The museum at the bottom of the garden

Terry Brown visits an unusual French collection
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Indy Lifestyle Online
On the D147, half-way between Chatres-sur-Cher and La Ferte-Imbault, the forest suddenly thins and you come across what looks, at first glance, like an impressive chateau from the 18th century. The owner, though, will cheerfully tell you that the main building was constructed only about 100 years ago and, rather than showing you to a fine art collection of stately grandeur, he will take you to a collection of farm buildings.

You are unlikely to come to this place by chance. Nestling in the Sologne region of Loir-et-Cher, the small chateau of Douy is surrounded by forest, fields of sunflowers and artificial lakes. You come here with a purpose, for the farm outbuildings house a remarkable collection of artefacts from two world wars. These have been brought together by one man - Monsieur Patrice de la Rochefoucauld, the owner of the chateau.

According to his American wife, Monsieur Rochefoucauld has been a compulsive collector, with his energies focused on the two world wars. Over the last 25 years, he has amassed a huge collection and, as word spread, other people have brought objects to him. A week or two before our last visit, a neighbour (I use the term loosely; houses are sparse hereabouts) donated part of a Lancaster bomber wing that had been in his garden for half a century.

The result of all this is a museum which we thought showed more effectively than any other we had visited, what life for ordinary people was like in France during the wars.

The collection is displayed in a long raftered room stretching the full first-floor length of one of the old farm buildings which, together with the main house, make up an open quadrangle. There are no gimmicks. On one side of the room is the First World War; on the other is the Second World War.

In glass-topped cabinets are the medals, cap badges, insignia, belt buckles, hand weapons, all the paraphernalia of the soldiers on both sides of the struggles. But here also are the books of coupons, the identity cards, the passes - all the documents needed by people in their everyday lives.

Above, fastened to sloping ceilings, are some of the posters Monsieur Rochefoucauld has collected from both wars. They form an impressive display ofcrude propaganda. Smiling German officers hold French babies; the Vichy government urges acquiescence; call-up posters make explicit demands.

On a lectern is a book containing newspapers. These are the actual reports of the day, giving details of the events of the wars as they happened.

In the run up to the anniversary of D Day this Thursday, memories of war become all the more poignant. And the value of a place like this becomes all the greater. You'll have to wait, though, before coming to visit. The Douy chateau museum is open only on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (2-7pm) during July and August. You pay an entrance fee of about pounds 3 to Monsieur or a member of his family who will happily try to answer any of your questions, although for the most part, you'll find the exhibits hauntingly self-explanatory.

Douy is almost directly south of Orleans, about 350 km from Cherbourg, 300 km from Le Havre, and 520 km from Calais.

If you want to see other war memorabilia, Holt's Battlefield Tours (01304 612248) runs a number of holidays to places in Europe associated with the Second World War.

For more general information, contact the French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1 (0891 244123).

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