Ile de Sein
"In the face of an enemy invasion, this city refused to abandon the battlefield that was its own: the sea. It sent its sons to fight under the flag of a Free France, and thus became the example and the symbol for all of Brittany."
(Ile de Sein, Companion of the Liberation by decree, on January 1st 1946)
Located 12 Kilometers from Pointe-du-Raz, the little Island of Sein is about 3 Km. long and barely 1 Km. wide. Approximately 1,400 people lived there when in September of 1939, Sein entered the war. Some inhabitants of course joined the French Navy, and at the same time a garrison of about twenty men set up its base there.
In June of 1940, information reached the people of Sein via the boats that came by and the occasional mail from the TSF to the accumulators and galenas on the Island (there was no electricity). This was how they found out on the 19th about the takeover of Rennes, and the evacuation of Brest. The same day, the Zénith, which wastransporting about a hundred mountain infantrymen, a few young people from Audierne and weapons to England, stopped at the Island and picked up a few more people from there. The news confirmed the terrifying reputation the invaders had made for themselves.
On June 21st, the garrison left Sein and the next day, when the nervous population dared not leave the island, someone announced that General De Gaulle had spoken on the radio from London and that he was due to speak again. About 100 people from the island gathered around the Hotel de l'Océan, where Madame Quemeneur had set up her radio on a windowsill. At 4 p.m. they listened in silence to De Gaulle's second speech. Deeply impressed by the speech, they returned to their homes as airplanes bombed cargo ships that were off the coast of the island.
On June 24th, the mayor posted a notice with information received by telephone from Audierne, ordering military personnel to present themselves to the German authorities in Audierne. In response to this threat, Jean-Marie Porsmoguer and Prosper Couillandre took it upon themselves to equip their boats – the Velléda and the Rouanez-ar-Mor – with weapons. At 9 p.m. the two ships were full of weapons and men old enough to fight.
On June 25th, an island boat went to continental France, where a poster announced that all men 18 to 60 years old were to make themselves available to the occupation army. The next day, more boats, including the Rouanez-ar-Péoc'h belonging to François Fouquet and the Maris Stella belonging to Martin Guilcher left the island. The Corbeau des mers belonging to Pierre Couillandre full of passengers followed close behind.
So between the 19th and the 26th of June, 114 island inhabitants that were not called because of their age or their family responsibilities, left the island. Later on, others made their way to England by different means. All together 124 people left for Great Britain, the oldest was 54 and the youngest 14.
In early July, the Germans occupied the island and put mines and barbed wire in place. They imposed strict regulations concerning transportation both on the island and at sea. At this point only women, children and a few elderly people remained on the island, living under very difficult conditions.
At the same time, the 124 people who had left the island to go to England gathered together with another 300 volunteers at Empire Hall in London, where General De Gaulle reviewed these new troops. He shook everyone's hand and asked them where they were from. Quite surprised at the large number of people from Sein present, the head of the Free France movement said, "It appears that island of Sein represents a quarter of our Nation!".
The volunteers from Sein were then given a series of different assignments, depending on their age and skills. Most of them were admitted to the Free French Navy and initially were assigned to serve on the Courbet. Twenty of them died for France.
Ile de Sein
On January 1st 1946, General De Gaulle presented the Cross of the Liberation to Ile de Sein, who, for its high merit during World War II, would later also receive the War Cross and the Resistance Medal.