This is a book written from the diary of a young Frenchman living in central France during the war and towards the end of the war his time in the Maquis. This is not a transcription of the full diary but extracts taken throughout the period with more entries as he joins the Maquis; this makes for a bit of a disjointed story but he keeps the timeline so not too bad.
- Hubert Verneret
1939 sees the author as a 14 years old boy, still at school as the war begins and then quickly moves through to the German occupation. There are then some entries from the years as they go by and he is growing up. Life in rural France during the occupation was not too bad for a young boy/man and he got up to the stuff that many youngsters would do. The Germans put restrictions on the population which the author got round by wearing his boy scout uniform and helping the local authorities. Indeed just prior to the Germans arriving in Nevers region, his home town being Luzy, he helped in looking after the wounded French soldiers coming through the station, being introduced to the damage that modern warfare can do to the human body.
In 1944, the author now 18 leaves home to join the Maquis. His story of how they lived and trained is, to my eyes, quite funny. They really did not have a clue what they were doing and had little training. His one wish was to be given a sten gun, a wish that was not fulfilled. He was determined to do battle with the Germans and the antics trying to do this are such that I am surprised that so many actually survived. They were untrained, keen as mustard yet not a clue about how to go about fighting the Germans. In one incident he explains, with total innocence, an ambush they were sent out to lay to trap some Germans expected through their area. Immediately I saw some problems as they deployed each side of the track! Inevitably one side does a blue-on-blue by opening up on the other side thinking they were Germans! Hilarious if not so serious, but no-one was harmed. More to the point though is they did not seem to see what the problem was!
Anyway, young Verneret spent time with the Maquis as the Germans withdrew up the French countryside after D-Day and Op Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. The author makes the point of people joining the Resistance as the war moved on trying to claim a bit of the glory, while totally missing the point that that is exactly what he did in 1944. Reading between the lines I would say the British officers leading the group made sure that these, very keen but totally untrained young men, were not given a chance to get themselves killed before the war ended. As the war moved on out of France, many of the author’s companions joined the French army and went on to fight with them through into Germany and the end of the war. The author was persuaded to return to his studies so did not join them.
The final part of the book is a series of interviews made by the author some 25 years after the event. They are obviously the conversations people who were there, one being the author and the others being the officers who led them. I feel that even at this stage the author was being ‘protected’ by the interviewees.
I may be a bit flippant about this book and the young man who wrote it, but I have to bear in mind that this young man went through an occupation by the Germans then took the decision to go up to the hills to fight back. For that he must be saluted and we must remember that, apart from the Chanel Islands, this country was not occupied. The author has shown the naivete of youth and to be fair he has not tried to adjust this with hindsight. For a look at life in occupied France this is an excellent little book, easy to read and easy to understand why things were done the way they were. The innocence of youth jumps out of the pages, yet that makes this a bit more compelling.
I will give this 3/5