Occupied territory: France under the jackboot

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org - France war history– Verdun - World War I

Some Anglo Saxons still believe that France threw in the sponge too quickly in World War II, and numerous jokes still circulate to rub salt into the wound:

“Why do French tanks come with more reverse gears than forward gears?”

“In case they’re attacked from the front.”

And, “What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands up?” 

“The French Army.”

However, we should never forget that France was occupied from mid-1940 to the Liberation in 1944, and the Nazis were invariably in filthy moods and completely unpredictable. This made the years of Occupation long, dark and dangerous. Here are some insights:

1. Hero of the Resistance

Nerac is a spectacularly beautiful medieval town in the heart of Gascony. The 12th century Chateau of Henry IV looks down onto a cluster of multi-coloured canal boats moored in the river port.

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org -France war history - Jacques Chantre

On Saturday mornings, the extensive market provides a wide range of wonderful local produce that the area is famous for. Fois gras, armagnac, floc, rillettes, confit, magret and all kinds of other regional delights are there in all their glory.  Read more…

2. Reprisals in the Ardeche

The Gorges de l’Ardèche draw over a million visitors each year. Colloquially known as the European Grand Canyon, a beautiful road with spellbinding views runs for 30 kilometers along the edge of this deep crevasse between Vallon Pont d’Arc and Saint Martin d’Ardèche. (The latter village is officially listed as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). Read more…

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org – France war history– les Gorges de l'Ardèche

3. France war history – death toll in WWI & WWIIMyFrenchLife™ – Ray Johnstone – Petanquer - World War I - MyFrenchLife.org

The total death toll in the two World Wars is estimated to be 98 million. Here are some of the voices of the deceased, whispering from a page of poetry:

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie.

In Flanders fields.

Read more…

4. Liberation of Paris

It was a hot night in 2003. As the world sat mesmerised in front of their TVs watching the horrifying pictures of the Allies attacking Bagdad, I was at dinner with a group of Anglo Saxons in la France profonde.

A lively debate ensued. One of the guests I hardly knew leaned towards me and asked smugly, “But it’s about time we taught these bastards a lesson, don’t you think?”

MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org - France war history - Defending Paris

I managed to duck the question. The Middle East was forgotten for a while and we went on with the meal: entrée of duck rillettes, followed by duck confit and then croustade – a dessert made with a duck fat-based pastry. No prizes for guessing that I live in Gascony.

But later that evening, my fellow guest picked up this theme again… Read more.

5. Das Reich near Bonaguil

Tom Lawrence brought his bike to France and cycled to Le Chateau de Bonaguil in the Lot et Garonne in 1908. This was the start of his research into medieval chateaux for a thesis he submitted to Jesus College, Oxford, and for which he was awarded a first-class degree.

MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org -France war history - Bonaguil in all of it's glory

He then went on to study many more castles in the Middle East, before, as Lawrence of Arabia in WWI, he eventually led the Arabs to victory over the Ottomans at Aqaba.

At Bonaguil the construction of the first castle started in 1259. Over the years, several bloody battles saw it attacked and raised several times. Rebuilding and refurbishments continued to be made right up to the 18thcentury. Read more…

Have you or your family had experience of France under occupation in the 1940’s or visited the important sites in France more recently? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

Image credits:
1. ‘Nerac (Lot-et-Garonne)’, by Alpat, via flickr.
2. ‘Reserve Naturelle des Gorges de l’Ardeche’, Armin S Kowalski via Flickr
3. ‘Prisoner’s barracks dachau’, via wikimedia commons
4. Paris World War II, via wikipedia 
5.Chateau at Bonaguil by Bert Kaufmann via 

About the Contributor

Ray Johnstone

Ray is an artist & writer. His favourite subjects are nudes and portraits. Art holidays for groups & families are catered for in their 800-year-old house La Petite Galerie in Gascony. They also take up to 6 walkers on the 'best bits' of the Pilgrims Route to Compostela. Check out Ray's 100+ articles - he has his own column called 'Perspectives'

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