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The forgotten French

Exiles in the British Isles 1940–44

Nicholas Atkin

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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Janet Wolff

Isle of Man. The ‘internment of aliens’ – a peculiar and rather hysterical measure taken by the British government after Dunkirk. He had only been married for four months. But I suspect he really enjoyed the ironic freedom of that year. This is my father as an alien. He is alien to Britain and to English culture. Surrounded by those who are not alien to him, he is captured in an alien environment. And this image of him as the central figure is one which is entirely alien to me. His existence on the edges of my childhood, his refusal to engage with me or to challenge

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Robert Mackay

confounding of everyone’s expectations. If there was a problem of public morale it was nothing like that anticipated and prepared for. The Phoney War turned out to be but the first of four phases in the evolution of the problem, each phase having its distinct characteristics. After the eight months of relative inactivity there came a period of momentous events: the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, the collapse of France, the threat of invasion, the Battle of Britain. This was followed by a period from September 1940 to May 1941 when London and

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Nicholas Atkin

London. The British government had serious doubts about the reliability of French servicemen and their worth in battle. Yet, as will be seen, the reasons behind the failure to rally were far more complicated; and it is significant that the attitudes of many exiled servicemen reflected those of their comrades-in-arms in metropolitan France.8 Arriving: Narvik, Dunkirk, Compiègne and Oran In explaining why large numbers of French servicemen were to be found in Britain during the summer of 1940, it is necessary to read the roll call of Narvik, Dunkirk, Compiègne (where the

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Series:

Christine E. Hallett

Chirurgical Mobile No. 1.23 In June 1915, La Motte found herself under bombardment at Dunkirk whilst en route from Paris to Rousbrugge. She decided to ‘kill time’ by writing an account of her experiences for the popular American journal The Atlantic Monthly. Her writing is vivid and 79 Independent ladies immediate; she informs the reader that she is describing events as they unfold, in an attempt to calm her nerves, adding that ‘as each shell strikes I  spring back to the window, and my chair falls backwards, while the others laugh’.24 Her article was published five

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Robert Mackay

of the Dunkirk operation, for example, was like a parody of blinkered, partisan triumphalism. The images of British withdrawal were unavoidable, of course, but the blaring patriotic music, accompanied by the sound of exploding shells, implied that breast beating was not in order. On the contrary, Dunkirk was an occasion for celebration, as the commentary made clear: ‘A miracle of fighting genius … most brilliant withdrawal in military history … the navy has earned our undying gratitude, the army is undefeated, its spirit unbroken … shots taken entirely at random

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Robert Mackay

in the much-quoted final words of his English History 1914–1945, he chose to focus again on the ordinary people: ‘This was a people’s war. Not only were their needs considered. They themselves wanted to win … they remained a peaceful and civilized people, tolerant, patient, and generous … Few now sang “Land of Hope and Glory”. Few even sang “England Arise”. England had risen all the same.’11 Arthur Marwick, writing in 1968, was in step with the prevailing tendency to treat the matter of civilian morale as uncontroversial, adding merely that although the ‘Dunkirk

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Series:

Christine E. Hallett

episode as if it were part of an adventure story is striking, and is typical of this genre of war writing.18 Following the German occupation, Millicent and her party were escorted on foot to Brussels – a long and difficult journey; but Millicent claims to have shrugged it off as no further than she might walk ‘in a day’s golfing’. From Brussels they returned home by car and boat via Rotterdam.19 32 Heroines in Belgium and Serbia By 23 October, Millicent was back on the Continent. The ‘Millicent Sutherland Ambulance Car Convoy’ landed in Dunkirk and established a 100

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Part II: Flanders

‘Eigen volk eerst!’

Cas Mudde

or to be elected to public office (Gijsels 1 North Flanders refers to the Dutch speaking part of Belgium (i.e. Flanders), South Flanders to a small part in the Northwestern region of France (around cities like Dunkirk and Lille). chap4 28/5/02 13.32 Page 83 The extreme right in Flanders 83 1992: 41). In the first few years after the war, most of the former collaborators confined their activities to charitable pursuits, especially on behalf of former soldiers who had served on the Eastern Front, for example in the Vlaams Verbond der Oud

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Nicholas Atkin

preserve their preferred anonymity. The diversity of the French communities raises a further observation: few of these men and women had chosen to be in Britain. These were not ‘resisters of the first hour’, who had rallied to the appel of 18 June, undertaking a hazardous exit from France by travelling across the Pyrenees to Spain or taking their chance on foreign-registered steamers to Glasgow or Liverpool. Refugees were in Britain by happenstance, driven across the Channel along with retreating British and French troops at Dunkirk. Most other refugees who had