At Pont-Audemer, Christian Masson was employed in the company of the resistant Robert Leblanc

Christian Masson, the longest-serving worker at the Robert Leblanc painting company, is still fascinated by this man, a good boss but also a great hero and uncompromising leader of the Maquis.

“He was my hero as a child. » When we mention the name of Robert Le Blancimmediately we think of leader of the Maquis Surcouf that he was during Second World War. His resistance organization numbered 250 members at its height. Robert Leblanc, former coffee shop owner and grocer at Saint-Etienne-l’Allier (Eure), later converted into transport, founded, after the war, a painting and flooring company in which the “face from Les Baquets”, Christian Masson, worked. Now 87 years old, the man who was president of the Pont-Audemer Athletic Club for over 30 years worked closely with this maquis leader turned entrepreneur.

Your encounter with the resisters

Born under the sign of Capricorn, like his idol Robert Leblanc, Christian Masson, from the age of 14, frequented the ballroom that was close to the schools of Saint-Germain-Village, an establishment run at the time by a certain… Robert Leblanc, who later it will become, not far from there, chucks “It was there that I met his brother Hubert, the eldest of the family, but also Claudine, Robert’s daughter. At every ball, I was entitled to my Plume Rose aperitif,” recalls Christian, who at the time worked as a mechanical adjuster at Tissages des Baquets.

After years of working in this emblematic mill, the young man wanted to take off a little: “I met Lucien, brother of Robert Leblanc, a butcher in La Rivière-Saint-Sauveur, who offered to collaborate on the painting of the Bourgtheroulde-Infreville school complex. very beautiful project that I really liked and that led Robert to invite me to go with him to Bayeux, the headquarters of the painting company he had founded. »

This Bayeusin warehouse, located in a former concert hall, was partially leased to Rislois’s contractor: “On the right was the storage part for scaffolding, stairs, posts and paintings. To the left, 1.50 meters from the ground, there was a stage that served as a small kitchen and mainly bedrooms. Robert then suggested that I sleep next to him on a double mattress. I must say that the friendship of this extraordinary man touched me a lot, especially on the part of such a character. »

It was then the early 1950s, and at night the chief would often slip away to visit friends, ex-guerrillas, soldiers or civilians. “He asked me to accompany him on his travels, which I gladly accepted. “Christian’s role, a high-trust mission, was to always have two pipes filled in advance, the “Chief” being a chain smoker, the pipe in his mouth being effectively immortalized in each photo of the Chief: “On my return, I had I had to make sure I kept him awake, even if it meant being curious. The main thing was to get him to talk to keep him from dozing off. »

Thus, for example, the dark story of the Queue du Renard in Manneville-sur-Risle was evoked: “Two members of the Surcouf, transported in a truck belonging to their employer Robert Leblanc, while converted into transport, came face to face with two German fugitives from a camp in Le Havre. A fight in the back of the truck results in the death of one of the fugitives. The investigating judge in charge of the case, a former “Vichy loyalist” who escaped the 1945 purges, saw the opportunity to get revenge on the Maquis men he hated by “accusing” Robert Leblanc of having become “a gang leader” ” formed by former guerrillas. Cabal that collapsed in February 1947, to the chagrin of anti-resistance fighters who equated the FFI with delinquents who abused their power during the Liberation.

Around 1953, the Leblanc company had just won an important painting and flooring contract for new schools and teachers’ accommodation in the departments of Calvados, Manche and Orne: “With a Vespa 125 cm3 scooter and therefore independent for me move, Robert entrusted me with almost all the work for this contract.” And the young worker then had to make all the floors, in balatum, in the corridors, bedrooms, living rooms and bathrooms: “I could also cover the walls before the paintings or of wallpapers”, reports Christian Masson, who specifies, however, that “the wallpaper was always placed by the boss”: “Robert cut the strips of paper, I glued them and he stuck them to the wall while I cleaned the baseboards. and the floor. »

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An intriguing exit from the road

From 1951 to 1955, the locations followed one another: “Very happy, Robert even entrusted me one day with the painting of a metal structure in an aircraft engine factory in Vire”, explains Christian Masson, who worked privately with Pompier. , Maquis name of one of the employees of the company that multiplied the sites in both Lower and Upper Normandy.

In 1955, called, Christian Masson leaves for Algeria: There he will remain three long years, and on April 13, 1956, he will learn with dismay, in Kabylie, the death of Commander Leblanc in a road accident in Planquery, in Calvados. “The Peugeot 203 van has officially missed a so-called corner,” says Christian Masson. The car, which according to the testimonies, was traveling on the left, would have climbed a ravine, crossed a strip of land before falling into another ditch: “In a place where Robert used to go every week! For me, who normally should have been by his side if he hadn’t been summoned, he was killed before and we made up this scene as an accident. The investigation also concluded that there was an accident”, reports, more than skeptical, Christian Masson.

A big fan of football and boxing, Robert Leblanc used to take Christian to the Saint-Lô boxing gym to see the great Roland Friley, former Pont-Audemer coach. And to quote again the adepts of the noble art who were Pierre Langloiswho competed in the World Championships against Carl Bobo Olson, Les Bayant, Beaumait, Tirrel, Letellier, Ceustermans.

But there were also nights in Vire with resistance fighters from the Maquis Guillaume le Conquérant commanded by Monsieur Van den Bucke, meetings with Chief Mazeline or Captains Viel Bob Bernier and Grégoire in Flers: “All this to tell you that I had a very difficult with Robert’s departure. I was very sorry for his disappearance”, continues Christian, who, in 1958, resumed his work at the Fonderie des Ardennes, in Pont-Audemer, before setting up a thriving painting company in the early 1960s. : “Following a very serious accident in Louviers , and a seven-meter fall on the head, I had to stop this activity”, concludes the one who is still literally captivated by the “Chef”, and who later acquired a sports shop in Pont-Audemer.

From our correspondent Pierre Lecocq

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