Meet the only women’s unit on the European front of WWII: A group of French ambulance drivers that helped save soldiers from Normandy to Berchtesgaden
The group – named the Rochambeau Group after the revolutionary-era count who led French troops to assist the Americans – eventually numbered more than 50 women, working amongst the 15,000 men of the French 2nd Armored Division. Initially, they met with hostility and resentment from the men, who did not want women in their army. Ignoring the jeers and jibes, they learned to break down truck engines and detect mines, tie a tourniquet and march in parade drill. By the time they sailed for England in May 1944, the Rochambelles were an accepted part of the division. When U.S. Army officials tried to block them from the transport ship, division commander General Leclerc declared: “They’re not women, they’re ambulance drivers!”
In the snow in Alsace: Michette de Steinheil, Anne-Marie Davion, Raymond Worms (a nurse) and Crapette Demay
Rochambelles at the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Paris
On August 25, 2004, French President Jacques Chirac welcomed veterans of the 2nd Armored Division at the Place de la Concorde for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Paris. Several Rochambelles were there, as in 1944. Rochambelle Rosette Trinquet Peschaud was promoted to the rank of Grand Officer in the National Order of Merit for her post-war work with the 2nd Division’s veterans’ organization. She had to wear it on her lower jacket pocket; her chest already was covered with medals given for her work during the war.
Rosette Trinquet Peschaud and her Grand Croix
Women of Valor: the Rochambelles on the WWII Front, New York and London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006. All photographs used with permission from the Mémorial du Maréchal Leclerc de Hauteclocque, Musée Jean Moulin, Ville de Paris.