Today, the 8th of May, is a public holiday in France and various other European countries to mark the end of World War 2. For the locals around these parts, including Thônes (where this war memorial photo was taken in November), La Clusaz, St Jean de Sixt, Le Grand Bornand, Entremont and Annecy, this was the day that relief swept through the villages. The local French were finally able to start rebuilding their lives and communities after the horrors of the lost Resistance battle at the Plateau des Glières the year before, amongst other typical wartime stories of occupied areas.
Although peace has now reigned for more than fifty years, I’m told that one battle continues in the underbelly of the villages. Not everyone around these parts supported the Resistance movement. Indeed, under the Vichy government, the French military police, Gendarmes (originally from ‘gens d’armes‘, literally meaning ‘people with arms’ — basically armed men) had to side with the Nazis whether they liked it or not, and so they found themselves handing over French Jews to the Nazis. Much worse than that, a radical group known the Milice headed the battle against the Resistance at the Plateau des Glières before calling for German backup. The Milice force was formed by the Vichy government specifically to fight the Resistance. They had a reputation for torturing and being especially dangerous to the Resistance due to their fluent French and local knowledge.
Families split apart and neighbours stopped talking to each other, depending on where their allegiances lied. It’s these battles that, according to my French friends, continue to this day. The memories of war are everywhere, from this war memorial in Thônes and the museum beside it to the monuments dotted in every village, listing the name of the dead. Is it that surprising that grudges remain? But this is all rumour: for all I know, neighbours are having BBQs today and families are out shopping at the many shops that advertised opening on the public holiday. Hopefully, the only grudge held today involves the last baguette at the bakery. Wishful thinking?