WWII France – Facts Americans May Not Know

Posted by on June 3, 2011

World War II France and What Americans may Not Know. Many Americans are unaware of France’s circumstances as it entered the Second World War. I hope this article will make the reader look at France in a difference light and more compassion. Many are unaware of the vast difference in World War 2 France and the France of World War I. Many Americans believe that the Second World war began in 1942 and ended on Omaha Beach in 1944.

First I need to explain what qualifies me to discuss this subject.  I was “involved” in both wars.  As a little girl in Lorraine (France) I sat for many hours on my grandfather’s lap as he talked to me about The Great War of 1914.  On July 14th,  1914, my grandfather, Albert Bourguignon, was among the St. Cyr graduates to march in the Champs Elysées in celebration of Bastille Day. (St. Cyr is the French equivalent of West point.) Charles de Gaulle was in my grandfather’s graduating class. In August 1914, grandfather was marching off to war — or I should say flying off as he was an aviator in the burgeoning French Air Force.

Grandfather told me about the devastation in France and the thrashing of its army despite its reputation as one of the best in Europe.  One million three hundred thousand men lost their lives in that war, many more returned from German prison camps unable to ever work again.  France lost the best of its youth and the country was in shambles.  Germany suffered little or no damage to its infrastructure.  At the end of the war, in 1918, America gave vast amount of money to France and Germany to “reconstruct”.  France used the funds to rebuild its naval ports, airfields, roads, bridges, schools, hospital, and thousands of homes and municipal buildings and reached that goal despite the Great Depression in the midst of those twenty years.  However, there were no funds left to rebuild its Air Force, Army, or Navy. or equip and train a very young fighting force.   Germany, on the other hand, used all the money they received to rebuild their war machine.   Germany possessed five times the numbers of planes, tanks, trucks, and ships than did the Allies, and had a large, well trained and well equipped force when it invaded Poland in 1939,  a mere twenty years after the end of World War I.  France declared war soon after.

Morever, at the beginning of World War II, none of the allies who joined France in the First World War, decided to join, with the exception of Poland.  Another detrimental factor was caused by a lot of turmoil, discontent and upheaval within the French government for many years.  France joined the conflict against Germany  weakened and without  enthusiasm.  It did not stand a chance against the formidable war machine Germany possessed!

When World War II began, in 1939, I was one year old.  My father was a lieutenant in the French Air Force.  He flew reconnaissance missions over Germany, taking photos of the enemy’s position and arsenal. In March 1940, his plane was shot down after  a furious air battle against 6 Messerschmidt German fighter planes.  He managed to land his crippled airplane on the French frontier, but died of internal injuries the next morning; his co-pilot, my godfather, burned to death in the aircraft.  My father was twenty-one years old, I was twenty-one month old, and my sister  was twenty-one days old.  My mother joined the thousands of refugies across France, hiding under bridges, travelling at night with her two babies, and finally reaching Bordeaux.  One hour later, the Germans entered that city!  I have vivid memories of the horrible years that followed the occupation of France, watching the bombs fall around our home thru the window in the cellar, and eating rutabagas boiled in water  and bread made of sawdust for months on end. I also recall lining up the side of the road to receive the rations and candy thrown to us by American G.I.s as they rolled through our streets. But my personal experiences will be the subject of my next blog. My grandfather also fought in the Second World War, especially over North Africa, and became the commandant of a large Air Force Base.

At the beginning  of the Iraq war, I listened in dismay as my native country was thrashed in the press, people throwing French wine in the street, etc.  I am a proud American and have been for many years, but as I heard comments that “the French are cowards, they won’t fight,”  etc.,  I was grief-stricken.  My father and many of my relatives died fighting in that war.  In talking to my friends here in America, I realized that very few were aware of the facts concerning France during World War II.  In fact, very few realized that there were only twenty years between the two wars, or that Germany had suffered little damage during the First World War.  I was surprised at the number of my friends who believed World War II began in 1942.  France had already lost the war for two years, in 1942 and was occupied by the Germans when American joined the war after Pearl Harbor.  And many American believe the war ended on Omaha Beach after D-Day.  Of course, it lasted another year during which France was constantly bombarded by Germans, British and American planes.

I felt it was important for me to tell this story and to explain why World War I and World War II were so different for France. I hope it will bring a better understanding and maybe a little compassion.

I have lived in America for many wonderful years and am a proud U.S. citizen.  I go to France now and then.  It is always a pleasure to visit my native country, but I am always immensely joyful to return to America.  God Bless both of my countries.

6 Responses to WWII France – Facts Americans May Not Know

  1. Denise Schill

    I can relate to your stories of WWII. I was then in Algiers where we did not suffer like you did during the “débâcle”, but got quite a few bombs from the Italians and the Germans. I had to quit the “lycée” during my last year and so did the professors for being Jewish. One of my brothers who fought in France was taken prisoner and thought dead for many months.
    We were so happy when the American and English troops landed in Algiers in 1942. I then started working for the American Air Force and married an American and came to this country. I feel like you do about the love of two countries “America” and “France.” I still have a lot of family in Paris including a great grand daughter and I try to go there as often as possible

  2. Francine Fuqua

    Denise, Good to hear from you and thank you for your interest.
    Collage is one media I have never tried in my art. I primiraly do silk painting, oil, arcylic and watercolors. John Lovett, one of my favorite water colorists does a lot of collage using Japonese paper, and I want to try.
    Thank you again, have a nice day. (Parlez-vous Français? Je pense que oui.
    Francine

  3. Christina Rolf

    Thank you for this important information. I enjoy reading and studying history. I’m glad to hear you have tow loves for France and the United States. I hope to visit France some day.
    Sincerely,
    Chris Rolf

    • Francine Fuqua

      Thank you very much, Chris. I am happy that you found the article helpful. You must put a visit to France on your “Bucket List”, it is a beautiful country. If you like history, I believe you will enjoy reading my novel :”In Pursuit of Abraham.” It takes place in the 1940’s in France, Egyptr, and the Middle East. Available on Kindle and Enook, paperback and hard copy via Amazon.com. Thank you again for your interest.

  4. J Alex

    I have studied French History and France in both wars. Americans generally do not understand other cultures,nations plights or their views. France and her Military stood up under very intense situations in WW 1. She faced the brunt of the German Military. When one studies all the nation of France endured in WW1 truly a grand stand. I salute you one your blog and would very much like to read more about your country and experiences. My distant heritage originates from France.

    • Francine Fuqua

      Thank you very much, Alex. I appreciate your kind words. You might be interested to know that I did manage to find the ancestors of the 3 GIs who left notes on my great grandparent’s barn in Esnoms. I have been in touch with them and sent them photos of the home where their ancestor lived for a little while in the midst in WW1. Besty regards, Francine

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