Relations between Britain and France in World War Two


Institut Français d’Ecosse, Edinburgh, 3 May 2017

Roundtable speakers: Professor Peter Jackson (Glasgow) and Dr Emile Chabal (Edinburgh)

When war was declared in September 1939, Britain and France stood together as allies with similar democratic traditions, levels of military and economic strength and global interests. Within less than a year, however, the two states had severed diplomatic relations and become bitter enemies. This one-day workshop seeks to explore the trajectory of relations between Britain and France over the course of the Second World War. While historians have often highlighted how military defeats and political tensions caused mutual suspicions rooted in centuries of imperial and naval rivalries to resurface, this workshop aims to examine how the interconnections between the two states were critical to their survival and future.

We invite speakers to interpret this subject in its broadest sense. Possible topics might include:

  • Diplomatic relations between Britain, Vichy France and the Free French
  • Military and intelligence relations
  • Propaganda and perceptions
  • The SOE and British roles in French resistance activities
  • The RAF bombing campaign in France
  • The liberation of France
  • Colonial rivalries between Britain and France, 1939-45
  • Legacies of the war in postwar relations between Britain and France

Proposals for papers of 20 minute or for panels of two or three papers are invited. We particularly invite contributions from postgraduate students and overseas scholars. Paper proposals should comprise a paper title, abstract of 300 words and a one-page CV in a single pdf file. Please send proposals to Dr Karine Varley at: by 3 April 2017. Funding assistance will be available to contribute towards speakers’ travel expenses.

The workshop will be followed by a public roundtable discussion on the lessons and legacies of the Second World War for relations between the UK and France today. Roundtable speakers include Professor Peter Jackson (Glasgow) and Dr Emile Chabal (Edinburgh).

The workshop is part of a wider two-year project funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh on ‘Relations between Britain and France in World War Two’, led by Dr Rogelia Pastor-Castro and Dr Karine Varley, University of Strathclyde.

Edinburgh workshop programme

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Call for Papers: Society for the Study of French History 31st Annual Conference ‘France, Europe and the World’

Call for Papers: Society for the Study of French History 31st Annual Conference

‘France, Europe and the World’

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, 26-27 June 2017

Confirmed plenary speakers:

Professor Robert Gildea (Oxford)

Professor John Merriman (Yale)

Professor Sophie Wahnich (CNRS)

Professor Marie-Laure Legay (Lille 3)

The history of France has been profoundly shaped by its European and global entanglements. Whether through its diplomatic and military engagements, colonial encounters, cultural and intellectual exchanges, or the interconnections of trade and commerce, the porous and fluid nature of France’s borders have brought a complex range of influences upon France’s history. As the role and status of France within Europe and the wider world changed, so did perceptions and representations of France.

This conference seeks to explore French history from international, transnational and global perspectives and invites speakers to reconsider the significance and relevance of the nation state. We invite participants to interpret the conference theme in its broadest terms.

In addition to the conference theme, we also invite papers or panels on any aspect of French history from the early medieval to the contemporary period and we welcome contributions that reflect the broad diversity of the history of France and its former colonial empire.

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers in English or in French on any aspect of the conference theme. Proposals for panels of two or three papers are particularly welcome. We particularly invite contributions from postgraduate students and overseas scholars. Paper proposals should comprise a paper title, abstract of 300 words and a one-page CV in a single pdf file. Please send proposals to Dr Karine Varley at: by 28 February 2017.

Find out more about the SSFH at:

Twitter: #ssfh2017 – @FrenchHistoryUK

Conference organisers: Karine Varley and Rogelia Pastor-Castro

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BBC Monitoring and French Radio during the Second World War


On 28 June 1940, Alexis Léger, the former head of the French Foreign Ministry told Winston Churchill that against a background of growing anti-British sentiment in France following the defeat, Britain might make use of the fact that BBC broadcasting was widely listened to in France and that by ‘clever use of the […] wireless’, they might be able to turn French public opinion around. In order to do this, however, they needed to know what was being said on the radio in France.

The axis powers were quick to realise the importance of controlling the airwaves, ordering the closure of all existing French radio stations as part of the armistice terms. In their place, two new stations were established: Radio Paris under German supervision in the northern occupied zone and Radiodiffusion Nationale, known as Radio Vichy, in the unoccupied zone. However, BBC radio could be picked up across much of France and evidence suggests that many French people considered the BBC to be the most trusted source of information. Listening to the BBC was outlawed, but the ban was regularly flouted and the Vichy government that came into office after the French defeat resisted German demands to make it a capital offence until the total occupation of France in November 1942.

