Remembering the Resistance Movement in Provence
In the centre of the pretty village of Saint Saturnin les Apt is a peaceful square (home to the vibrant Tuesday morning market), and to one side is a small garden area that sits in front of a stark stone wall, which is a memorial to the dramatic and devastating events that happened there on 1st July 1944.
The wall is one of the many memorials found across the area erected to remember those who paid the ultimate price for playing their part in the Resistance that rose against the Nazis during the Second World War. It seems hard to imagine that this quiet place was the scene of such violence just under 80 years ago. Continue reading here for Julie’s original post and photos.
Resistance Movement in the South
Women of the French Resistance
Keith and Val attended a talk in St Remy organized by the local historical society featuring two historians. The great Resistance leader Jean Moulin had a home in nearby St.-Andiol. He was a member of Charles de Gaulle’s government-in-exile in London. In 1942 he parachuted into the nearby Alpilles mountains, in the dead of night, to organize competing factions into what we now call the Resistance.
One of the questions addressed by the historians at the talk was, “how many women were in the Resistance?” It was thought that there were relatively few for a long time because the official figures compiled right after the war only counted armed fighters. These were predominately men, so the idea took hold that the Resistance was made up primarily of men.
In the 1980s, however, a wave of feminist historians forced a closer look at the question. Instead of asking, “Who carried a gun?” they asked the more appropriate question, “Who risked their lives?” This included couriers, nurses, those who fed and sheltered fighters, etc. While no definitive figures exist, it’s now clear that a large part of the Resistance was made up of women.
A few of these women are well-known, like the head of the Alliance network Marie-Madeleine Fourcade or the Resistance member Lucie Aubrac, but most names are lost to history.
Who Was Jean Moulin?
Jean Moulin was a crucial individual in the French Resistance movement. He was born on June 20, 1899, in the seaside town of Beziers in the Languedoc. This area of France is a peaceful place today, a destination for relaxing beach holidays. However, in the years when Jean Moulin was growing up in the region, it was far from tranquil. The population of Southern France suffered heavily from the effects of WWI. The area was a key supplier of food and wine for soldiers, followed by the Spanish Civil War.
Jean Moulin entered into politics between the two World Wars. He quickly rose to a senior level as préfet, the youngest in France in 1937. Whether it was his notoriety or a desire to get involved, he accepted the almost impossible task to attempt to unite five disparate resistance groups. Jean Moulin took on this responsibility in September 1941 after a meeting with General Charles de Gaulle in London. He parachuted back into France under cover of darkness on January 1, 1942, and began his work. Continue reading about the French Resistance Leader.
WWII Secret Landings in the Vaucluse
Tales of the French Resistance during World War II have an enduring appeal. The wooded paths and mountain plateaux in the Vaucluse made ideal terrain for the secret fight to liberate France, and clandestine airdrops of arms and agents by the British RAF are the stuff of legend around the Luberon valley.
A pride remains to this day in the achievements of fathers and grandfathers. In small villages, stories are still passed down in everyday conversation. The Resistance years are spoken about – to British, American and Canadian visitors – with considerable pride and a sense of shared history.
I had heard these stories about secret landings for years, without ever being sure where exactly they had taken place. I finally found confirmation in the memoir We Landed by Moonlight written by one of the RAF’s finest Special Operations pilots, Group Captain Hugh Verity. The centre of operations was a makeshift landing strip, code-named Spitfire, on a hidden plateau on the way to Sault’s great lavender fields. To disguise its length from the ever-vigilant Occupation authorities, a 200-yard long strip of lavender had been planted just over halfway down the ‘runway’ and, close to the end, a patch of potatoes. Continue reading the details of these secret landings by author Deborah Lawrenson.
French Resistance Reading List
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We Landed by Moonlight, Hugh Verity (revised edition, Crécy Publishing, 2000)
The Resistance, Matthew Cobb (Pocket Books, 2009)
Déricourt, The Chequered Spy, Jean Overton Fuller (Michael Russell, 1989)
French Resistance in Sussex, Barbara Bertram (Barnworks Publishing, 1995)
The Death of Jean Moulin, Biography of a Ghost, Patrick Marnham (John Murray, 2000)
La nuit d’Alexandre: René Char, l’ami et le résistant, Georges-Louis Roux (Grasset, 2003)
Feuillets d’Hypnos, René Char (Folioplus, 2007)
René Char, Selected Poems, edited by Mary Ann Caws and Tina Jolas (New Directions, 1992)
The Sea Garden, Deborah Lawrenson (HarperCollins USA and Orion UK, 2014)