Thursday, June 05, 2014

Tourcoing in the summer of 1944

1. Poster for Tourcoing's "5th June 1944 Museum"
2. Tourcoing Town Hall (Nord), France
3. Tourcoing Town Hall memorials for two F.F.I. fighters
4. Tourcoing's "Peace Tree",  planted 2 April 1995

For additional information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

Tourcoing in 1944

By the early summer of 1944 the French border city of Tourcoing had been under German Occupation for four years. In the aftermath of the German invasion of Belgium and northern France in 1940 the General Headquarters of the German 15th Army Group based itself at Tourcoing. Fairly soon after the arrival of the German occupiers they requisitioned a number of properties and some land in and around the Avenue de la Marne.

Beginning in September 1942 shortly after the failed Allied landings at Dieppe work began on the construction of a group of 13 bunkers. They were completed in less than a year. Since 1991 the largest of these 13 bunkers has been fully restored and developed as the home of the "5th June 1944 Museum" [Photograph No. 1]. In particular, the museum is dedicated to the 'Verlaine Message' broadcast by BBC radio on the night of 5th June 1944. Far from the Normandy beaches, this is an important historical location connected to the Normandy Landings.

It was at Tourcoing in the first days of June 1944 that the Germans were listening for the 'Verlaine Message'. The second part of this message, the Germans had correctly discovered, was due to be broadcast by the BBC from London to a group of the French Resistance (the F.F.I.) and would indicate the long-awaited Allied invasion of N.W. Europe would begin within 48 hours.

In fact, the message was not, as some people believe, the being broadcast as a general call to arms signal for a general uprising throughout France and N.W. Europe. It was being sent for one particular French Resistance group and not even one of the F.F.I. groups in the Tourcoing area. It was the 'personal message' for the 'Ventriloquist' group to put the Vierzon and Orleans railway line to the south of Paris out of action.

As history tells us, although the Germans heard the 'Verlaine message' and therefore should have been aware that the Normandy Landings was the main Allied invasion, Hitler and the German High Command kept many divisions in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais waiting for a non-existent second Allied landing in that area.

Thursday, 05 June, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The restored wartime bunker

A number of the rooms inside the bunker have been restored as they were between 1942 and 1944, including the technical aspects such as the ventilation and electricity. The kitchen, bathroom, bathroom, general bedroom, telephone and listening station have also been faithfully restored.

Many German documents and maps of the local area can also be seen. In addition, there is a reconstruction of how local civilians lived in their homes during the German Occupation.

The Second World War was the first major conflict where radio communications played an important role. On the one hand a visit to the "5th June 1944 Museum" enables visitors to appreciate the use of radio during the war. On the other hand it demonstrates the methods and the means used by the Gestapo to locate the clandestine wireless sets operated by local Resistance groups.

The 'Verlaine Message'

Paul-Marie Verlaine (1844 - 1896) was a French 'symbolist' poet from the 'fin de siècle' Verlaine's connection to 'D-Day' and the museum at Tourcoing is due to the choice of the first verse of his 1866 poem "Chanson d'automne" ("Autumn song") broadcast as a pair of messages in June 1944. The first part was broadcast by the BBC on 1 June, indicating the Allied invasion would take place within a fortnight. The second part of the message was broadcast at 23:15 h on 5 June.

However, the actual messages broadcast were not exactly as written by Verlaine. This is the first verse of the poem as written by Verlaine:

"Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

The first three lines were used for the first part of the message and the second three lines were used for the second part of the message. In English, Verlaine's original words can be translated as follows:

(First part): "The long sobs of the violins of autumn ..."

(Second part) "... wounds my heart with a monotonous languor."

In broadcasting the message the BBC used the word 'lourds' ('heavy') instead of 'longs' ('long') and in broadcasting the second message 'Bercent' ('cradles') replaced the word 'Blessent' ('Wounds'). What were the reasons behind these misquotes for such important messages?

In his study of the S.O.E., Professor M.R.D. Foot has suggested it was "... either a typist's error or BBC insistence that the revised version was more easy to hear impelled the change."

