Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Australia and Vichy: The Impact of Divided France, 1940-1944

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Australia and Vichy: The Impact of Divided France, 1940-1944

Article excerpt

Histories of the Second World War from an Australian perspective have paid little attention to the Vichy regime which, following defeat by Germany and the armistice of June 1940, succeeded France's Third Republic. This lack of interest is surprising. At the outbreak of World War II the French presence in the Pacific was significant and during the war French territories became important to the Allies as bases, sources of supply and for communications.(1) In military and strategic terms it was vital to the Allied war effort in the Pacific to ensure that French Pacific territories supported the Allied (and Free French) effort rather than the Vichy regime.

Historical accounts imply that there were only two areas where French fortunes touched directly on Australia's involvement in the war. The first was New Caledonia. Here the question of allegiance was settled swiftly, by September 1940, with a pro-Free French revolution; this secured the wartime position of this French Pacific territory which was of economic, geographical and strategic significance for Australia. The second was Syria, where Australian soldiers of the AIF 7th Division fought against Vichy Frenchmen in June-July 1941 in a successful campaign which prevented the Germans from establishing themselves in Syria with Vichy help.(2) The implication is that there was little other reason for Australia to be concerned with the increasingly collaborationist Vichy regime. The Free French/Fighting French and de Gaulle had a higher profile as far as the Allies were concerned.

Research, however, reveals other issues involving Vichy and divided French allegiances which did continue to impinge on Australian policy-making and administration. Australia was not allowed to forget Vichy, and the archives reveal problems which continued to try Australian Government departments, the military and the security services. One was the problem of French official representation in Australia during the war. Another related to internment both of deportees from France's Pacific territories and of French persons resident in Australia during the war. These are considered in this paper with a view to closing some of the gaps in histories of the period which have, to date, given no attention to these areas of tension in wartime Australian-French relations. They are also important in shedding light on broader issues of Australian foreign policy and relations at this time.

The Wartime Context

Developments in the war, and their impact on France and the French Empire, provided the context for the evolution of Australian-Vichy French relations. After war began in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, and British and French declarations of war, France lived for eight months through the period of quiescence, the "phoney war". Hostilities resumed with the German onslaught on Denmark and Norway in April 1940, followed by the blitzkrieg against the Netherlands, Belgium and then France in May. The collapse of France was rapid and decisive. Anglo-French forces were trapped by advancing German forces on the Belgian coast and between 27 May and 4 June about 338,000 Allied troops were evacuated from Dunkirk. The French surrender followed, and the Franco-German armistice was signed on 22 June, taking effect three days later.(3)

Within France the German advance provoked a rapid transition from Third Republic to Petainist state. Prime Minister Paul Reynaud appointed the aged veteran of the First World War, Marshal Philippe Petain, as his deputy on 18 May; and the government left Paris on 10 June, four days before German troops occupied the city. The government stayed temporarily in Bordeaux, where Reynaud relinquished his post to Petain on 16 June. Petain immediately approached Germany concerning terms of peace, and the armistice resulted. Evacuation of the French Government to North Africa was considered, and some parliamentarians sailed from Bordeaux on 21 June, but Petain, given full constitutional powers in early July, based his government at Vichy in the unoccupied southern zone of France. …

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