The guerrillas of Europe: 'In Search of the Maquis: Rural Resistance in Southern France 1942-1944' - H R Kedward: OUP, 35 pounds

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The Independent Culture
WE ARE accustomed to thinking of the Liberation of France in terms of Leclerc's armoured division entering Paris and de Gaulle striding down the Champs-Elysees. The crowds cheered, the soldiers were embraced and a few women accused of sleeping with Germans had their hair shaved by patriotic fellow citizens. The images are dominant. But what happened elsewhere in France? As the allies landed on the Normandy coast in June 1944, what, in particular, was happening in the high hills and mountains of the south? It is this question that Roderick Kedward answers in a book that is not only remarkably well documented but also perceptive and moving.

It is a complex story that begins with the stirrings of disobedience in the south in the second half of 1942. The village squares and rural towns that had until then escaped German persecution began to experience these horrors as the Vichy government agreed to send French workers into Germany, and the Germans occupied the whole of French territory after the allied landings in North Africa. But even before these important turning-points, many sections of the population had shown a courageous hostility to the Germans and to Vichy. The Protestants of the Cevennes, for example, with their long tradition of independence and of sympathy for minorities, had already provided refuge to many Jews and other escapees. Nor were they likely to be receptive to those bishops who advised young men to go and work in German factories because to do so would be in their own interests.

Prefects were soon reporting that when Vichy officials were sent to address a peasant audience, the words 'National Revolution' evoked only laughter. Kedward clearly shows that the old idea, held by many Resistance leaders in 1942, and repeated by countless historians since, that the towns were rebellious and the countryside Petainist and inert, is not true.

The struggle of those who took to the remote hills and who based themselves in caves, disused farm buildings or specially constructed camps in dense forests, was essentially a community phenomenon. The maquis, as they were called, the 'men of the woods' who could escape the Germans, were dispersed and fragmented, usually in small numbers. But the villages that supported them were subjected to the most savage German reprisals, in some of which members of the French milice played their role. From the many interviews on which this book is based we learn of the importance of women in the Resistance. Without them, we are told, these movements would not have existed. The children were also important. One witness says that he never heard of a single person who had been put in danger by a child's indiscretion. It is a remarkable story.

But it is not always a harmonious one. Different Resistance units were in competition with each other, and each had to decide whether its job was simply to destroy German communications and kill German soldiers, or to establish itself as a sort of alternative counter-government and aspire to more conventional forms of power. There was always frustration. And, for many, the Liberation was a terrible disappointment. Sometimes when Kedward spoke to a group of former maquis, they would disagree among themselves and ask for the recording to be destroyed. For some, the return to normal life and jobs was made more difficult by the fact that they had been in the maquis.

But there are picturesque anecdotes, too. One priest in the Tarn used to supply the local maquis with food, travelling in a lorry driven by a Spanish Republican. One day his driver said to him: 'I can't believe it. Here I am driving a cure around, when a few years ago I was killing cures in Spain.'