“The” resistance fighter from Mons-Borinage, and much more
Obviously, one individual cannot by him- or herself sum up the complexities of resistance to the occupier in a strategically “sensitive” industrial region. Nevertheless, René Noël (1907-1987) seems to provide us with an ideal model for Mons.
Born in the industrial Borinage region and a child of authentic proletarians, René Noël rose, through hard work, to the intellectual and administrative middle class in the inter-war period. He taught at the Ecole moyenne de Mons and became head of an evening school while taking up the activities of a socialist unionist. Allying himself with the communist cause at the beginning of the Occupation (1941) due to his visceral hostility towards the occupier, he quickly became a senior official of the Front de l’Indépendance in his region and then throughout the province (end of 1942), before being appointed to the national leadership of the Front from 1943 onwards.
As such, he was one of the creators of the Faux Soir, a well-orchestrated parody of the main collaborationist daily newspaper, which made the whole of Belgium laugh at the expense of the Nazis and their local supporters. Once the country was liberated, he worked as a senior executive in the ministries managed by the communists before holding a series of political mandates, either as a municipal councillor and alderman, or as a provincial councillor and senator (1950-1974).
Faithful to his party – while being cautiously critical of its “Stalinist” tendencies – and well-established in his region, he succeeded in pursuing both an honourable professional career (as director of the Ecole industrielle et commerciale de Cuesmes/Mons) and a no less honourable political career, striving even in the early 1970s to set up, with the Union Démocratique et Progressiste, a vast “leftist” confederation to try to revitalize his dear Borinage. If this attempt at political renewal turned out to be short-lived, René Noel, an undeniably courageous, imaginative and strong-willed character, maintained the esteem of his fellow citizens to the very end and well beyond communist circles.
With the help of Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles and in partnership with CEGE-SOMA.