The BBC Monitoring Service transcripts give historians important insights into how, faced with the challenges of the French defeat and occupation, British and French radio became at once locked in battle and connected in a dialogue. In the struggle for veracity and legitimacy, each shaped the other’s agenda and each was compelled to respond to the other’s claims. The BBC Monitoring transcripts gave up-to-date insights into the Vichy government’s responses to British actions and British propaganda and provided vital information on where Vichy saw itself going domestically and internationally.

bbc monitoring

Relations between Britain and France

Between the summer to the autumn of 1940, France went from being allied to Britain to collaborating with Nazi Germany. It was therefore a period of extraordinary sensitivity in Britain’s relations with France. The two key assets that Vichy retained under the June 1940 armistices, namely its colonial empire and naval fleet, were the very elements that caused the greatest concern for London. Fearing that they might yet fall into axis hands, the British government found itself compelled to defend the interests and security of Britain in ways that were damaging to the interests and security of France. These actions gave not just Vichy, but also the Free French, legitimate cause to question British intentions, resurrecting old suspicions about ‘perfidious Albion’. The first such incident was the British attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir on 3 July 1940. The British government claimed that it needed to ensure that the French fleet could not be seized by the Germans or Italians, but many in France saw it as unjustified aggression causing the deaths of almost 1300 French sailors. The fallout was significant, but it was only aggravated by a British and Free French attack on Dakar on 23-5 September 1940.

The delicate nature of relations between Britain and France during this period meant that it was critically important that British propaganda be precisely framed and targeted. Regardless of any military or strategic justifications, British actions directly affected Vichy’s move towards collaborating with Nazi Germany and provoked a wave of anti-British sentiment within many sections of French society. Getting accurate, up-to-date information was therefore vital.


Propaganda and the French public

It is generally acknowledged that to have any real impact, propaganda needs to have a receptive audience, and that to be credible it needs to have some grounding in reality. The problem for the BBC and for the Free French was how to counter the fact that many of the claims made by Radio Vichy seemed to ring true with many French people. A 1940 official document on British propaganda to France therefore stated that the primary task of radio propaganda for France was to counteract Anglophobia and to rebuild confidence in Britain’s power to continue the war. Following a strategy proposed by Maurice Schumann on 9 July 1940, French service broadcasts on the BBC sought to insist upon the continuing close connections and shared ordeals of the British and French people and to combat suspicions that Britain did not wish to see France restored to its former standing. The BBC Monitoring transcripts help us to gain a greater understanding of these strategies.

From its establishment in June 1940, Radio Vichy regularly refuted the claims made by the British government. Yet it was somewhat slower to respond systematically to the Free French broadcasts on the BBC, only beginning to do so in earnest in mid-April 1941. Radio Vichy tried to claim that the ‘stupidity of this propaganda’ had ‘seemed so obvious’ that it did not need to be refuted. But a more plausible explanation is that the shift in Radio Vichy’s strategy was a measure of the headway that the French broadcasts from London were making with the French public. The conscious and explicit nature of the responses from Radio Vichy was striking. One broadcast from late April 1941 conceded that ‘hundreds of thousands of people’ had indeed been ‘taken in’ by General de Gaulle’s words. The response from Radio Vichy revealed an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the strategies employed on BBC radio. Its claims that the attacks against Pétain were conducted with ‘infinite precision so as not upset public feeling’ suggested an awareness of how the BBC was mindful of many French people’s loyalty towards the marshal, even if they did not feel the same towards the Vichy regime.

Vichy radio

Reacting to British actions at Dakar

The British and Free French attack on Dakar on 23-25 September 1940 was easy prey for Vichy’s propaganda narrative that Britain was only interested in seizing defeated France’s colonies and that De Gaulle was a traitor implicated in Britain’s crimes. With the BBC depicting Vichy as the puppet of Nazi Germany, so Radio Vichy portrayed De Gaulle as ‘England’s servant’. Addressing De Gaulle’s adherents directly, Radio Vichy dramatically accused Free French supporters of complicity in the deaths of French servicemen. On 25 September 1940, the broadcaster declared: ‘Frenchmen […] some of you remained attached to De Gaulle. You have remained deaf to the cry for help of our soldiers who were burned, drowned, crushed without defence. […] Frenchmen… every one of you must become a judge. Those dead at Dakar united to those at Mers-el-Kébir demand justice. Hear them, answer them, as otherwise their blood will be on you’.

