Le Chant des Partisans

I live in a part of south west France where the Resistance were most active. In Chabanais, which is just down the road from me, there is the Rue du 1 Aout, a short road that ends at the riverbank, where there is a memorial to seven young members of the French Resistance who were shot dead by the Germans. The execution took place on 1st August 1944. The French Resistance, more formally known as the FTP (Francs Tireurs Partisans) and locally as the Maquis, were very active in this part of France, particularly after the D-day landings in June 1944. From January of that year the RAF started making air drops in the Chabanais area, supplies for the Maquis. In May of 1944 one of these RAF planes was shot down and the airmen were rescued by the Resistance. When the Normandy landings began the Maquis rose up against the Germans and their collaboraters, the GMR (Gardes Mobiles de Reserves). Neither side spared any mercies. A young woman in a wedding dress, on her way to a church near Chabanais to get married, was put up against a wall and shot by the Maquis for being a collaborator. A teacher at the Chabanais school was also put up against a wall. His pupils, under threat of death from the Germans, were forced to execute him.

The Marquis took control of Chabanais in July 1944. What became known as the Battle of Chabanais took place in August, when superior German forces entered the north side of the town. The Maquis blew-up the bridge across the river Vienne in an attempt to stop the German advance, but to little avail. Most of the south side of Chabanais was razed to the ground by the Germans. Lots of people died. A similar story can be found in many other towns and villages in this region. The worst massacre took place in Oradour-sur-Glane, which is about half way between Chabanais and Limoges. In June 1944 a German Waffen-SS company entered the village and began destroying it. The men of the village were taken to a barn and shot. The women and children were herded into the church, which was then torched. In all, 642 were killed, just about every inhabitant. After the war, on the orders of the then French president, Charles de Gaulle, Oradour-sur-Glane was left in its destroyed state, as a memorial to those who died. You can still go there now and see the burnt out cars and buildings, exactly as they were in 1944. To this day the German Occupation remains a painful memory for the French, even amongst the younger generation.

The Chant des Partisans was the most popular song of the Free French and French Resistance during World War II. The song was written by Anna Marly, who was born into a wealthy Russian noble family. Marly came to France at a very young age, just after her father was killed in the aftermath of the October Revolution. At the end of the Second World War, Chant des Partisans was put forward to be the French national anthem…

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