Imagine the scenario - it is Spring
1940, you have a nice life in a beautiful country, and suddenly a
hostile invader storms into your land and takes over. What do you
do? How do you react?
Do you stay quiet and accept it, and hope they'll
just go away, and trust that the government will 'do something'?
Most people did.
Do you pander to the invader, hoping to get on their
good side and hope that that maybe by some stroke of luck they don't
kill you? Some people did that too.
Or do you fight back? Plenty of people did that,
up to 500,000 French people, 2% of the population joined the Resistance.
It is these people, the ones who fought back, these are the people
we wish to honour with our display.
The people who became involved in the Resistance
were many and varied, and most didn't have a military background.
They were farmers, housewives, students, academics, artists, and
butchers and bakers and candlestick makers - just regular ordinary
people from all walks of life and all political leanings. Some fought
back by producing pamphlets and leaflets to undermine the Nazis;
some left a subtle V for Victory symbol in public places, in chalk
or by using broken matchsticks; some cut telephone lines to disrupt
the lines of communication; and some took up arms to fight. They
used whatever weapons they could get their hands on, and they frequently
used the STEN sub-machine gun, as it is a comparatively light weapon
and can be easily concealed, and many STENs were parachute dropped
by the RAF for the Resistance fighters, along with grenades and
The Nazis systematically stripped occupied France
of anything that could be used back in Germany - food, fuel, machinery,
vehicles - if it was of use it was taken. This meant that the French
people in occupied France suffered from malnutrition, and due to
the lack of fuel many people took to travelling on bicycles or by
using horses and carts. Additionally they were under constant threat
of severe reprisals by the Nazis - imprisonment, torture, deportation
to a concentration camp, or summary execution - for the slightest
The Resistance members, and the rest of the French
people in the occupied territories, endured some unspeakable horrors
inflicted on them by the Nazi regime. But many members of the Resistance
survived the war and became national French Heroes.
From October 1944 many of the FFI units were recruited
into the regular French armed forces. It wasn't a smooth process
but it was eventually successful, ensuring the French had an army
of 1.3 million men by VE Day.
If Hitler and his troops had been able to walk
into France without the Resistance giving him food for thought,
then perhaps he would have believed he could do the same to good
old Blighty. We owe the French Resistance a debt of gratitude.