With the attack a failure, within days Vichy was able to send reporters out to Dakar to refute directly the claims being made by the BBC. A number of BBC Monitoring transcripts are highly evocative in describing the background noises included in the broadcasts, including the sounds of a plane at Dakar airport, crowds on the streets and a market scene. The sounds, as described in the transcripts, conveyed a defiant impression of life carrying on despite the actions of the British and Free French. The level of detail, on-location reports and eye-witness accounts lent the Dakar broadcasts a directness and credibility with which the BBC could not compete. They highlight how despite its reputation for trustworthy reporting, the BBC’s task of countering Vichy’s radio propaganda was far from simple.

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Italy’s Decade of War: 1935-45 in International Perspective

University of Strathclyde, 6-7 September 2016

Keynote speakers: 

Professor MacGregor Knox, London School of Economics

Professor Nicola Labanca, Università degli Studi di Siena

strathNaples University logo


Registration now open

From the invasion of Abyssinia to the end of World War Two, Italy experienced a decade of war. This conference aims to re-evaluate the history of the Italian experience during this ten-year period with a unifying perspective that places the Italian Fascist regime and its foreign and military enterprises in an entirely internationalised framework of analysis.

Organisers: Dr Marco Maria Aterrano and Dr Karine Varley

Provisional Programme: Italy Decade War conference programme June version 2

The conference will include a Civic Reception and Conference Dinner at Glasgow City Chambers.



city chambers interior (2)

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‘Imprisoned in the Vatican’: Neutrality and the Challenges Facing the French Embassy to the Holy See in World War Two

Paper presented at ‘Embassies in Crisis’ conference, British Academy, 9 June 2016


The case of the French embassy to the Holy See in the Second World War was very different to the other embassies being discussed today, given the particular character of the Vatican City State. But I’d like to suggest that it offers a significant example of an embassy in crisis, having to function in the challenging conditions of war, with French diplomats confined within the walls of Vatican City by the Italian state with which France was at war, unable to communicate directly with France, cut off from the outside world, and having to operate from temporary accommodation. The precarious status of the French embassy was made all the more acute by the very survival of Vatican City as an independent state being dependent upon Mussolini’s government observing the terms of the Lateran Treaty.

When war broke out in 1939, the Vatican had only existed as an independent state for ten years following the signing of the Lateran Treaty with the Italian Fascist government in 1929. As the smallest sovereign state with few economic and social interests and only a ceremonial army, many states questioned the worth of diplomatic representation there. With increasing international tensions in the late 1930s, however, the Holy See came to acquire great significance as a neutral intermediary and potential means of reaching and influencing Mussolini.

Italy’s declaration of war against France on 10 June 1940 left the embassy to the Holy See as the only French diplomats to remain in Italy until 1944. The embassy therefore found itself at the centre of important diplomatic manoeuvres between France and Italy. The problem was that the conditions and status of the Vatican left the embassy significantly circumscribed in its ability to operate. The ambassadors, Count Wladimir d’Ormesson, who served from late May 1940 until November 1940 and Leon Berard who served for the remainder of the war, were effectively imprisoned in Vatican City, forbidden from leaving by the Italian government.

The first section of what I’m going to discuss today looks at how the French embassy to the Holy See confronted the challenges of being an embassy to a neutral state located within an enemy state. The second looks at the French ambassador’s role in the attempts to pursue an alternative foreign policy with Italy to the one which culminated in Vichy’s collaboration with Nazi Germany.


Wladimir d’Ormesson was appointed ambassador to the Holy See in late May 1940. With German forces rapidly advancing into France and chaos in government, Foreign Minister Paul Reynaud recalled many of France’s leading diplomats, including Francois Charles-Roux who had been ambassador to the Holy See since 1932, to serve as general secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. D’Ormesson came from a family of diplomats and was well-connected within diplomatic and political circles, but was a journalist with no direct experience of working in foreign affairs. He left for Rome on 28 May 1940 and had his first private audience with Pope Pius XII on 9 June 1940, just a day before Italy declared war against France.


