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Exiles in the British Isles 1940–44

It is widely assumed that the French in the British Isles during the Second World War were fully fledged supporters of General de Gaulle, and that, across the channel at least, the French were a ‘nation of resisters’. This study reveals that most exiles were on British soil by chance rather than by design, and that many were not sure whether to stay. Overlooked by historians, who have concentrated on the ‘Free French’ of de Gaulle, these were the ‘Forgotten French’: refugees swept off the beaches of Dunkirk; servicemen held in camps after the Franco-German armistice; Vichy consular officials left to cater for their compatriots; and a sizeable colonist community based mainly in London. Drawing on little-known archival sources, this study examines the hopes and fears of those communities who were bitterly divided among themselves, some being attracted to Pétain as much as to de Gaulle.

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, marked out by their clothes, inability to speak English and the stigma of measly state handouts. As MassObservation observed, they were especially conspicuous in shops where the French habit of prodding food to test its freshness before purchase was seen as evidence of greed and ‘wanting a lot for their money’.4 French servicemen likewise retained a separate identity, arrested in ports at the time of the Armistice, and soon gathered together in makeshift camps, principally in the north of England where they were visited by Vichy consular officials, another group whose

in The forgotten French
Open Access (free)
La colonie Française

instinct.207 In the words of one government report, he was a fifth columnist of the ‘worst sort’.208 Yet, like many other French institutions in London, because his church was colonised by a whole range of French – FGB and the Free French members as well as Vichy consular officials – something of the priest’s Vichy sympathies were diluted.209 After the war, the Church became a meeting place for Free French veterans, especially on Armistice Day when they commemorated fallen colleagues.210 Apart from Hinsley, other leading members of the Catholic hierarchy did their bit to

in The forgotten French