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Cahors. An American in the footsteps of her father, parachuted into the Lot during the 2nd World War

Donna Wikeman, surrounded by Tina, Isabel and Anthony, Cyril Watney’s nephews, with Emmanuel Carrère from the Heritage Department of Cahors and Jean-Luc Couderc from the Resistance Museum (left) and M Soulié, President of the Museum Association of the Resistance (right).

Donna Wikeman arrived in France from Louisiana in the United States on June 23, 2022, in order to go back in time in the footsteps of his father, William Hawk-Danielsentered into the memory of the Resistance of the Lot under the name of Captain Dick.

American soldier, member of the special forces, he was a captain in the 506th parachute infantry regiment of the 101st airborne division during the Second World War.

After having had an ongoing correspondence for a year and a half with the members of the association of the Museum of the Resistance in Cahorsin order to compile information on her father and on the actions of resistance groups in the Lot, Donna wished to come in person to the lands her father walked on.

And she did not come empty-handed, since she brought back her father’s mission order, which allowed the Resistance Museum to go further in the history of the Lot Resistance.

Parachuted into the Lot in July 44

Born in Louisiana, William Hawk-Daniels grew up in the southwest of this American state where French-speaking Cajuns live. The soldier, who therefore spoke French, had volunteered to work in the Special Services, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, American intelligence agency, ancestor of the CIA) during the Second World War. Stationed in England at the time of the landing in June 1944, the one who took the military code name Captain Dick was then parachuted into the Lot on the night of July 29-30, 1944.

At that time, the soldiers who were parachuted into the French countryside, often alone or in pairs, had to have some notions of the French language. He landed on the “birch” field at a place called “Mansergue” between Carennac and Miers where today a stele still commemorates this episode of the Second World War.

Donna in front of the commemorative plaque on the airdrop ground in Carennac in the Lot, in July 2022.
Donna in front of the commemorative plaque on the airdrop ground in Carennac in the Lot, in July 2022. (©JL.C.)

sabotage missions

Captain Dick’s mission was to join the British SOE (Special Operations Executive – special forces) and the Lotoise Resistance. This summer of 1944, the parachute drops made it possible to better arm the French maquis. The parachuted SEO and OSS members had to join the maquisards in order to train them in the handling of these weapons.

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Captain Dick then became an instructor in the maquis of the south of the Lot not only for the handling of weapons, but also that of explosives as well as for tactical actions. And he fought alongside the maquisards.

“He wasn’t just an instructor,” says Donna Wikeman. He participated in the sabotage of the road bridges of Lascabanes, Saint-Pantaléon de Lhospitalet. He also cut the underground telephone cable that linked Cahors to Montauban”.

Captain Dick was also present for the liberation of Cahors on August 17, 1944, where he had an altercation which almost turned tragic with another leader of the Lot resistance, “Ramon”, whose real name was Jean Geschwin. The Hammer. The two men quarreled and failed to settle their accounts by a gun duel for 5 liters of gasoline, with the background of the rivalry between the different groups of Resistance fighters (FTPF for Ramon and Vény for Captain Dick)… After the liberation from Cahors, Captain Dick was sent to Carmaux in the Tarn, one of the hot spots in the sector due to the presence of a refinery.

On September 17, 1944, Captain Dick returned to London. He continued in the army and was stationed in Germany. After the war, in 1952, during a stay in France, he went to Paris but also to Cahors with his wife. He had also returned to the Lot for the 50th anniversary of the Liberation in 1994. “This period of his life in the Lot was important for him”, explains Donna Wikeman. “The people with whom he fought have always remained in his memory, and I grew up with this story” she continues, fully aware of the importance of the action of her father and all the Resistants.

Links to Captain Watney

Chance of life, Donna Wikeman met in Cahors on July 27, in front of the premises of the association of the Resistance Museum, the family of Captain Cyril Watney, comrade of her father who also parachuted into the Lot in 1944… Captain Watney’s British nephews, on vacation in the Lot in July 2022, did not know Donna, and yet Cyril Watney was close, and even attended Donna Wikeman’s wedding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Cyril Watney and George Hiller were parachuted together into the Lot on January 7, 1944, on the same ground as Captain Dick in Carennac. Members of the British SEO, their mission was to make a radio link between the Lot and London. In August 1944, Georges Hiller was with André Malraux, who was then trying to head a maquis in the south-west, and Georges Collignon, leader of the Vény Groups in the Lot. In Gramat, their car is ambushed. Malraux, dressed as a British soldier, is then treated like a soldier, Georges Collignon for his part manages to escape but Georges Hiller, seriously injured, cannot follow him. Despite the difficulties in caring for him, he refused to be repatriated to England. An operating room is improvised in a presbytery not far from Carennac, with a young doctor, two scalpels, ether and a lot of hooch… Cyril Witney then asks the network for drugs to be able to treat Georges Hiller and it is… Captain Dick who will bring the basket with the equipment to take care of it…

Today, said basket was recovered by the association of the Cahors Resistance Museum (our photo), donated with other war effects by George Hiller.

After the war, Cyril Watney and William Hawk-Daniels remained close, visiting each other several times despite the distance. They had also met for the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Liberation in the Lot. Donna and Cyril’s family, very touched by this unexpected meeting, are already beginning to talk about future reunions around their family stories with the Cahors Resistance Museum and the objects that will be exhibited there when it reopens…

This is how the little story joins the Big…

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