Here in France I am reading this extraordinary book by Peter de Polnay, published in London in 1942. It gives a wry, sad, fascinating and amusing account of the German invasion of France in 1940 and of subsequent life in Paris under the heel of the Wehrmacht.
The writer recounts a meeting with a French friend at the Trocadéro in the Fall of 1940. The French friend says: “The average Frenchman knows nothing about England … Two countries whose interest, life and future were so completely interwoven and none of them took the trouble to know the other. All I should know about England as an educated Frenchman is the positively anti-English tendency of late nineteenth-century literature and the translated works of Oscar Wilde … For some obscure reason, since the last war England’s immense sacrifice of over one million lives” [of whom, as the very moving memorial in Notre Dame in Paris says, the greater number sleep in French soil] “had been passed over. The English never bothered to mention it. The French, despite their large seaboard, are an inland nation. They never appreciated, because they didn’t understand it, the English Navy’s effort in he last war and, of course, England didn’t trouble to point it out. You know, and I know, that Churchill has always been a loyal friend of France, a lover of France, but now the Boche is going to tell the people that England is run by the monster Churchill and the City of London and they’re going to believe him. Yet our only salvation is English victory…. Thus spoke the Frenchman.”
It reminds me of a remark, yesterday, by a friend: after the third and final American Presidential Election debate he said that he was now leaning towards “Making American Great Britain Again”.