History, Notes and Vocabulary for ‘Tyres’ by Adam Thorpe:
Vichy France, Vichy regime, or Vichy government, are common terms used to describe the government of France from July 1940 to August 1944. This government, which succeeded the Third Republic, officially called itself the French State (État Français), in contrast with the previous designation, “French Republic.” Marshal Philippe Pétain proclaimed the government following the military defeat of France by Nazi Germany during World War II and the vote by the National Assembly on 10 July 1940. This vote granted extraordinary powers to Pétain, the last Président du Conseil (Prime Minister) of the Third Republic, who then took the additional title Chef de l’État Français (“Chief of the French State”). Pétain headed the reactionary program of the so-called “Révolution nationale“, aimed at “regenerating the Nation.”
The Vichy Regime maintained some legal authority in the northern zone of France, which was occupied by the German Wehrmacht. However, its laws only applied where they did not contradict German ones. This meant that where the regime was most powerful was the unoccupied southern “free zone“, where its administrative centre of Vichy was located.
Pétain and the Vichy regime willfully collaborated with the German occupation to a high degree. The French police and the state Milice (militia) organised raids to capture Jews and others considered “undesirables” by the Germans in both the northern and southern zones.
The legitimacy of Vichy France and Pétain’s leadership was challenged by General Charles de Gaulle, who claimed instead to represent the legitimacy and continuity of the French government. Following the Allies’ invasion of France in Operation Overlord, de Gaulle proclaimed the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) in June, 1944. After the Liberation of Paris in August, the GPRF installed itself in Paris on 31 August. The GPRF was recognized as the legitimate government of France by the Allies on 23 October 1944.
The Maquis (French pronunciation: [maki]) were the predominantly rural guerrilla bands of the French Resistance. Initially they were composed of men who had escaped into the mountains to avoid conscription into Vichy France‘s Service du travail obligatoire (STO) to provide forced labour for Germany. In an effort to escape capture and deportation to Germany, what had started as loose groups of individuals became increasingly organized; initially fighting only to remain free, these bands eventually became active resistance groups.
Originally the word came from the kind of terrain in which the armed resistance groups hid, the type of high ground in southeastern France covered with scrub growth. Although strictly meaning thicket, maquis could be roughly translated as “the bush“. Members of those bands were called maquisards. Eventually the term became an honorific that meant “armed resistance fighter.” The Maquis have come to symbolize the French Resistance.
Most maquisards operated in the mountainous areas of Brittany and southern France, especially in the Alps and in Limousin. They relied on guerrilla tactics to harass the Milice and German occupation troops. The Maquis also aided the escape of downed Allied airmen, Jews and others pursued by the Vichy and German authorities. Maquisards usually relied on some degree of sympathy or cooperation from the local populace. In March 1944, the German Army began a terror campaign throughout France. This included reprisals against civilians living in areas where the French Resistance was active. The Maquisards were later to take their revenge in the épuration sauvage that took place after the war’s end.
Most of the Maquis cells — like the Maquis du Limousin or the Maquis du Vercors – took names after the area they were operating in. The size of these cells varied from tens to thousands of men and women. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) helped with supplies and agents. The American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) also began to send its own agents to France in cooperation with the SOE and the French BCRA agents in Operation Jedburgh.
The Milice française (French Militia), generally called simply Milice, was a paramilitary force created on January 30, 1943 by the Vichy Regime, with German aid, to help fight the French Resistance. The Milice’s formal leader was Prime Minister Pierre Laval, though its chief of operations, and actual leader, was Secretary General Joseph Darnand. It participated in summary executions, assassinations and helped round up the Jews and résistants in France for deportation. It was the successor to Joseph Darnand’s Service d’ordre légionnaire (SOL) militia.
The Milice often resorted to torture to extract information or confessions from those they rounded up. They were often considered more dangerous to the French Resistance than the Gestapo and SS themselves, since they were Frenchmen who spoke the language, had a full knowledge of the towns and land, and knew people and informers.
Curé: parish priest
Mas: traditional farmhouse in Provence, France
Patois: local dialect
Mairie: town hall
I hope you have found the background material provided in History, Notes and Vocabulary for ‘Tyres’ informative and helpful.
My thanks to Dominique Turner for help with this material.