Whatever the reason for the misquotes, the messages were broadcast and it is the historical background for the existence of this museum at Tourcoing.

Thursday, 05 June, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The F.F.I. waits for the opportune moment

If the 'Verlaine message' was not the call for a general insurrection, on the whole the French Resistance had to content itself to acts of sabotage - at least until the right moment. With the large concentration of German troops held in reserve for several weeks after D-Day in Tourcoing and northern France, the troops of F.F.I. would have to wait for the opportune moment. The opportunity arose when large numbers of German troops began to move eastwards after the liberation of Paris at the end of August 1944.

In France, because of the powers invested in the municipality, the Town Hall has an important part to play in civilian life. Thus he who controlled the Town Hall controlled the town (it was only in July 1944 that Charles de Gaulle's government had declared that French women would be given the vote). The Town Halls were an important objective for the F.F.I. throughout France and so it was at Tourcoing, where a number of German troops were left behind.

The Tourcoing Town Hall building [Photograph No. 2] was designed - and the construction commenced - in the time of Emperor Napoleon III. It has a Greco-Roman architectural style and so has a sturdy structure which proved to have many advantages for armed defence. Building of the Town Hall began in 1865 but was delayed for a time because of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870- 1871. It was completed in 1885.

The time for the F.F.I. in the Tourcoing area to have a general armed uprising arrived at the beginning of September. On Friday 1 September 1944 the various French Resistance groups agreed this was the time. During the Friday evening the F.F.I. agreed their designated objectives and also where to attack the German convoys leaving for the Belgian frontier on the northern and eastern suburbs of Tourcoing.

On Saturday 2 September 1944 Tourcoing was liberated, including the Town Hall. It was not without bloodshed and the loss of lives. On either side of the front entrance of Tourcoing Town Hall are memorials to two heroes of the French Resistance who died during the assault [Photograph No. 3]. The two fallen Resistance fighters were Georges MENARD and Victor TIBERGHIEN.

This is an English translation of the commemorative tablets seen in Photograph No. 3:

"It was here that a hero of the F.F.I. fell on 2 September 1944"

A symbol and a hope for peace

Was the liberation of Tourcoing in early September 1944 the end of war for its citizens? It is true that the Tourcoing and its citizens have not been occupied by a hostile power since. Yet, it was not many years afterwards that some of its young people went away to wars and conflicts in former French colonies and elsewhere in the world.

To the south of the city centre in Place de la Victoire is Tourcoing's war memorial designed and built between 1924 and 1931. It lists the names not just of those who died in the two World Wars but in wars and conflicts since 1945: including Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

On 2 April 1995 a 'Peace Tree' was planted in the park where the war memorial is situated [Photograph No. 4]. It was planted by various associations from Tourcoing representing the war veterans and prisoners of war.

This is a translation of the commemorative tablet in front of the 'Peace Tree':

"This Peace Tree' was planted by the War Veterans, Prisoners of War, and Veterans of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco as remembrance of their past.
Tourcoing Municipality".

The tree continues to grow in the park as a symbol and as a hope for peace.

Thursday, 05 June, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Paul Verlaine's "Chanson d'automne"

Below is the complete poem "Chanson d'automne" by Paul Verlaine in French:

Chanson d'automne

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

The late French singer, Charles Trenet recorded a version of Verlaine's "Chanson d'automne" set to music. As outlined above, when the BBC broadcast the second part of the 'Verlaine message' on 5 June 1944 the word 'bercent' was read out rather than 'blessent'. Charles Trenet, in his recording of the Verlaine poem, also uses 'bercent' instead of 'blessent. To listen to a recording of this click on the following link:
Chanson d'automne (sung by Charles Trenet)

Thursday, 05 June, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


Thanks to the following for their assistance in researching this article:
Tourcoing Town Hall,
Tourcoing Tourist Information Office,
Museum of 5th June 1944, Tourcoing

Thursday, 05 June, 2014  

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