Ambassador Wladimir d’Ormesson and Pope Pius XII


berard at embassy

Georges de Blesson, Ambassador Léon Bérard, François de Vial at an audience with Pope Pius XII



Italy’s declaration of war meant that the French embassy to the Holy See had to leave Taverna Palace, which was on Italian territory in Rome, and move within the walls of Vatican City. Thereafter, the French ambassador was not permitted to leave Vatican City, unless granted special permission by the Italian government and had to be accompanied by Italian police. It was established practice for states to place restrictions upon an enemy state’s embassy at the outbreak of war, but these restrictions were the consequence of Italian encroachments upon the Vatican’s status as a sovereign, neutral state. Indeed, d’Ormesson was fully well that the Italians had placed a spy in the embassy posing as footman, and claimed that everything he said was passed on to the Fascist authorities.

It was normal practice that at times of war, there should be no contact between enemy missions so diplomats could not be accused of consorting with the enemy. But the conditions endured by foreign diplomats in Vatican City created a sense of shared experience that overrode diplomatic protocol. The embassies for all states that had ruptured relations with Italy were moved into the Santa Marta hostel. The first floor was occupied by the Polish ambassador, the second by the French, the third by the Belgian ambassador, and the fourth by the British Minister, D’Arcy Osborne. D’Ormesson had quickly struck up a friendship with Osborne when their countries had been allies, but the French surrender and the rupture in diplomatic relations following Mers-el-Kebir meant that the two ambassadors should have avoided contact. The French press claimed that the two men, who could not help but bump into each other on their shared staircase, would turn away from each other and even get into fights. In reality, however, D’Ormesson continued to have lunch with Osborne almost every day, a factor which contributed to him being recalled by Pierre Laval in October 1940.

The embassy was unable to communicate regularly or directly with France. With few outside visitors and little access to reliable information, it was also cut off from the outside world. With long periods with little to do, it was perhaps inevitable that the ambassador’s judgement became impaired. But rather than him ‘going native’, D’Ormesson’s reports and correspondence suggest that he became increasingly exasperated and frustrated by the gap between what he wanted to do and what he was able to do. We see this in his personal correspondence to Charles-Roux, where he expresses his ‘despair’ at the pope’s ‘passivity’.

Significance of Vatican for Vichy

Like many other governments during the war, Vichy sought the moral and political legitimacy of papal endorsement. Testifying in 1955, Berard described his approach as having been driven ‘by the feeling that France at such a time should maintain closer relations than ever with the high spiritual power from which so many nations sought approval or backing’.

The ideology of the Vichy regime made this particularly important. In the initial period after the defeat, Vichy’s National Revolution sought to roll back the secularisation of the Third Republic and revive notions of France as ‘eldest daughter of the Catholic Church’. D’Ormesson saw the Holy See as a particularly ‘precious’ asset for France as a Catholic country. The values and international status of the Catholic Church posed a challenge to the Italian Fascist government’s own political dogma and ambitions, so its presence in Rome as a rival source of authority benefited French interests.

Relations with Italy

Attempts by key figures within the Vichy government, especially Pierre Laval, to gain closer relations with the Nazis have tended to dominate historical accounts of this period. But in the summer and autumn of 1940, an alternative policy of seeking closer relations with Italy as a counterweight to Germany was being act pursued by Foreign Minister Paul Baudouin and Secretary-General to the Foreign Ministry, Francois Charles-Roux. They sought to isolate Germany by pursuing rapprochement with Italy, emphasising the historical bonds and shared interests of the two ‘Latin and Catholic’ countries.

The French embassy became critical to the realisation of the strategy in three ways. First, it enabled Vichy to have a source of information within Italy, with access to Italian diplomats and others in contact with the Fascist government. Second, it was critical to Baudouin and Charles-Roux’s desires to use the Holy See as intermediary to a recalcitrant Italian government. Third, it gave Vichy the possibility of using the Vatican’s position to reach the Italian people directly, appealing over the heads of the Fascist government and exploiting the pro-French tendencies of much of the population. Radio Vatican and the Vatican’s newspaper, Osservatore Romano, were the only media operating independently from the Fascist state within Italy.

