Hungerford Historical Association: Dr David Drake on life in occupied Paris during the war

Hungerford Historical Association was pleased to welcome expert speaker in his field, Dr David Drake, on 23 November when he described life in occupied Paris during the war. Dr Drake has published four books and penned numerous articles on France and French life and he shared his knowledge of Parisian life between 1940 and 1945 with his audience of over 100 members and visitors.

The build-up to the Armistice in June 1940 between France and Germany and the division of France between occupied and Vichy France under Pétain was outlined. The ‘Germanification’ of Paris was then illustrated by photographs of road signs, parading troops and Nazi banners on buildings. Sobering details followed of the escape of three million Parisians from the city out of a population of five million. Unsurprisingly, over the subsequent months and years, survival was the key and Dr Drake described the privations of rationing, curfews, brutality and loss of freedoms under the Nazi occupation.

In time, relationships deteriorated significantly, particularly as a result of sporadic retaliation and the treatment of the Jewish population. The former led to brutal reprisals and the latter, as in other parts of Europe, led to the transportation of Jews from Paris to camps and, for many, to the horror of Auschwitz.

The Nazi regime’s invasion of Russia in 1941 had weakened the German strength in France by 1943, which in turn resulted in more resistance and more reprisals. The Allies advances in North Africa heralded a further turning point and any sense of French authority in southern France evaporated. Labour shortages in German factories led to a quarter of a million Frenchmen being sent to work there. Resistance to the regime was consolidated in 1943 under De Gaulle, then in London, and this movement supported sabotage and helped the return to Britain of airmen who had been shot-down.

The “D” Day landings spelt the beginning of the end to occupied France and Dr Drake described the positive actions of Parisians to rid their city of German control. Poignant images illustrated the many Parisian buildings that, to this day, show the marks of the battles that took place.

One mark of a good speaker is the keenness of his audience to ask questions. Eventually, Chairman Caroline Ness had to call a halt and thanked Dr Drake for what had been a sobering and absorbing talk.

The association takes a short break over Christmas: the next talk is on Wednesday 25 January 2023 by Dr Ann Benson on “Bramshill, Hampshire – the mystery of its historical gardens and botanical paintings”, when visitors are most welcome.

David Whiteley, Treasurer HHA

Remaining Programme 2023

  • 25 January 2023 ‘Bramshill, Hampshire: the mystery of its historical gardens and botanical paintings’, Dr Ann Benson
  • 22 February 2023 ‘Stonehenge’, Graham Loxton-Best
  • 22 March 2023 ‘Increased National Debt in the Great War 1914-18 & mechanical transport costs’, Roy Larkin
  • 26 April 2023 ‘Littlecote Roman Villa’, Dr Hugh Pihlens
  • 24 May 2023 ‘Crofton Beam Engines’, Jon Willis
  • 28 June 2023 AGM & ‘History of Thames valley Police’, Ken Wells

All talks are in the Corn Exchange, Hungerford, 7.30pm. Membership £15 per annum, visitors £5 per talk. www.hungerfordhistorical.org.uk  www.hungerfordvirtualmuseum.co.uk

 

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