations) and sabotage operations. He also served as a liaison agent with French policemen working for the resistance.
In 1943, Marin decided to prepare a spectacular act, in order to show the local population and the Germans that Belgium still resisted. With his brother-in-law Andre Balcaen, the baker Henri Olivier and two Italian miners, Gaston Pansani and his father, he decided to hoist a Belgian national flag on a place where it would be seen by everybody and remain for a significant time.
Coal was no longer extracted from the third pit of the Bernissart colliery, but the big tower with the wheel used as a lift for the cages and the skips was still standing, at a height of 80 m. Marin and his fellows prepared an access to the roof of the tower, since there was no ladder available, cut a 10-m piece of wood in the neighbouring forest, to be used as the flag staff, and brought it onto the top of the tower.

It was even more difficult to make the flag, since pieces of cloth were extremely rare and expensive during the war. Marceau's sister Nelly Marin and her friend Nelly Laroche eventually found the required pieces of cloth and died them in the appropriate colours. They stitched a flag whose length was about 5 meter.
On the night from 20 to 21 July 1943, Marin, Balcaen and Pansani climbed on the tower with the flag, while Olivier watched the neighborhood. A German patrol was about to find the plotters but did not. The flag was hoisted, and a shield with "Hazard of Death" was placed on the ladder, in order to postpone the removal of the flag as long as possible.
Next morning, the weather was fine and everybody could see the flag. The Germans wanted to remove it as soon as possible but were scared by the shield. Around 14 PM, the Germans and their local henchmen from the Rexist movement forced a miners' train driver to climb on the tower and remove the flag.

The operation was repeated close to the Liberation with another flag stitched by the same two women. Electricity was also installed on the top of the tower, which was used as a watching post and a transmissing station to help the allied troops. Marceau also broadcast national anthems to encourage the population and welcome the liberators.

Ivan Sache, 10 November 2004

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