The problem was, however, that communication difficulties with Vichy left d’Ormesson having to pursue this alone, even when he saw it was failing to have any effect upon the Italian government. He worked tirelessly to secure favourable coverage of developments in France on Vatican radio in the hope that the Italian people would hear it and pressurise their government into a change of policy towards France. He also regularly called upon Osservatore Romana to counter anti-French propaganda in the Fascist press in the hope that the Italian Catholic clergy would spread word in their communities.

Having a diplomatic presence at Vatican City also provided the opportunity for unofficial dialogue with elements of the Fascist regime more favourably disposed towards France than Mussolini. In July 1940, Professor Guido Mannacorda, a Catholic agent of the Fascist government proposed a secret meeting with d’Ormesson in the gardens of the Vatican in which he proposed that under the leadership of Mussolini, France and Italy could work together to offset the danger of German domination.

If ultimately, nothing came of the talks, without the embassy to the Holy See, there would have been no other forum for diplomatic activity between France and Italy.


The experiences of the French embassy to the Holy See in World War Two were highly unusual. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sought to capitalise on the unique position of Vatican City as a neutral state located within the capital city of an enemy state to turn the embassy to the Holy See into a proxy embassy to Italy. But this dual role created tensions with the embassy’s legitimate remit in relation to the Holy See. Despite fulfilling their instructions, both d’Ormesson and Berard pushed back attempts by the Ministry to take this proxy role further, fearing that doing so risked jeopardising the survival of the embassy with repercussions from Italy and the Vatican.

The embassy’s isolation placed considerable onus on the ambassador to initiate and pursue diplomatic manoeuvres. While the other embassies confined within Vatican City were also cut off from their governments and the outside world, what was distinct about this case was that after 24 June 1940 France was neither at war nor peace with Italy but in a prolonged state of armistice. Elements within the Vichy government wanted rapprochement with Italy in which the Catholic heritage of the two countries would be at the heart of a Latin union that would counterbalance German domination. The absence of any other forum for diplomatic contact with Italy pushed the French embassy to the Holy See found to the forefront.

While it may not have had to face such dramatic crises as others, with no civilian population to deal with, the intense pressure brought about by confinement in the claustrophobic environment of the embassy should not be underestimated. We know from Owen Chadwick’s work that it took a toll on the mental and physical health of the British Minister. While his language may have been tinged by hyperbole, as he struggled make sense of the stark contrast between the grandeur and sanctity of the Vatican and the violence of the war being waged beyond its walls, d’Ormesson described his time at the embassy as having been nothing less than ‘torture’.



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Pétain and the Centenary of the Battle of Verdun in the First World War: A Discomforting Presence

The centenary of the First World War in France has raised a number of difficult and sometimes sensitive questions about how the nation should remember and commemorate the experiences that so profoundly shaped the country. 2016 sees the centenary of one of the most important battles for France, yet it also stirs up some uncomfortable memories associated with the Second World War.

The battle of Verdun is widely acknowledged to hold a particular place in French memory. Seen as a symbol of sacrifice and resilience, it soon came to be a defining reference-point for the French experience in the First World War, quickly gaining special status in the commemorations in the years that followed. Yet memories of the battle of Verdun were also inseparable from memories of the ‘hero of Verdun’, General Philippe Pétain. It raised the question of whether and how Pétain’s role should be commemorated.

The discovery that postcards of Pétain were on sale at Douaumont provoked shock, consternation and alarm on social media. The newly-opened Mémorial de Verdun responded with a formal statement that no images of Pétain would be on sale at the museum. However, in live-tweeting the events of the battle, the Memorial has not sought to airbrush Pétain from history. Indeed, Pétain’s role is covered in full, treated no differently to any other protagonist. Could this be an indication that France is finally coming to terms with the contradictory image of Pétain?

Offenstadt tweet

With the far-right Front National now an established element on the French political scene, and regular incidents of anti-Semitism, memories of Pétain and of the Vichy regime in the Second World War remain firmly entrenched in the nation’s political culture. Indeed, in 2014, extreme-right polemicist Eric Zemmour’s defence of Vichy’s record on the persecution of the Jews became a best-seller in France, prompting furious debate about the regime’s true historical record.

