The History of Commander George Aubrey
“Le Commandant Americain”
by Edwin Canady (Past Post Commander at Paris Post 1)
Jean Villatte, a French farmer, gave this eye-witness account of what he saw on July 18, 1944 at the small village of Betête in the center of France.
“For two days we had heard the firing of automatic weapons about eight kilometers away near the Department of Cher. The Germans were trying to liquidate a maquis (French resistance) camp. We were going to pick up some hay near the village, in a horse-drawn wagon when a German convoy with about 120 men and arms went by. When we got to the field, my father came and told us that the Germans had stopped in the village and were posting men. We heard a car horn and the loud screeching of brakes. Then the shooting started. We took off across the field running, leaving the horse, which was also running off pulling the wagon. The Germans shooting at everything.”
"After about an hour we carefully made our way to the village where we were told that some people had been killed. We went in the direction of where the shooting had occurred and found what was left of a Citroen, because it had been blown apart by a charge of plastic explosives. The explosion had also cut the power line, leaving the area without electricity. About fifty meters to the right near a hedge, we found the bullet-riddled body of the American commander where he had died after hiding a roll of papers containing the plans for parachuting in the Department of Cher. About sixty meters to the left we found the body of the driver of the car who had been killed as he jumped over the hedge. Later we learned that one of the car's occupants had escaped and the commandant's secretary had been captured and taken away. We took the bodies to the town hall. The next day they were quietly buried in a family vault that had been generously loaned.”
"Le commandant americain (the American major) who died that day was George A. Aubrey. He was not a member of the allied forces that had landed in Normandy just a few weeks before. He was an American civilian who lived in France and who had joined the maquis after the war began.”
I first heard of George Aubrey in 1989 when I returned to France after retiring from the federal government. I heard about him at the American Legion's Paris Post, where I had volunteered to help in the office. Ray Bennett, the Post Commander, mentioned that every Fourth of July a group of French people in central France invited someone from the Paris Post to attend a ceremony near Vichy for an American who had been killed by the Germans during WWII. That aroused my interest. Who was this American? How did he die? What, if anything, had he done for the Germans to kill him? Nobody around the Post seemed to know very much about him. I think it was generally assumed that he had been captured by the Germans and executed, but I learned later that that was not how he died. At first, all I could find out was that he had been a member of the Post, he had served as Post commander in 1938, and he still had some family living in France.
I soon got a chance to learn more. One morning when I answered the phone in the Post, a Frenchman named Jean-Claude Corsin said he was related by marriage to George Aubrey. Corsin's sister was the widow of George's son, Norbert. After I answered his questions (what questions?), I told him I wanted to know more about George Aubrey so I could write an article for a booklet about the Paris Post. He told me he had some material on George Aubrey and invited me to come to see him in Saint Amand-Montrond where he lived and operated a pastry shop.
Corsin had assumed the role of historian for George Aubrey. He had collected a suitcase full of material that included newspaper clippings, letters, other documents, and some of George's metals from World War I. He was very enthusiastic and spent the afternoon with me, my wife, and Ray Bennett, telling us about George and showing us the various documents he had collected. Later he sent me photocopies of several documents I had asked for.
Corsin's documents were written mostly after George's death. The most informative document he had was a short article written by George's youngest son, Guy, covering the last four years of George's life. Although Corsin's documents gave the details of George's death and his participation in the war, the picture they gave of his earlier life and the period between the two wars was far from complete. I was able to get a little additional information in annual directories of Americans in Paris and three articles from the American Legion Magazine. The directories listed George's profession and his home and business addresses each year starting in 1930. They also listed the American Legion and the positions of its officers and committee members, which included George. Only one of the magazine articles included George's name and it was
only a brief mention of him. The following is the summary of what I was able to piece together from the information I had gathered.
I didn't learn much about George's youth. I know he was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1893 and his education was sufficient to qualify him to be commissioned in the Army. He came to France during World War I as a captain and served as company commander. He was wounded several times during the battle of Saint Mihiel in 1918, and he received the Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster (signifying two awards). He was promoted to the grade of major before he was discharged.
George remained in France after the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Four months later, in March 1919, five hundred veterans met at the Cirque de Paris to form the American Legion. In November 1919, the American Legion granted a charter to the Paris Post, the Legion's first overseas post, at a meeting held at the Mooses Club of Paris. Although I couldn't verify that George had attended either of these meetings, I mention them as background because the American Legion was an important part of his story. In July 1919 he married Alberte Viette, a French woman, in Nice. He returned to the states with Alberte and continued his education, studying to be an engineer. In 1921, his first son, Norbert, was born. The same year he took his family back to France and he settled near Paris. In 1930, His other son, Guy, was born.
