Anyone who visits the town of Descartes in the South Touraine surly can not help but be impressed by the sight of the majestic River Creuse with its ten-arched bridge and the remarkable memorial on the Descartes side dedicated to local resistance fighters who died in 1944.
The interpretation board on the Desartes side of the bridge says, in English:
“Le Pont de la Resistance
Le Pont (Bridge) Henri IV, with ten arches which spans the River Creuse has always held a strategic position: a crossing point between the North and South (the Santiago de Compostela road, then the road from Paris to Bordeaux), the border between Touraine and Poitou, the frontier between L’Indre-et-Loire and Vienne, and a demarcation line until 11th November 1942; for this reason, but also because of flooding, it has been destroyed many times.
Its existence is acknowledged from as early as 1358, and one of the arches on the right bank dates, in fact, from the XIVth Century.
During the Wars of Religions a royal decree ordered that it be demolished in 1569 to stop the advance of the Protestants.
It received the name “Pont Henry IV” in memory of the journey to La Haye of the future king of France on 4th March 1589, following the conciliation treaty of Châtellerault; the king of Navarre had already come close to this town with rather less peaceful intentions (siege of 1587), but had been unable to enter it.
The Pont Henry IV had both political and economic importance, because it was situated at the very centre of important river trade: shipping, mills, fishing, tolls for men and goods, salt dealing, and more recently, a dam, factories and reservoirs for leisure pursuits.
Regularly weakened by flooding, and dangerously narrow, it was enlarged in 1848 on the Vienne side, and not until 1908 on the Indre-et-Loire side.
During the Second World War it had an important role to play: in fact on 22nd June 1940 the retreating French troops mined one part of the bridge. Two arches were destroyed on the Indre-et-Loire side (Descartes). On 31st August 1944 the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (F.F.I.) blew up the bridge on the Vienne side (Buxeuill), perhaps saving La Haye-Descartes from the massacre identical to the one at Maillé. The leader of this act of resistance was Henri Blanchet, a member of the local Conty-Freslon network. The Quai Couratin immortalises the memory of one of his young companions-in-arms who was killed during the liberation of the town. This monument sculpted by Madame Paulette Richon is dedicated to the partisans killed during these battles in 1944. After the Liberation a temporary footbridge was put up, and it wasn’t until 1958 that the Pont Henri IV was restored to its present condition.”
The Conty-Freslon Network was named after the two leading resistance fighters, Michel Conty and Emile Freslon. Both these heros of the Liberation were captured in a Nazi ambush, tortured and killed in the woods of Kerleroux at Dolus-le-Sec (north of Descartes and to the East of Manthelan) on 27th July, 1944.
As well as Freslon and Conty other members of the network were also killed:
Pierre Marcou, August 20, 1944. Jacques Martin, August 28, 1944.
Pierre Couratin, l September 1944. Joseph Talhouane, l September 1944.
Marcel Destouches, l September 1944. Eugene Lavau, l September 1944.
Andre Guilbert, September 20, 1944. Jean Croizet, September 24, 1944.
Serge Lambert, October 13, 1944. Roland d’Humières, October 15, 1944.
Rene Riviere, October 15, 1944. Emile Laurent, October 15, 1944.
Georges Soret, November 23, 1944. Charles Dorigny, January 17, 1945.
Guy Vaufleury, March 2, 1945. Rene Monnier, March 4, 1945.
Jean Lecomte, April 14, 1945. Henry Rudolf, April 21, 1945.
Plus an unknown buried in Loches, as No. 4.