In 1948 Lorraine Murray, the subject of my book Shanghai Demimondaine, became indirectly acquainted with Myrtle Jones, the Australian wife of Louis Darquier. Darquier was the former Vichy regime’s ‘Commissioner General for Jewish Questions’ and thus responsible for crimes against humanity on a very large scale. During the war Myrtle had lived a life of ease in Paris and later joined her husband in Franco’s Spain, where he had been given political refuge. And yet despite Darquier’s role in the Holocaust, Lorraine – prompted by her friendship for Myrtle’s sister – actually sympathised with the couple.
During my research into Lorraine Murray, I came across several strange tales that wound up on the cutting room floor. This is one of them.
In 1948 Lorraine was living in England with Emily Hahn and her husband, the historian and former military intelligence officer Charles Boxer. And now she became an interested spectator of the travails of the Marquise de Pellepoix, otherwise known as Myrtle Jones, the sister of her great friend Hazel Jones.
Lorraine had met Hazel when they were both working in Brisbane in early 1945. Hazel was a few years older than Lorraine, and she had obtained a Masters degree from Melbourne University before travelling to Europe in 1935. In 1939 she had taken a job as an au pair in Hamburg in order to improve her German, and had escaped to France just before the outbreak of war. When Lorraine met her, Hazel was working for the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB), the Brisbane-based umbrella organization which coordinated Allied intelligence collection and special operations in the South West Pacific Theatre. To be selected for the AIB Hazel would have had to acquire a top secret clearance and display a high degree of ideological commitment to the anti-Fascist cause.
The story of Hazel’s sister Myrtle is told at length in Carmen Callil’s book Bad Faith (2006), in which Callil comments: ‘Money, preferably unearned, was a god to Myrtle’. In the 1920s Myrtle had been trying her luck on the London stage when she had met and married (bigamously – she was already married) the French fascist Louis Darquier, and it was on the basis of his (unfounded) aristocratic pretensions that she styled herself the Marquise de Pellepoix. In 1928 the newlyweds visited Myrtle’s family in Australia, and Louis’ Parisian charm proved so effective that all three of Myrtle’s sisters became ‘besotted’ (Callil’s word) with him – which helps explain Hazel’s attitude later on.
During the war, Darquier became the Vichy regime’s Commissioner General for Jewish Questions. In July 1942 he played a key role in organizing the mass arrest and deportation of French Jews in Paris – now known as the ‘Vel d’Hiv Roundup’. For her part, Myrtle spent the war in a comfortable alcoholic haze in Paris. After the liberation of France, Darquier found refuge in Franco’s Spain, where Myrtle would join him. Then in December 1947 he was tried in absentia in Paris and condemned to death: covering his trial, the French newspaper Le Matin had proclaimed that the hearings had ‘brought back to life the martyrdom of all the Jews during the Occupation’.
Soon afterwards Lorraine and her great friend Hazel were reunited in England – Hazel having just returned from a visit to her sister in Madrid. She and the Jones family in Australia took the view that Louis was a decent man who’d had an unfortunate time in the war and was now being unjustly blamed for other people’s mistakes, and that Myrtle had simply stood by her man. One wonders if they later watched The Sorrow and The Pity, Marcel Ophuls’ 1969 exposé of French collaboration with the Nazis, in which Darquier appears shaking the hand of SS chief Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the ‘Final Solution’.
Hazel shared the story of Myrtle with Lorraine, who relayed it in letters to her mother Laura. Despite the upheaval caused by a decade of global conflict, their circle maintained an astonishing deference to social rank, particularly when garbed in aristocratic robes (British for preference, but European would do). However disreputable Myrtle’s career, however stomach-churning Louis Darquier’s actions, these were somehow ameliorated or even absolved by the fact that they he was a Marquis. Except that he wasn’t.
In Hazel’s case, kinship, snobbery, and the memory of Darquier’s charm overrode all other considerations; in Lorraine’s case, friendship and snobbery had the same effect. In her letters to her mother, Lorraine treats the Darquiers as celebrities, deserving of every sympathy. In the wake of his trial, she commented that while Darquier was unable to leave Spain, ‘at least his life is spared’. When Hazel showed Lorraine a recent photo of Myrtle, she expected to see ‘a bedraggled refugee whom I had resolved to feel sorry for’; instead she saw a ‘tres chic, tres gai, femme du monde with quite the “New Look” about her’ – Dior having introduced his classic ‘New Look’ collection in 1947.
This was the period of the early Cold War; the Berlin Crisis was in the offing and many thought that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable. To meet the threat the Western democracies began to muster their military and political strength, and among the casualties of this mobilisation was the pursuit and prosecution of Nazi war criminals and collaborators, which was relegated to a low priority. And so, when Lorraine concluded by saying that while the Darquiers were currently ‘living more or less underground they’ll probably be able to come up for fresh air soon, as Spain is going to be quite respected again …’ it was a prescient comment. The Americans wanted Spain in the Western anti-communist alliance, and Franco’s harbouring of war criminals wasn’t going to get in the way. Within a few years Washington would sign a military pact with Madrid.
Myrtle died in 1970; her funeral was attended by a representative from the Australian Embassy. Darquier himself lived peacefully in Spain for another 10 years, working as a translator and denying the Holocaust.