Here in the UK, a new play, entitled The Patriotic Traitor and written by Johnathan Lynn has recently sought to reopen the debate about Pétain and De Gaulle, who, as a young captain, was captured at Verdun. Starring Tom Conti as Pétain and Laurence Fox as General de Gaulle, the play asks which of the two men was the traitor in the Second World War, Petain for his collaboration with the Nazis or De Gaulle for ‘abandoning’ France for London. The play suggests that part of the tragedy of Pétain’s story is that he did the same in the two world wars. But whereas his actions made him a hero in the first, the same actions led him to be labelled a traitor in the second.

In military terms, the battle of Verdun is generally seen as not having been exceptional, but it was significant for the impact it had upon the French people. It was the first time since the Marne in 1914 that French forces truly feared a German breakthrough. According to Antoine Prost, French soldiers saw it as battle like no other, one in which they must not surrender, whatever the cost.

After the failures of General Nivelle, Pétain introduced a new system of rapid troop rotation, ensuring that men spent no more than eight days on the front line at a time. This eased the burden on soldiers, but it also meant that the numbers of men who fought there was high, creating the impression that the whole nation had served at Verdun. In the years that followed, Verdun became for many politicians, artists, journalists and writers the battle that one had to have experienced. The town itself was awarded the Légion d’honneur by President Raymond Poincaré on 12 September 1916, and with the construction of the Douaumont ossuary and military cemeteries after the war, soon became a site of pilgrimage. The myth of Pétain as the ‘hero of Verdun’ soon developed, its lasting power over the French people symbolised by the trust many placed in the aged marshal when he claimed to be saving France once again in June 1940.

This year’s official centenary commemorations, scheduled for 29 May 2016, will focus upon Franco-German reconciliation, and will be led by President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But with France facing ongoing challenges following the terrorist attacks of 2015, the French government’s hopes of evoking the spirit of ‘sacred union’ that supposedly held the country together through the First World War seem unlikely. In many respects, the divisive legacy of Pétain and what he represented lives on.


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Call for Papers: Relations between Britain and France at the end of World War Two: Cooperation and Reconstruction

Relations between Britain and France at the end of World War Two:
Cooperation and Reconstruction


Provisional Programme: Workshop programme

Workshop: 6 May 2016, Institute of Historical Research, London

Workshop convenors: Dr Rogelia Pastor-Castro and Dr Karine Varley, University of Strathclyde

This workshop will explore the roles played by the UK and France in European reconstruction at the end of World War Two and the changing nature of Franco-British cooperation in the face of new international challenges. It will reflect upon how the UK and France responded to the challenges of humanitarian relief efforts, refugees, displaced persons, occupation of defeated countries, rebuilding democratic institutions and how the experiences of World War Two helped forge a new relationship between the two allies. It will seek to place UK-French relations in Europe in an international framework of relations with the United States, the Soviet Union and the British and French colonial empires.

Possible topics may include:

  • Responses to the humanitarian crisis
  • Policy towards defeated Germany and Italy
  • Rebuilding democracy in Europe
  • UK-French cooperation in an international framework

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on any aspect of the workshop theme. Please send paper proposals with an abstract of 250-300 words and one-page CV to Dr Karine Varley: by 18 March 2016.

The workshop is part of a wider two-year project funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh on ‘Relations between Britain and France in World War Two’, led by Dr Rogelia Pastor-Castro and Dr Karine Varley, University of Strathclyde.

About the Network

The network will explore the tensions, influences and experiences that shaped and defined the relationship between the UK and France during World War Two. As allies in the First World War and as states with similar democratic traditions, levels of military and economic strength and global interests, the relationship between Britain and France was critical to the survival and future of both countries. The network will engage closely with officials from the foreign policy community, including serving and past diplomats, the Foreign Office, as well as French and British defence policy-making and military staff.

RSE logostrath

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Relations between Britain and France in World War Two

I am currently working on a two-year Royal Society of Edinburgh Network on ‘Relations between Britain and France in World War Two’, with Dr Rogelia Pastor-Castro.

World war two poster NEW


The Network

 The network will contribute substantially to understanding the wider long-term significance of the relationship forged between the UK and France during the Second World War. It will inform current debates about contemporary international, diplomatic, military and security challenges, offering a source of expertise to interested stakeholders.

The central theme of the network is to explore the tensions, influences and experiences that shaped and defined the relationship between the UK and France during the war. As allies in the First World War and as states with similar democratic traditions, levels of military and economic strength and global interests, the relationship between Britain and France was critical to the survival and future of both countries. The network’s distinctiveness lies in its close engagement with officials from the foreign policy community, including serving and past diplomats, the Foreign Office, as well as French and British defence policy-making and military staff.


