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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.

The Vichy consulates

Vichy’.59 Thought had been given to expelling these straightaway given that British consular staff had been ousted from French colonies in North and West Africa, as well as in the unoccupied zone. Their stay of execution rested on the needs of those large numbers of French who were based in the British Isles. In 1941, the Foreign Office recorded that consulates were open in London, Liverpool, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Cardiff, Swansea and Edinburgh, together with representation in other large towns, some 15 consular offices in total.60 The numbers of consular officials and

in The forgotten French
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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
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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
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Communities, circumstances and choices

The organisation of the book revolves around the dual themes that dominated the lives of the ‘forgotten French’: community and circumstance. In the midst of my research, it became clear that while many of the groups often intermixed – for instance, Gaullist troops sought passport advice from Vichyite consular officials in Bedford Square, intellectuals and refugees rubbed shoulders in Soho restaurants, and servicemen seeking repatriation frequently read anti-Pétainist propaganda devised by the general’s headquarters in Carlton Gardens – they also kept their distance

in The forgotten French

Second World War. The term originated in France, where General Pétain of the Vichy government announced that he would ‘enter into the way of collaboration’ in October 1940. After the liberation of France in 1944 the tide turned against collaborators. It was rumoured that over 100,000 were executed, although estimates now suggest a figure of some 10,000. There was no thorough purge of public officials needed to lead France

in The politics today companion to West European Politics