Fiona McIntosh

Understanding Vichy France of WWll

I didn’t know until I began to write this novel that initially the Nazis were seemingly only interested in Northern France, particularly Paris. Berlin allowed the French, who to all intents and purposes handed over the keys of the city to the Germans, to form a “Government” that would administer central and southern France.  I won’t even begin to go into the politics of this but Marshall Philippe Pétain – a WWl French war hero – was allowed by the Nazis to set up this puppet administration in the spa

Towns of the Luberon in rural France, who became 'occupied' from 1942

town of Vichy. Petain, well into his eighties, crowned himself Marshall of France. Stripped of all real power, he could only make and enforce laws approved by the Nazis.

Every task,  from handing over a significant portion of France’s fresh produce to the German war effort knowing people were starving to rounding up Jews, was readily accepted by Vichy’s leaders.

In their defence,  Pétain and his cronies genuinely believed they were being patriotic in saving France from being destroyed and divided; school children had to sing a special song every day at assembly to honour Pétain called ‘Maréchal, nous voila!’….or ‘Marshal, here we are!’

Central and southern France – or the Vichy State – remained ‘independent’ until 1942.  By Christmas that year, Hitler had given his orders that the free zone no longer existed.  Suddenly rural France felt the full weight of German occupation.

Meanwhile in London – and with the enthusiastic support of the British – another French war veteran, General Charles de Gaulle, had set up an interim government that constantly undermined the legitimacy of the Vichy State and the rule of its fighting leaders – Petain and Laval. As de Gaulle’s radio broadcasts gained popularity and his defiance was heard, the resolve of patriots deepened, resistance strengthened and the infamous French resistance movement began to take shape and hurt the Occupiers.  More on the French Resistance in another blog;  I just thought simplifying Vichy might help.

The Lavender Keeper begins in Vichy France in the summer of 1942.