the combat of Genest

The little village of Le Chézeau has about twelve inhabited houses (counting that of the couple from Toulon, who are sometimes here, and ourselves, who are here for some part of the summer).  There are some crumbling unoccupied cottages too, so at its height through the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries I suppose it would have had maybe fifteen to twenty farming and farm-labouring families.  It’s too small to have its own shop, church or café, but it does have a post box, and the charcuterie van comes round from Ste Sévère on a Wednesday afternoon. 

There’s a big ugly corrugated iron building that appears on the map as a ‘silo’, but it’s really some sort of animal feed store.  It has a large parking area for the transport vehicles to pull in, and an office in a semi-derelict mobile home.  A few years ago a fine marble plaque incised with blue lettering was placed in the parking area.  The effect was rather like the headstone on a grave.  Then, a little later, the concrete pillar supporting it was upgraded to a more stylish plinth.

memorial to the resistance - le chezeau

If my photo isn’t very clear, the French says:

 

A la mémoire
des résistants du groupe Indre-est qui cantonnerent
sur ces lieux en juillet 1944
avant de participer au combat de Genest.

  in English:

To the memory
of the resistance fighters of the group Indre-East who were billeted
at this place in July 1944,
before taking part in the battle of Genest.

 

Genest is a short pleasant walk from here, nowadays, along a waymarked official walking path.  From le Chézeau you go along the road towards Ste Sévère for a couple of hundred yards, then onto a track past some large fields, beside an oak wood and down to a little stream.  On the other side of the stream the path rises through the woods of Beaulieu, and on up to Genest, which is on the main road (if that’s the right term for the D110) between Boussac and Ste Sévère.  There’s a fine view back to the south over the fields and villages of Étoubet and le Chézeau towards the hilly wood of les Pièges.  Tractors steadily working their fields and the telecommunications mast barely keep us aware of which century we are in.  It’s a little hard to see how this can be a battle site – one might suspect that the village fathers are exaggerating the matter, in their zeal to support local patriotism.

The full story of the Battle of Genest can be pieced together via Google (in French), but briefly it goes like this.  To coincide with the Normandy landings in July 1944, a call went out to the French nation to rise up, join with the Résistance, and attack the occupying German army.  The response was massive, especially in Centre.  (see the Wikipedia entry for Pérassay) At the same time, German troops were urgently moved north from their stations in the centre and south of France to reinforce the battles taking place in northern France.  The Germans were furious with the French who impeded their desperate march northwards, and presumably also rather well aware that they would be fighting a bitter rearguard action in a war now lost.  Massacres had taken place in the Dordogne.  A group of the SS were stationed at Chateauroux, but I can’t find out quite why they were moving southwards in July.  Certainly there was a tumult, and bitterly personal reprisals within La Châtre at that time, and Ste Sévère is not far from there.  At Genest on the 16th July, according to the journal of Jean Gaultier, a schoolteacher at Saint Chartier, the German troops made an ambush near two lorries that had broken down, and fought a pitched battle with local people and the Resistance.  Gaultier’s journal is at http://creban.ifrance.com/liberat/gaucum.htm .  The regular troops won, of course, and there is a list of the seventeen French casualties on a memorial at Genest. 

 The thought of that wholesale popular uprising, which has been largely forgotten or denied by ordinary English-speaking people, is one I find intensely moving.  These genial local farmers look well-fed and comfortable as they glide past, high up on their huge tractors, but even so the memorials are new and well-tended.

the memorial on its plinth

 

More to come:

* I will blog another part of the story – and the tale of the courage of the mayor of Vijon – another time, when I can flesh it out with the relevant photos.  

 * More detail about the resistance in the Indre at:
http://creban.ifrance.com/repress/repallete44.html

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7 Responses to “the combat of Genest”

  1. albertine Says:

    My mistake – apparently German troops were not stationed in Vichy France.

  2. valkyrie1 Says:

    Interesting to read about this. It’s all so _recent_ and so unimaginable.

  3. albertine Says:

    yes – and I can only suppose that the people involved were the fathers and uncles and so on of the guys we see on tractors around the place. The French websites are fascinating as well. Apparently when the Germans first took over France (in 1940?) there was an agreement that they wouldn’t station troops within Vichy France – and the demarcation line was not too far south of the Berry. But whether or not that agreement still held in ’44, I don’t know. Anyway, the website I mention seems to say that during June/July (after D-Day) a sequence of columns of German soldiers were ramping around the roads near La Chatre, shooting up almost anyone they could find. (There’s a wonderful book by Irene Nemirovsky about the fall of Paris, which tells a lot about the initial invasion – do you know of it?)

  4. Colin Says:

    Avril asked me to look at your interesting entry.

    First, a word about German troops in the ‘free’ zone. From the armistice in 1940 the south was infested with various German intelligence agencies trying to ensure that the terms of the armistice were stuck too by Petain, with varying degrees of success. My God-mother’s network (Alliance) decided to set up its nascent HQ by actually taking over a hotel in the middle of Vichy and pretending it was a centre for anciens combatants! It worked for a good time. Her réseau is described in the book Noah’s Ark – so called by the Gestapo as all the agents had animal cover names with, for instance, radio operators taking bird names.

    Of course there were German troops in the south after the Germans abrogated the armistice and occupied the rest of France (apart from the area around Nice which the Italians had ‘reclaimed’) on 10 November 1942.

    The group you wrote about were probably Maquisards, who for a number of very different reasons spent the war holed up in the wilder areas of France. Many were supported with parachuted drops of arms, radios and training officers (mostly British rather than French I think) by SOE. Before the landings in June 1944 they were ‘militarised’ (which provided quite illusory protection against summary execution) by the French government in exile and became part of FFI. Many of the uprisings after the start of the invasion were not called for by the allies who wanted targeted attacks on specified troop concentrations and railways acting on intelligence from SIS [aka MI6] networks such as Alliance. The reprisals were terrible – see for instance Oradour [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oradour-sur-Glane] as just one example.

    Museums to the resistance are springing up all over. One that is of particular interest to me is at Hochfelden near Strasbourg, devoted to the SUSSEX operation (see the recent official history of MI6 by Keith Jeffery.)

    There are now probably more people claiming to have been in the resistance than there were adults in France at the time – but of course this in no way diminishes the amazing courage of those who did take part. I have met a good number of them and perhaps with two exceptions they were men and women of the most astounding modesty.

    Enjoy the peace of the present.

    • albertine Says:

      Thank you for the information. Did you look at the reference website I put up here? One of them is a really interesting diary kept by a schoolteacher and poet around this period. He mentions Genest. But what is especially interesting (in the light of your comments about who was and was not in the resistance) are his vacillations over whether or not to participate in the informal uprisings. I knew about Oradour – but thanks for mentioning it. There is a story relating to Vijon (just down the road from Genest) which I will blog when I can take photos to go with it – not until next Spring, now, alas. The ways in which the stories/histories are being handed down, and perhaps changed – even officially – are quite striking. There is clearly an issue to do with what de Gaulle actually said and what people believe him to have called for. I’m probably not the person to research that.

  5. Colin Says:

    Sorry – not had time to look at the site – up to my eyes in other aspects of SIS/Resistance research.

    I know from my father’s experience with de G that what he said and did at the time was not always reflected in how he recorded it for posterity – but then I am sure the same can be said for Churchill.

  6. albertine Says:

    . . . . or, indeed, for any of us. Memory is so selective.

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