(1919 – 1944)
DJ Name: Beats by Dré
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Nay. Neither. It was actually Andrée Borrel, the first woman paratrooper to drop in on Nazi occupied France during World War II in an attempt to establish secret supply lines for the Allies. Andrée was a jill of all trades who nursed wounded soldiers back to health and led allied escapees through secret paths of the French forests. Oh! Low key she also fell in love with her partner in (world war) peace, Maurice, who was also a leader in the French Resistance. You got that right, this is another Women’s HERstory month feature with a sprinkle of a love story. But this isn’t just a story with a potential for a Netflix mini series, it’s a real life journey through the years of Andrée Borrel’s incredible life from childhood to secret agent days. DJ Beats by Dré requests that you shuffle up some of her favorite hits while learning about her story:
Andrée Borrel was born on November 18, 1919, to working-class parents on the outskirts of Paris. Her sports prowess earned her the designation of “tom-boy” by her older sister, Léone, who saw her sister bike, hike and climb all over the countryside. These hobbies of Andrée’s would really come into play later in her life as she was running through the French countryside and valleys, out-hustling Nazis left and right in her effort to transport Allied troops to safety out of German occupied areas. NBD. Okay, back to childhood. When she was 11, her dad died, and Andrée left school and the family home when she was 14 to move to Paris, to become a dressmaker. However she first found work as a shop assistant at a bakery, the Boulangerie Pujo, so she could get that bread. And two years later she moved to a different shop, called Bazar d’AmsterDAM(good croissants). This shop assistant gig gave her Sundays off, which meant she could spend the Lord’s Day cycling.
While Andrée was minding her business and baking bread served with fresh jam, another human a country or so over was not so much minding his business nor baking bread. Rather he was taking bread, land and lives. That person was Adolf Hitler and at this point in Dré’s young life, a second World War was on the horizon. As World War II broke out in 1939, Andrée’s mom was advised to move to a warmer climate for her health (same), so she took her daughters and moved to Toulon on the Mediterranean coast (can we be her daughters?). But just because Andrée was now livin’ the good life basking in the Mediterranean sun didn’t mean she wasn’t doing her part on the warfront.
Andrée trained with the Red Cross and completed a quick nursing course in 1940, which allowed her to work with the Association des Dames de France. After a full fifteen days on the frontlines of the hospital, Andrée was sent home because there was a ~rule~ that nobody under the age of 21 could be a nurse in the war hospitals. But a few days later, that ~rule~ was revoked and Nurse Dré put on her cap and went back to work in Beaucaire to continue to treat wounded soldiers in the French Army. While serving as a nurse, Andrée met fellow hospital worker Lt. Maurice Dufour, who was part of the French Resistance movement that aimed to rid France of Nazis and the Vichy regime AKA French friends of the Nazis. In July of 1941, Andrée helped her new pal (turned alleged lover!) Maurice organize and operate the first escape network from France.
Yes, that’s right, there was an underground railroad of sorts in France, too, and it was called the Pat O’Leary Escape Line. We don’t know who this “Pat” guy is, but it’s WOMEN’S History Month, pal, so we’re going to focus on Andrée’s involvement with it. This escape line ran from the Belgian border to the Spanish frontier, and Andrèe and Maurice hid allied escapees at the final safe houses before said escapees had to embark over (or through?) the Pyrenees Mountains (yikes!). Also, we would be remiss if we didn’t note that these resistance rebels, Andrée and Maurice, were now lovers (maybe that’s why some people called him the gangster of love). This sounds like a Netflix Original Series in the making?? (Consider this a copyright by Historic Shuffle. Catch our mini-series about the lives of war time lovers outsmarting Nazis and shuffling allied soldiers to safety on streaming services soon. @Netflix, if you’re reading this, find our pitch in your inbox by COB today).
OK, back to Andrée’s story (soon to be on Netflix). So at the end of 1941, things on the escape line took a turn for the worse. And, in general, an end to WWII was not near. The Axis powers were expanding, and the Allies were falling behind. Pearl Harbor was attacked. Another front opened in the Pacific, and Hitler invaded Russia. Meanwhile on the escape line where Andrée was fighting the good fight, an English courier was arrested in Lille, in northern France, and he allegedly snitched on other members of the escape line (rude) — this Netflix series is just writing itself! So Andrée and Maurice fled to Toulouse and hid out for a while until the rumblings settled. Eventually, the couple made their way out of France to Portugal and Andrée began working at the Free French Propaganda Office at the British Embassy in Lisbon. She then moved to London in 1942. Maurice, however, got whisked away to a safe house somewhere and he and Andrée never saw each other again (guess that’s why some people call him the space cowboy).
Onto the series finale: A ripe 22 years old when she arrived in London, Andrée was taken to the Royal Patriotic School to be interrogated so that the Brits could ensure she wasn’t a double agent. She was known to have pretty strong socialist views, which were not exactly welcome in early 1940s England, but perhaps her time working on the escape line gave her some bonus points because she was recruited by the Special Operations Executive to be a British special agent. Their office was located at 64 Baker Street in London, which is kinda funny considering Andree used to, ya know, bake and stuff. Anyways, the SOE bestowed upon her the code name “Denise” (interesting choice) and she successfully passed the training. Shortly thereafter, because she’s a boss special agent, Denise AKA Andrée was promoted to lieutenant and then she embarked on her first big mission.
On September 24, 1942, Andrée (oops, we mean “Denise”) parachuted into Nazi occupied France as a part of Operation Whitebeam which aimed to set up new resistance networks in Paris and parts of Northern France. Denise jumped first thus making her the first female combat paratrooper. She landed in a field, as paratroopers do, near the town of Mer where she was picked up by local resistance teammates who awaited her arrival. (Since we’re celebrating women’s HERstory month, we also want to mention that a fellow female paratrooper also jumped on this same day seconds after Andrée. Her name was Lise de Baissac — code name “Odile” — and she recounted,
“We had drawn straws and luck gave Andrée the first jump. I went immediately after her. You had to jump very quickly, one right after the other, because the plane is going on and you might be dropped very far from each other.”
And then the work began. Denise AKA Andrée worked as a courier for the SOE network Physician which was nicknamed “Prosper” (what’s with all these nicknames?!). She stealthily moved between Paris and the countryside (a region she knew well) as she worked to coordinate aerial supply drops, recruit resistance members, and keep current members well trained. Oh! And she also sent secret messages in a bottle back to allies in London with updates on Nazi movements. Casual. It didn’t take long for leadership to notice what an asset Denise AKA Andrée was, and she was promoted to second in command after a year on the mission.
However, things took a turn for the worse and Denise AKA Andrée was not able to escape to safety this time. On a night in June of 1943 while on mission, Andrée was arrested alongside fellow Resistance members by the Gestapo AKA Italians AKA allies of the Nazis. Not good. Andrée was taken to Paris where she was interrogated at the Gestapo’s headquarters and was later moved to Fresnes Prison just south of Paris. About a year later, Andrée was brought to a train station for transport to Karlsruhe, a German prison. Ugh! Sadly, we know where this story is headed. After some time at the German prison, Andrée was packed into a closed truck to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in her homeland of France. Sadly, this is where her story abruptly ends as Nazis executed her with a lethal injection of phenol and led her into the crematorium furnace. She was 24 years old.
As the first female paratrooper out of a plane and into the land of Nazi occupied France, Andrée (AKA Denise) Borrel’s fight for liberation was honored posthumously by the French and British governments when they awarded Andrée the Croix de Guerre and the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct for her heroic sacrifices for the Allied powers.