Simone Segouin, Teenage Fighter in French Resistance, Dies at 97

Her name was Simone Segouin, but she was known by her nom de guerre, Nicole.

This is how Jack Belden, a war correspondent for Life magazine, met this young armed French resistance fighter after he entered Chartres, France, with the United States Third Army in August 1944, at the time of the liberation of the city of the German occupation.

“She was dressed in a light brown jacket and a cheap flowery skirt of many shades, which ended just above her knees.” Mr. Belden wrote. “Her legs of hers were bare and brown. Around her arm was a ribbon reading FTPF. Pinned to the waistband of her skirt was a small revolver.”

The FTPF, the Francs-tireurs et partisans français, was one of the most effective militias of the French resistance.

“Under my wobbly French questioning”, Mr Belden he wrote, “she admitted she was a partisan fighter.”

Her article, titled “The Partisan Girl of Chartres” in the September 4, 1944 issue of Life, made “Nicole” an international symbol of the French resistance. Her subtitle, “17-year-old Nicole tells Life’s war reporter the story of how she killed a Boche,” French slang for a German, offered a hint of sensationalism.

When President Emmanuel Macron of France announced his death in Courville-sur-Eure, France, on February 21, he cited the article in the second sentence of a press release. She was 97.

“The article gave him a larger-than-life profile,” Robert Gildea, author of “Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of French Resistance,” wrote in an email. “Most of the resistant women operated in the shadows and were modest about their resistance activities.”

She was barely in the shadows the morning after her first meeting with Mr. Belden, when she and several comrades brought 25 German soldiers they had captured hours earlier in a mill into town.

“As the column approached a group of US soldiers, the soldiers emitted a series of whistles,” he wrote. “At the end of the column walked the partisan girl, nonchalantly holding a German schmeisser pistol. When he took the prisoners to the deputies, she walked towards me, and for the first time I noticed a little shyness in her, as if she was trying to hide her pride in her achievements as an American.

Simone Segouin was born on October 3, 1925 in Thivars, France, south of Chartres. After the war started, her father allowed the partisans to use the family farm as a hideout. Through those encounters, she met Lieutenant Roland Boursier, a local resistance leader, codenamed Germain, in early 1944.

“When I found out he had French feelings, I slowly told him about the job I was doing,” Lt. Boursier told Life. “I asked him if he would be afraid to do that job. She said: ‘No, I would be happy to kill Boches.’

Carrying false documents saying she was Nicole Minet, from Dunkirk, Ms Segouin transported messages and weapons between members of the local partisan network on a bicycle she had stolen from a German. Lt. Boursier said that he taught him how to use submachine guns, rifles and pistols. According to President Macron’s office, she also helped partisans sabotage German troop trains.

“Nothing pleased Nicole more than killing the Germans,” Belden wrote in Life, but she wasn’t sure if she had ever killed anyone. In 2014, she recalled being involved in an ambush.

“Two German soldiers on a bicycle passed by and three of us fired at the same time,” his obituary in The Telegraph he quoted her as once saying, “so I don’t know who exactly killed them.”

After the liberation of Chartres, she and other members of her resistance group went to Paris with the US 2nd Armored Division and fought for several days until Germany surrendered the city on August 25.

During the fighting, she was photographed with two companions, the weapon ready, of the renowned photojournalist Robert Capa. At least one of the photos of him also appeared in Life, a week after Belden’s article.

Mr. Belden was not the only American who found in Mrs. Segouin a worthy symbol of the French Resistance. George Stevens, the Hollywood film director, brought her team from the United States Army Signal Corps to Chartres, but used her personal camera to capture her, with a faint smile and a submachine gun slung over her right shoulder. .

The day after the liberation of Paris, Ms. Segouin marched in a victory parade just steps from General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces, down the Champs-Élysées.

After the war, she was promoted to lieutenant and awarded the Croix de Guerre, a military honor for heroism in combat. She worked as a pediatric nurse. A street in Courville-sur-Eure is named after her.

Information about its survivors was not available.

When he received a British military charity’s Soldiering On International award in 2016, Ms Segouin said her proudest moment as a member of the resistance “he was probably going to Paris with General Charles de Gaulle.”

“It was a wonderful feeling to walk into the city,” he said, “but my enthusiasm was limited because it felt so dangerous.”

kirsten noyes contributed research.