Geroge lived among thirty thousand other Americans who had settled in the Paris region. They worked as doctors, lawyers, hotel keepers, managers, writers, etc. George exercised his profession as an automotive engineer. At first, he worked for General Motors France. Later he established his own company, which prospered (what was the company?).
George's participation in American Legion activities increased as the years passed. He served as post representative to the Department of France in 1930, Post historian in 1931, member of the post executive committee in 1933 and 1934, Post Commander in 1938, and Department of France Commander in 1939 and 1940.
In 1927 Paris Post hosted the 9th annual convention of the American Legion which featured an open house at the post's meager quarters, a championship fight in the largest auditorium in Paris, and, as a climax, the Inter-allied Ball at the Paris Opera. At the convention the post sold the idea of having a building in Paris as a memorial to the fallen comrades and to house the Post. Pershing Hall, as the building was called in honor of General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, Commander of the WWI American expeditionary forces, was bought in 1927 and expanded in 1928. It became a center of activity within the large American community.
The Paris Post performed the normal ceremonial functions, provided social activities for its members, and served the community as well. It cared for hundreds of orphans left behind by their American fathers. It helped to repatriate an average of one hundred American veterans every year. It assisted its members in renewing French identity cards and work permits that they had carelessly let expire at the risk of possible fines, imprisonment, or even expulsion from France. It also responded to many requests from Legionnaires back home.
When George became Post commander in 1938, the expectation of an impending war weighed heavy over Paris. The American community had dwindled to five thousand. Americans were leaving daily. In 1939, the year George became Department of France Commander, Germany invaded Poland. Thus began the terrible war that was to last for six years and cause the deaths of millions. The Legion organized the American Volunteer Ambulance Corps which was operated by American Legionnaires to transport wounded soldiers to hospitals. It continued to operate from the beginning of hostilities until France fell in June 1940. During the same period, George and other leaders of the American Legion in Paris made weekly short-wave broadcasts to the United States on the Paris Mondial Radio to report the fast moving events in Europe and to urge the US Government to join in the war effort. By the end of 1940 there were fewer than five hundred Americans left in Paris. George was one of them. He stayed until the beginning of 1941 when he had to leave because it became too dangerous for him to stay.
In describing his father's activities, Guy Aubrey said, "One afternoon the German General in command of the Paris area invited my father for a tête-à-tête during which the General said that his government had named George Aubrey Germany's number one enemy in France. Then he added, I attended West Point so I will give you a chance to get out of Paris. If I ever see you again, I will have to order your execution."
In the winter of 1941, George and his elder son Norbert went to the town of Saint Amand-Montrond. His wife and younger son, Guy, remained in Paris almost a year before they joined him. At his new location, George's activities consisted of staying in contact with the British, organizing a maquis group in the area, and helping men who wanted to join the Free French in North Africa. Later, when the United States joined the war, the danger for Americans in France increased.
The Germans would arrest any American they found. George was forced to flee with his family to a remote area for safety. On June 6, 1944, when the allied invasion began, George's maquis group attacked and took control of the German headquarters in Saint Amand-Montrond. They held it for three days. It was an extremely bloody battle. At the start of the battle the maquis had about 2,000 men. When the battle was over there were only 500 survivors. Once again George and his family had to flee, settling on a farm about 50 miles away.
George was then given the assignment of organizing a maquis group in the area to the south of Saint Amand-Montrond. On July 18, 1944, he had met with other leaders of the maquis and was returning home when his car came upon the German unit in Betête. It was probably an accidental encounter. One of the men in the car with George opened on the Germans and they returned fire. George and his men were overwhelmed by the Germans' superior numbers and fire power. George was shot in the back by a submachine gun and was almost cut in half. He had managed to hide the secret papers he was carrying before he was hit by the fatal shots. They were among the documents Corsin had collected.
On May 5, 1948, George Aubrey's body was exhumed from its temporary grave where it had laid since his death and was moved to Creuzier-le-Vieux, near Vichy, where it was properly buried. An American military honor guard, a delegation of the American Legion Paris Post, and many of his French friends participated in the ceremony.
In France, George Aubrey was not forgotten. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de la Legion d'Honneur by the French government. He was made an honorary citizen of the city of Saint Amand-Montrond, and a street in the city was named after him. Plaques honoring him were placed in Paris on France's memorial to the American troops at the Place des Etats-Unis and at Pershing Hall, the former home of the American Legion Paris Post. Each year in July a group of dedicated friends, including representatives of the Paris Post, participate in a ceremony in at his grave site near Vichy honoring his memory.
George A. Aubrey was a dedicated American Legionnaire and a true hero. He is an example of the type of person that makes the American Legion the great organization it is. It has been a great pleasure for me to have been able to discover his story and to tell it to our comrades and friends.
Written by Past Post Commander Edwin Canady
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