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Bill Thayer

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France at War
in the 20th century

This orientation page does not pretend to organize a wide-ranging, in‑depth site: but it does collect a number of witnesses, usually first-hand, to the First and Second World Wars as lived by the French. The texts are in French 
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			or English 
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[image ALT: A stylized line drawing of a World War I biplane against some cumulus clouds. Taken from the binding of the hardcover book, it serves as the icon on this site for the book 'The First Yale Unit'.]

The somber days of World War I, the heroic resistance of Dunkirk, the Franco-American coöperation thruout the territory of France: much of it is told in Chapters 27‑32 and 37‑40 of The First Yale Unit — a book about American naval aviation during that war, but most of it was based in France: how could one write about that subject without touching on French history?

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			 [ 10 webpages with many photographs
— each of them marked  in the Table of Contents there ]

[image ALT: A head-and-shoulders portrait of a young woman in uniform against a solid background with a striped bar running down the left side. She is Bessy Myers, author of 'Captured', an account of her captivity in France in the early days of World War II. The design serves as my icon for this book thruout my site.]

Bessy Myers' Captured tells her story as a British ambulance driver in the Mechanised Transport Service, working in France in the early days of World War II: her capture by Germans at the front, her work in the military hospital of Soissons, her captivity in the notorious Cherche-Midi prison in Paris, and how she finally got back to England. It includes a gripping account of the exodus of soldiers and civilians before the German juggernaut in June 1940, some terrible scenes of suffering, and many revealing vignettes of life in wartime France. Soberly told, often in her own contemporaneous diary; one of the five or six best books on my site.

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			 [ primary source: 314 pages of print
— 14 webpages, 1 photograph, 1 map ]

[image ALT: A photograph of a sprig of laurel on a dark background. The design serves thruout my site as my icon for Margaret Hughes' book 'Les lauriers sont coupés'.]

Less dramatic, but springing from the same altruistic impulse, is the story told (in French) by Margaret Hughes in Les lauriers sont coupés: the author left a comfortable life in New York City to go to France as a volunteer refugee relief worker in the shifting war zone, where she did sometimes dangerous work for which she would eventually be decorated by the French government. As she puts it, she saw the "Phony War," lived thru the entire Blitzkrieg, and stayed among the French in the Nazi-occupied zone for several weeks after the Armistice.

[image ALT: The French flag.]
			 [ primary source: 251 pages of print
— 4 webpages ]

[ALT de l'image : A signature on a background consisting of a very darkened French flag. The design serves thruout my site as my icon for Robert de Saint‑Jean's book 'Démocratie, beurre et canons'.]

Démocratie, beurre et canons is a slice of the diary kept by Robert de Saint‑Jean during the Sitzkrieg, from October 9, 1939 thru the final debacle on June 17, 1940. In it the author asks himself "How could this have come to happen to us?", and finds his answer in the vigor of Nazism unchecked by democracy, in the softening‑up of France by a calculated German propaganda perpetrated as early as 1933, and in the weakness of a system of government under France's Third Republic which favored the legislative branch over the executive.

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			 [ primary source: 367 pages of print
— 10 webpages ]

[image ALT: The words 'Été 1940' in a double line border. The design serves thruout my site as my icon for André Morize's book 'France Été 1940'.]

Harvard professor André Morize found himself unexpectedly in the thick of the French retreat from the Blitzkrieg; he wrote a book about what he saw from June to September, 1940, titling it France : Été 1940 and adding reflections of various sorts, mostly to the effect that France's cultural values will both save her and make her worth saving.

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			 [ primary source: 230 pages of print
— 13 webpages ]

[image ALT: A photographic portrait, three-quarters right, of a man of middle age, with a moustache, in a military uniform and wearing the French képi. He is the French general Henri Giraud. The image serves as my icon for his book 'Mes Evasions' thruout my site : it is an autobiographical account of his three escapes from his country's enemies, one in World War I and two in World War II.]

General Henri Giraud, a tenacious soldier but above all a French patriot, escaped from wartime captivity three times (once in World War I and twice in World War II) in order to get back to the French army and fight the Germans — or the French collaborationists of the Vichy government. After World War II, he wrote Mes évasions, an account of those escapes which is every bit as good as his feats were extraordinary.

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			 [ primary source: 254 pages of print
— 5 webpages ]

[image ALT: A posed photograph, profile right, of a man of middle age in a military uniform, wearing a mustache, seated at a desk. He is French General Henri Giraud, whose North African service in World War II is the subject of this book.]

G. Ward Price's Giraud and the African Scene is a solid account of the Allied landings and campaign in North Africa in 1942‑1943, focusing on the leader­ship of General Henri Giraud. The author was an eyewitness to many of the events he records; the book was published in 1944, while the war was still going on.

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			 [ primary source: 282 pages of print
— 14 webpages ]

Onsite link

One of the journal articles listed in my American History Notes page belongs here as well:

My Year in Europe as a Prisoner of War: a downed American pilot tells how he was hustled to freedom thru occupied Belgium and France by men and women of the Resistance, at the peril of their lives.

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			 [ 20 pages of print ]

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The background of the icon I use for this section of my site is taken from my icon for the History of the Second World War.

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Page updated: 19 Jun 21