Today is the anniversery of the German Invasion of France (& Belgium and Holland) in 1940. This sunday like in almost every village and town and city in France the 8th May VE day is celebrated,
My interest in the story of the French defeat in May and June 1940 is profound as an Englishman living in France it has always been my wish to have a greater understanding of this proud nation of France.
Imagine my disgust then when in the speech after the laying of the wreathes that the assembled local dignatories and bystanders and school children were told how De Gaulle and the Free French Forces had liberated France....... Silly me! There i was thinking that it was the allies- in particular the British and Americans who has liberated France albeit by 1944 with a small but growing French Corp fighting alongside.
The shame of 1940 and the occupation 40-45 is one that has to be discussed most tactfully -if at all. The pragmatic French people have re written history to expunge this shame and subsequent episode from their history. It is never and rarely discussed. I should know as one of my children went through the French state education system.
Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Wednesday, 4 March 2015
Here is where the British Embassy was situated in Bordeaux in June 1940. It's address (almost unknown until now) was n° 4 Rue Montesquieu. In those days it was called the Hotel Montré (l’hôtel Montré). It is here that the British Ambassador to France Sir Ronald Campbell and the confident of Churchill on all matters French, General Edward Spears ( who is an important figure throughout 1940-an ardent Francophile and 100% fluent linguistically and culturally and on personal terms with all of the main French characters- we will give him his own page!) came after Paris had been abandoned to the advancing German Army and declared an open city. The french government had established Bordeaux as its Capital ( for the 3rd time in history from the 14th June until 1st July 1940) and all political and administrative government departments had set up in the city as well the relocation of heavy industry (eg: Peugeot) and saw the civilian population which went from its usual (1939)300,000 to 700,000 in 3 weeks then to 1.5 million including many Parisians and refugees and British, American and other nationalities all hoping to board trains or ships from the Port of Bordeaux. Many famous people such as Ian Fleming escaped back to England by boat. On Sunday 16th June 1940 Charles De Gaulle ( then just promoted to under secretary of state for War and defence on June 5th) arrived at Bordeaux Airport on a De Havilland Flamingo plane and after meeting Reynaud and being told Petain was forming a government and De Gaulle was without office and liable to be arrested was then taken to the British Embassy through these doors seen above. There is some debate where he stayed before his dramatic escape from Bordeaux airport back to London on Monday 17th June but it is highly probable he stayed both on the 16th and 17th June at the Embassy due to threats of arrest (by the Petain government soon to leave for Vichy in July 1940) and the diplomatic security afforded by an Embassy.
The Hotel Montré belonged to the family of Mr. Jean-Paul Avisseau who was then the Curator of the Bordeaux City Archives. We know that all sensitive documents and admin staff were relocated here from the British Embassy in Paris during what the French call " l'exode" or "the exodus".
The location of the Embassy is surely no coincidence right next to the famous Bordeaux Restaurant " Le Chapon Fin". This gastronomic ( then 3 star Michelin rated) restaurant still exists today and is part of our tour. Edward the V11 rated it highly and a host of famous and recognisable names such as Ian Fleming dined here. It was famous for its rather bizarre decor which featured a stone grotto in the centre of the dining room which can be seen in this right of photograph below rising up
Today the grotto is preserved and the dining room looks like this:
and back in the street we are conscious that the British ambassador Sir Ronald Campbell would only have but a few steps between his desk at the British Embassy and a table round the corner at Le Chapon Fin Number 5 Rue Montesquieu !! For those of you who are interested a 'Chapon' is a castrated male chicken which i can tell you are not available in the UK although many farmers offer Capons they are simply uncastrated male or cock birds. The castration is achieved either by physical or chemical means. The proper Chapon is delicious tasty and with a altogether a more gamey and complex flavour than even the free range chickens now so widely available.The Chapon or Capon has now become a rather tiresome cause for animal rights groups especially in the UK where the practise of castration is seen as barbaric. The French, ever pragmatic, simply developed a system of raising a bird for the table who's taste is truly is refined and delicate. The word 'Fin' is i believe in this context an adjective such as 'fine' or 'refined' or 'excellent'.