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Letter: Short memories of ungrateful French

JOHN LICHFIELD writes ("How easy it is to forget our friendship", 14 November) that the French honour our war dead, but they certainly do not give Britain credit for saving them twice in this century from German onslaught. In part this is, of course, because of their own terrible losses in the Kaiser's war, and also some amour-propre is understandable. What is a constant irritation is an inability to acknowledge their grave betrayal of their loyal ally in 1940 when, in breach of the very undertaking they themselves had insisted upon, they agreed terms of surrender without consulting their ally.

The manner of the French defeat in June 1940 was compounded by the French government blaming their own collapse on the British withdrawal from Dunkirk, a view vigorously pushed by the Vichy government and never subsequently disowned. It in fact forms a basic part of their school textbooks. The truth was, however, acknowledged at the meeting in Paris between Winston Churchill and Paul Reynaud, when Churchill asked how the French prime minister would explain to his people their defeat, and Reynaud indicated it would be blamed on the British. Churchill said, "But you know this is not true," and the Frenchman replied by shrugging his shoulders, saying, "What else is there to do?"

From Britain's point of view the postwar amity of France and Germany must be welcome. But it is an unnecessary impediment that France is unable to acknowledge the importance of Britain to her this century, without which she would not have any claim to be an important power.


London SW6