  1. To challenge existing historical approaches to the Second World War by engaging in research relevant to contemporary international challenges.
  2. To promote more effective engagement between historians of Franco-British relations and those involved in diplomatic relations and foreign policy, developing knowledge exchange activities with diplomats and officials from the foreign policy community to better inform policy-making.
  3. To develop new understandings of the history of Franco-British relations at times of war in light of the 2010 Lancaster House Treaties on defence and security cooperation between the UK and France.
  4. To promote debate about Franco-British cooperation by exploring how the two states responded to the challenges of reconstruction at the end of the Second World War, including humanitarian relief efforts, refugees, displaced persons, the occupation of defeated countries and rebuilding democratic institutions.
  5. To connect historians working in the fields of transnational, international, diplomatic, intelligence and military history in order to develop more nuanced understandings and methodologies.
  6. To explore the wider implications for Scotland of the historical and contemporary challenges of Franco-British military cooperation.
  7. To develop the next stage in a wider project on Britain and France in War and Peace that includes a major international conference on ‘France and the Second World War in Global Perspective, 1919-45’ at the University of Strathclyde in July 2015 and a colloquium on ‘Britain and France in World War Two’ at the British Embassy in Paris in October 2015, hosted by the British Ambassador to France.

Key questions:

  1. How were Franco-British relations shaped by the experiences of the Second World War?
  2. In what ways might historians’ understanding of diplomatic relations be informed by engaging with serving and past diplomats, and how might officials from the foreign policy community benefit from working with historians?
  3. How did the experiences of the war shape the cultural dispositions and world views of French and British diplomats?
  4. In what ways did experiences such as the fall of France in 1940 shape British and French perceptions of each other’s capabilities as Cold War allies and fellow NATO member states in the postwar period?
  5. To what extent were Franco-British relations during the war shaped by their colonial interests?
  6. How did the experiences of war inform British and French responses to the challenges of postwar European reconstruction and the occupation of defeated countries after 1945?


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Call for Papers: Italy’s Decade of War: 1935-45 in International Perspective

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, 6-7 September 2016

Deadline extended to 31 March 2016

Keynote speakers

Professor MacGregor Knox, London School of Economics

Professor Nicola Labanca, Università degli Studi di Siena

Mussolini image

From the invasion of Abyssinia to the end of World War II, Italy experienced a decade of war. This conference aims to re-evaluate the history of the Italian experience during this ten-year period with a unifying perspective that places the Italian Fascist regime and its foreign and military enterprises in an entirely internationalised framework of analysis. It will bring an international focus upon the Italian role in the breakdown of the international system and appeasement, and will analyse the consequences of Italian militarism on a global scale. It will explore comparative and transnational histories of the Italian occupations of France, the Balkans, Greece, and Albania, as well as the Allied occupation of Italy following the defeat.

The conference will place particular emphasis upon the significance of the Mediterranean region in the wider history of the Second World War, exploring the broader implications of Italy’s actions in Africa and the Middle East. It will also look at Italian diplomatic, military and economic relations with Britain, the United States, and Nazi Germany, as well as those with other states such as Vichy France and Spain.


After receiving a high number of submissions, we are issuing this second call for papers to invite in particular proposals on topics that have been neglected or under-explored in the first call.

We particularly welcome papers on:

  • Italian Fascism’s ideology and militarism
  • Italy’s role in appeasement
  • Italian neutrality
  • Italy’s relations with the League of Nations
  • Italian relations with Germany and France
  • Italy’s political and military role in the Middle East and North Africa
  • Foreign Fighters and Resistance
  • Experiences of the Italian diaspora in enemy states


Possible topics might also include:

  • The Abyssinian crisis and its regional consequences
  • Italy’s geopolitical revisionism in the Mediterranean
  • Italian Fascist military participation in the Spanish Civil War
  • The war in the Mediterranean
  • Italian occupations in World War Two
  • The Allied occupation of Italy, 1943-45
  • Memories and representations of Italy’s decade of war


This conference aims to bring together scholars working in the fields of military, political, diplomatic, international, colonial, transnational, and comparative history, and encourages inter-disciplinary contributions. The conference organisers aim to publish selected papers in an edited volume and a journal special issue.

