A bit of war-time respect
War. Not a great subject for a blog article. War and dignity? Is that possible? There is no doubt that the “War on Terror” has produced more tension than usual between France, my county of birth, and Britain, my country of adoption. That tension has been made worse by successive stories of inappropriate conduct by American and British soldiers on duty in Iraq. I guess mistakes will always be made and a few rotten people can always grab the headlines.
Of course, there was a time when Occupied France and Free France were on different sides, Free France was on the same side as Britain and Britain had to invade France, its old ally. I had grown up accepting that British and American servicemen had landed in France as liberators not as invaders.
It had never occurred to me that anyone had given any thought to how the liberating soldiers should behave and so I was intrigued recently to find a small book in a bookshop called “Instructions for British Servicemen in France 1944”. Covering only 50 small pages, this treasure is published by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. It is the original text put out by the British Foreign Office in 1944. It is fascinating as a piece of history, and it feels so needed today. Who knows whether the Western troops in Iraq have been provided with such a book?
This book provides a respectful potted history of France and a summary of French law, politics, culture and manners. It is thoughtful and generous. It is generous to the Germans as well. The logic behind this statement sets out to be fair and is hard to fault:
There may well have been a propaganda element to this book, but its sense of honour, chivalry and old-fashioned respect makes it a very interesting read. It is full of advice about how not to put prices up for the French by buying on the black market and how to respect the traditions and expectations of the French.
There is a wonderful words and phrases section at the back which includes some phonetics said to reproduce “as nearly as possible the sound of the French”:
I also smiled at this one:
And this piece looks almost Scottish:
Quite apart from the respect and restraint that the book seeks to establish, there are some passages which are fun and illuminating, and some remain relevant today.
On class and courtesy...
Presumably British soldiers drank beer in Britain even if they didn’t drink wine. They may even have drunk spirits. I was a bit surprised to read the following passages:
I recommend you buy this little book. Bookshops stock it or will order it, or try www.bodleianbookshop.co.uk.
Why not share your own thoughts with me and other readers on these topics through my blog.
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