Friday, September 11, 2009

The church bells ring out in Paris

(Top): The Arc de Triomphe, Paris
(Bottom): Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

The Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris stood as silent witnesses to the German Occupation of Paris between June 1940 and August 1944. They also witnessed the Liberation in August 1944, marked initially on 24 August by all the church bells ringing out in the first time for four years. After some fighting in the streets on 25 August, the French capital was liberated.

The following day - Saturday 26 August 1944 - General Charles de Gaulle made his triumphal entry into Paris, walking from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Élysées and eventually to Notre Dame Cathedral where the 'Magnificat' was sung. Was this was De Gaulle’s finest hour? Personally, I think it probably was - certainly during the war and all that had happened in the previous four years.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(1) The church bells ring out

On the evening of Thursday 24 August 1944 the first Free French troops arrived in the centre of Paris. It was exactly 1532 days, 3 hours and 52 minutes after the arrival of the first German troops in June 1940. Three tanks and six half-tracks from the Leclerc Division of the Free French, led by Captain Raymond Dronne, made their way to the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) of Paris. He who controls the Town Hall controls Paris - it is from here that the civil authority to govern the capital emanates.

Some days earlier the Free French had gained control of the French radio. In the main studio Pierre Schaeffer of the Free French radio announced that the Liberation was at hand and asked the people to get in touch with the priests to have the church bells ring out to announce the arrival of the Allies. For the first time in four years the church bells of Paris rang out and all at the same time.

Pierre Schaeffer also quoted the words of from Victor Hugo:

Reveillez! Assez de honte!
Redevenez la grande France!
Redevenez le grand Paris!


Awake! Be done with shame!
Become great again France!
Become great again Paris!

The singing of the Marseillaise (National Anthem) was also heard over the radio while people sang it aloud throughout Paris like they had never done before.

Friday, 11 September, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(2) Why the bells at one church failed to ring out

Canon Jean Muller, Parish Priest at the Catholic church of St Philippe du Roule (near the Champs Élysées) received several telephone calls from parishioners to ring the church bells. However, this was one Parisian church where no church bells rang out to announce the time of Deliverance. At Sunday morning Mass on 27 August 1944 Canon Muller would explain why he had not had the church bells ring out.

In his sermon canon Muller thanked all the parishioners who had rang him on the telephone after hearing the radio announcement to have the church bells rung. The reason that the church bells did not ring out was because the church did not have any! In the four years since any church bells had rung out in Paris, many parishioners had actually forgotten their church had no bells in the belfry.

Therefore, at this time Liberation Canon Muller announced that there would be a collection to buy a set of bells for the church. This was duly done and the 'Liberation Bells were subsequently purchased. So that is how the church of St Philippe du Roule came to purchase a set of bells.

(3) A personal connection

One of my uncles, Private Ronald Ritson RAMC, was one of but a small number of British troops who made it to Paris at this time. During the war Ronald served with the 26 Field Hygiene Section attached to the 3rd British Infantry Division, where he was batman / chauffeur to the Commanding Officer, Major E.H. Hargreaves RAMC.

Just before the Liberation of Paris, Ronald Ritson's section had moved to a camp on the River Seine. On 22 August, according to an incorrect broadcast on the BBC radio and in some of the news reports, Paris had already been liberated. As the 26 FHS were so close to Paris and with some spare time on their hands at this point, Major Hargreaves decided to take half his section into Paris on one day and the other half could go in the following day. It turned out this was when General De Gaulle arrived in Paris! However neither Ronald nor Major Hargreaves nor any of the others of their unit saw General de Gaulle - they were having such a lovely day looking around the sights of Paris. Was there ever a better time to visit Paris than its moment of Deliverance?

Later on, of course, it became apparent that Paris had only been liberated on 25 August. Some American troops - the 29th Infantry Division - did march down the Champs Élysées on 29 August. This was to show De Gaulle had American support. Very few British soldiers made it in to Paris. A few months later, in December 1944, Major Hargreaves left the 26 F.H.S when he was appointed M.O. for those British army personnel who were then based in Paris, staying there until after the war ended. Major Hargreaves later became M.O. for Cornwall in the S.W. of England. My uncle Ronald drove Major Hargreaves to Paris - this was the second and last time Ronald visited Paris. Ronald eventually became an ambulance man in civilian life.

Many years later, I studied the Liberation of Paris for a university course, receiving some help on this from my uncle Ronald Ritson and Major Hargreaves. The Liberation of Paris has been well documented, being one of the key events of the war. Probably the best account of the Liberation I have read (in French) is “Paris, Brûle-t-il?” (“Is Paris burning?”) by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. This includes a fuller account about the church bells story of St Philippe du Roule. The title of the book is based on what Adolph Hitler is supposed to have asked when he was told the Allies were in control of Paris.

Friday, 11 September, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rarely documented is the gunfight that broke out at Notre Dame cathedral on 26 August 1944, just as De Gaulle was entering and during the service inside. He didn't flinch and was unharmed. But there was panic outside among the crowds.

Nobody really knows who was firing at whom, but new film with sound has recently turned up (it was found in the US) showing the gunfight scene and taken from some 30 metres away from the cathedral. Seems like someone was firing from the balcony of a building close to the cathedral, shooting into the streets below, and people in the street with guns then started firing back, not knowing or even seeing who they were shooting at.

A German sniper or perhaps a Frenchman deliriously happy about the recent Liberation?

We may never know. But Arte TV produced a short documentary on the event, broadcast on the evening of 26 January 2010, entitled '1944: De Gaulle dans Paris libéré'.

This documentary concludes that the gunfight at the cathedral was one of several that broke out around Paris that day, and that these events were probably hushed up by the media of the day or not screened, so as not to spoil the memory of a happy day for the liberated French. Nobody wanted to tarnish a day that was truly memorable.

Wednesday, 26 January, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Thanks for the comment. I have heard the various debates on the different theories as to who did fired the shots as General de Gaulle arrived at Notre Dame. I have a transcript of the BBC reporter who was there at the time in my files. I have heard this recording a couple of times. The Imperial War Museum has a copy of the recording and one presumes it will also in the BBC sound archives.

An uncle of mine was one of the few British troops to be in Paris at this time. Most of the Allied troops who were there at that time seemed to be either French or Americans. Part of my uncle's section went into Paris the following day and one of the vehicles 'disappeared' (one presumes 'liberated' by our French Allies!).

Sunday, 30 January, 2011  

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