World War 2

Today’s photo shows a memorial to the French Resistance in World War 2 near to Cerdon. There are very few WW2 memorials in France in comparison to WW1 memorials but this massive stone sculpture is one of the best memorials anywhere in the world. Over 700 French Resistance fighters were killed in l’Ain and the Haut Jura during WW2 and this monument was commissioned in the 1951 to commemorate their sacrifice. The sculpture is 17m tall and took the sculptor, Charles Machot, 3 years to complete. The sculpture is impressive and its location overlooking the Cerdon valley and alongside the main road is inspired. What adds even more poignancy to the memorial is the small cemetery at the foot of the statue with the tombs of 80 Maquis fighters.

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World War 2 memorial to the French Resistance. Some of the fiercest Resistance during World War 2 took place in the Ain region of France. L’Ain was part of Vichy France, which had been set up in July 1940 after the German invasion of northern France. After French forces signed the Armistice of 22 June 1940, a puppet government was set up under Marshall Petain and based in the small town of Vichy.

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Vichy France. Between July 1940 and November 1942, there was little trouble in the l’Ain region. But in 1942, British and Free French forces under Charles de Gaulle invaded North Africa. This prompted German and Italian forces to occupy Vichy France in November 1942 fearing an invasion across the Mediterranean by the Free French army. You can see from the map above that l’Ain was mostly occupied by Italian troops. This part of France was once part of the Duchy of Savoy and Mussolini obviously had his eye on reclaiming it for Italy. However, just a few months after the Italian occupation of Vichy France, Mussolini was sacked by the King of Italy on July 25th 1943 and he was then arrested by the Italian police. The new Italian government switched sides in the war and starting supporting the Allies against Nazi Germany and this probably explains why Germany took over those parts of Vichy France which were being occupied by Italian forces in September 1943.

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Plaque beside the World War 2 memorial. Interestingly, there is more writing on this plaque about the monument than there is about the French resistance which it commemorates. In a small paragraph at the bottom, the plaque states that a force of 12,000 men carried out numerous attacks in February, June and July 1944 prior to the liberation of l’Ain in September 1944.In all. the French resistance lost over 700 men in l’Ain but what is telling is that most of the attacks and losses occurred in 1944 only. There were hardly any operations against the Vichy government militia between 1940-1942 or against Italian forces between 1942-1943. In 1944, it was obvious that Germany would lose the war and only then did attacks intensify.

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Church and graveyard in Cerdon near to the WW2 memorial. This has to be one of the most picturesque graveyards in the world. Who wouldn’t want to be buried surrounded by vineyards in such a scenic location.

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Memorial on roundabout near to Neuville-sur-Ain. There obviously was a lot of fighting in this part of France during World War 2 and here is a small memorial at a roundabout commemorating one such battle.

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World War 2 memorial for slain Resistance fighter. Near to Veneray les Launes, I came across another WW2 memorial. The writing on the plaque says  “On the 7th September 1944, Marcel Delangre was assassinated here by the Germans at the age of 17. Never forget.”. On August 15th 1944 , Allied forces landed near Saint Raphael in Provence in Operation Dragoon and rapidly pushed north. Meanwhile, Allied forces that had landed in Normandy managed to break through the German lines and liberated Paris on August 25th. By this time, the Vichy government had fled to southern Germany and General de Gaulle had declared himself prime minister of the Provisional Government of the French Republic. On September 3rd, Lyon was liberated by Allied troops that had landed in Provence and just a week later, these troops would meet up with General Patton’s Third army near Dijon. Unfortunately, that means Marcel was probably one of the last Maquis fighters to be executed by the Germans as within a few days of his death, most of France had been liberated by Allied forces.

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Roadside memorial for a traffic accident victim. Just 60 metres from the WW2 memorial and on the same stretch of road, I came across this traffic accident memorial for a young girl called Lucie. French accident memorials often only include the victims first name and unlike Irish roadside memorials rarely include a photo. But what makes this memorial extra poignant is that this accident happened in almost the same spot that 17 year old Marcel Delangre was killed by the Germans, 60 years earlier.

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2 roadside memorials, 60 years and 60 yards, apart near Veneray les Laumes. Over a million people are killed every year by traffic accidents and in fact, more people have been killed in traffic accidents since WW2 than were killed in both WW1 and WW2. Every year, there are ceremonies to commemorate the war dead but there are rarely any ceremonies to commemorate those that died in traffic accidents. These 2 memorials, 60 years and 60 meters apart on the same stretch of road, ask the question are we any further on. Hopefully, in another 60 years, most cars and vehicles will be self-driving and this should result in a lot less traffic accidents.

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