The Voice of Liberty 

28 November 2016

From the BBC YearBook for 1945, published in December 1944.

His Excellency M. Georges Bidault, French Minister for Foreign Affairs

His Excellency M. Georges Bidault, French Minister for Foreign Affairs

Monsieur Georges Bidault, France’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, was a prominent though hidden figure in the French underground resistance movement. When Paris was liberated he came out into the open as the President of the National Council of Resistance—France’s ‘shadow cabinet’ during the last two years of German occupation.

bbcyb1945June, 1940. In the din of armoured columns sweeping like an avalanche towards the south, the familiar voice of the French radio was extinguished. The links which united the French with the rest of the world were cut at a single blow; they had been hurled living into the grave, they had been walled up in a prison of silence where no friendly voice could ever reach them again. These were dramatic hours when one’s reason refused to think for fear of doubting itself, when dawn was dusk, when one lived and wished to die.

There were no more newspapers, no mail, no radio; there was nothing but rumour with its many confusing voices, often tainted, more often deceiving. In the disorder of rout and the confusion of retreat, our hearts ached to see a nation crumbling—a nation whose rulers were resigned to the overlordship of the conqueror. Henceforward, the law imposed by the occupying power would allow only submissive voices to be heard in France — servile voices made smooth by guile and menacing by fear, voices soiled with vile ambitions — a hideous chattering of slaves.

But these arrogant voices, which were too well paid, quavered with old age, not with emotion; these voices preaching resignation, penitance, and contrition — these were not the voice of France.

This was not France, this pale corpse whose heritage they were preparing to seize; France was a fighter, prostrate indeed, but a fighter who feels a deep strong life within him, and whose confidence and will were restored on 18 June by General de Gaulle in his first appeal over the BBC: ‘There must be an ideal, there must be a hope, somewhere the flame of French resistance must shine and burn.’

On hearing this appeal, which at once went to her heart, France lifted up the tombstone and from that time the voice of the BBC each day gave fresh impetus to the miracle of French resurrection. Sustained each day by this transfusion of hope, the deep springs of France’s life, which some people believed had dried up for ever, began to trickle through innumerable underground cells, secretly swelling through her arteries despite her gaping wounds, and hardening the muscles which would one day rend her chains asunder.

From that moment, the story of the French transmissions of the BBC is one with the history of militant and suffering France until the long awaited day when liberation once more made our country ‘France Triumphant’.

How shall we recall without emotion those evenings of clandestine listening at home in cold rooms without fires, in the darkness of night? The reflections of the ‘Trois Amis’, the news commentators whose particular style and personality at once became familiar, and, above all, the resounding passion of the ‘Spokesman of Fighting France’, Maurice Schumann. ‘Honneur et Patrie’ — these two words uttered like a call to arms were followed by stirring words poured out in a magnificent hymn to the Motherland and Honour. This nourishment soon became more vital than the bread and salt of our scanty table. A bugle-call, a peal of bells, a military march, secretly caught and heard, were consolation for the anguish of bad news. The urchins in the streets whistled the mocking refrains heard the day before, which provided everyone with a little joy in living and with courage for the fight.

How unpopular was the importunate visitor who disturbed our listening when, with ears strained to hear through the jamming, we followed the fortunes of the battle in the skies over Britain, or the pursuit of the Bismarck in the ocean mists, or the ebb and flow of the armies in the sands of African Libya! It was vital not to miss the evening transmission; and so we heard of El Alamein and Stalingrad, justifying our mad hopes — hopes at last revealed to the false prophets as splendid reason.

For those tormented by the thought of a son fighting on a distant battlefront, the BBC was the only messenger whose testimony could calm anxiety after long impatience.

Finally, to all those who were gathering together in the trap-infested darkness for underground action, to all who in the midst of loneliness, mistrust and suspicion, were offering their help and their will to fight, a secret, confident voice giving personal messages brought advice, information and promise. In the depths of the sheltering forests, in the undergrowth of the watching moors, in the friendly streets of shadowy towns, a word arrived from across the Channel and spread in miraculous fashion; and so a web was woven, invisible to the enemy. Patiently, dangerously, the network spread, closely and firmly knit vast coils which at the appointed time brought about his fall.

The magnificent work of the clandestine organizations owes much to the helping voices of the BBC. But besides those who were outlawed, hunted by all the different types of police, faced with danger every moment and in every place, I think of the timid people, of all the humble, defenceless people who were precipitated by the defeat of France into a dull stupor, and who acquired, if not a taste for humiliation, then the habit of it. These people are the most to be pitied perhaps, for God seemed to have deprived them of the virtue of hope, and they have had to be brought slowly back to life, given a new confidence and set on the right road.

In this struggle of light against darkness, of truth against lies, the BBC for four years gave us the best and most effective weapons; it did not speak of an easy success, nor of unmerited glory; it foretold blood and tears; but it drew from the injustice of our misery a lesson of effort, courage and resistance; it strengthened the energies and the hidden forces which were soon to spring forth from an inexhaustible stock; it reawakened devotion for a Motherland which could not die since her sons wished to live.

‘Ici Londres, les Français parlent aux Français.’ These were the words which, in the silence of occupation, when every mouth was gagged, helped the French to surmount and overcome the lies of the enemy. Like a compass to the sailor, the wireless was to them the guide and the assurance which, at the height of the tempest, saved them from despair.

It is partly, indeed largely, thanks to you, dear familiar voices, that our minds stayed free while our limbs were bound.

  • Georges-Augustin Bidault (1899-1983) was active in the French Resistance during the occupation of France. Upon liberation he was part of the Provision Government, becoming President briefly. He was then Prime Minister of the new Fourth Republic twice – for 6 weeks in 1946 and 1949-1950. Originally an anti-fascist Christian democrat, his opposition to De Gaulle’s Fifth Republic withdrawing from Algeria pushed him to the right, leaving him involved first in OAS terrorism and later the Front National. Due to his terrorist links, he was exiled, first to Brazil, later to Belgium, between 1962 and 1968, returning after an amnesty.

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