Love and War in the Pyrenees, By Rosemary Bailey

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The Independent Culture

When Rosemary Bailey and her husband fell in love with Corbiac abbey in the Pyrenees, they bought it and decided to settle there. They also found a set of love letters written by a French couple who'd lived there 50 years before, and this cache set Bailey off on an investigation of the area's recent history. What she uncovered was the effect of that precursor to the Second World War, the Spanish Civil War, as the Pyrenees saw hundreds of Republicans flee Franco's troops over the mountains and into France, only to be driven back over the mountains a few years later by those acting under Petain's orders once the Vichy government was set up in the wake of France's defeat by Hitler.

The region's history is packed full, then, of treachery, heroism, death and new life: all the extremes, and in the middle, a newly married couple, Pierre and Amelie, trying to make their new life work.

Bailey squirrels out of reluctant locals the kind of history France doesn't like, about the lack of help offered to Spanish refugees and the quiet acceptance of German rule, to show a lack of national unity that she compares unfavourably to Britain's attitude during the war.

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