'He didn't really talk about it': The (re)construction and transmission of a Free French past

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This paper examines the wartime experience of Hilaire Marteau, a teenage member of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French who settled in Liverpool after the war.  Marteau’s tale has all the ingredients of a Hollywood adventure: courageous resistance, a daring escape from Nazi Germany, and a perilous crossing of the Pyrenees to join the fight against Hitler and Vichy France.  That, at least, is the story according to Marteau’s rough notebooks, for he died before authoring a planned memoir.  This paper presents my efforts to reconstruct his story through these writings and through interviews with his surviving family members.  It reveals not only how Marteau represented his own past but also the ways in which he passed his story on to his relatives; in doing so, the paper suggests ways in which historians might explore ‘second-generation’ memory of French resistance.   

Dr Chris Millington is senior lecturer in Modern European History at Manchester Metropolitan University.  His research interests concern conflict, violence and terrorism in France during 1918-1944.  He is the author of From Victory to Vichy: Veterans in Interwar France (MUP, 2012) and Fighting for France: Violence in Interwar French Politics (OUP, 2018) as well as the forthcoming A History of Fascism in France (Bloomsbury, 2019) and France in the Second World War (Bloomsbury, 2020).

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