We invite proposals for 20-25 minute papers on any aspect of the conference theme. Proposals for panels of two or three papers are particularly welcome. Paper proposals should comprise an abstract of 250-300 words and a one-page CV in a single pdf file in English.

Please send proposals to Dr Marco Maria Aterrano and Dr Karine Varley at by 31 March 2016.

Twitter: #ItalyDecadeWar

Conference website:

The conference will include a Civic Reception and conference dinner at Glasgow City Chambers (pictured below).


Conference Flyer – Italy’s Decade of War 1935-45

Italy CFP

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Perceptions of Britain in Vichy’s Foreign Policy, 1940-1942

Presented at ‘Britain and France in World War Two’ colloquium, British Ambassador’s Residence, Paris, 16 October 2015



In a conversation with Pastor Boegner on 27 May 1941, Admiral Darlan stated: ‘I worked with the English for fifteen years, they always lied to me. I’ve negotiated with the Germans for 3 months, and they have never misled me.’ Boegner pointed out that Hitler had in fact consistently violated the most solemn agreements, but this had little effect upon Darlan.  This self-delusion or wilful amnesia may just have been Darlan seeking to justify his pursuit of collaboration with Germany, but in Vichy, the belief in British duplicity was deeply-rooted and widely-held.

Virtually all of the scholarship on Vichy’s foreign policy portrays a pervasive Anglophobia that was deeply-rooted in resentments and suspicions of British intentions towards France. At the heart of the problem was that the age-old rivalry between Britain and France happened to revolve around the two key assets upon which Vichy’s claims to sovereignty and status as a global power depended: its colonial empire and navy.

I want to explore how in the turbulence of the French collapse, perceptions of Britain operated to become critical shaping factors in Vichy’s foreign policy. Rather than balanced analyses of how French interests might best be protected in the circumstances in which France found itself after the armistice, distrust, suspicion and even paranoia gained new credence. The absence of direct diplomatic contact between the UK and France during much of this period created a vacuum in which suspicions were heightened and in which British actions that conflicted with French interests served to legitimise mistrust. While historians have devoted considerable attention to the factors that drew Vichy into collaborating with Nazi Germany, just as important are the considerations that shaped its move away from its former ally Britain.

It is not difficult to find evidence of the strains in relations in the years leading up to the Second World War. But I want to look briefly at the evidence that Anglophobia had become endemic among the key institutions and individuals who shaped Vichy’s foreign policy.

In the French colonial service, the long history of rivalry with Britain and memories of the Fashoda incident of 1898 loomed large. This deeply-rooted hostility was instrumental in colonial officials’ decision to support Vichy rather than to join with the British and Free French. In the French navy, while many historians have portrayed a similar picture of traditional antipathy towards Britain, the reality is more nuanced. After the initial shock of Mers-el-Kebir, many officers reflected that they did not wish to be drawn into doing Germany’s bidding in engaging in hostilities against Britain.

The pervasiveness of this culture of antipathy towards Britain became significant because under Vichy, senior figures from the army and navy came to occupy key positions of authority over French foreign policy. Viewing Britain through the prism of this anti-British sentiment, they tended to distort and exaggerate the nature of the threat.

Indeed, Peter Jackson and Simon Kitson argue that not only was Admiral Darlan’s strategic vision conditioned by an imperial world-view and the Anglophobia of the French navy but that his whole approach in government was shaped by the ideological and geopolitical vision that he had developed as a naval officer. According to Bernard Costagliola, the navy’s Anglophobia had so embedded itself upon Darlan that he had come to believe that five generations of his family had been ruined by the death of his great grandfather at the hands of the British at Trafalgar, even though none of his relatives had actually fought in the battle.Darlan

What I want to look at is how far these distorted and inflated suspicions of Britain prevailed over balanced, objective analysis in shaping assessments of France’s future at the end of the war and consequently the direction of French foreign policy under Vichy. How far was it the case, as Herve Couteau-Begarie and Claude Huan have suggested, that Darlan’s Anglophobia so blinded him to the realities of Nazi intentions towards France that he believed France would gain more favourable terms from a German victory than a British one?

What is perhaps most striking is how among the relative few voices who argued in favour of Vichy maintaining at least a modus vivendi with the UK, none sought to justify this on grounds of historical or cultural affinity. Instead, arguments rested on notions that a British-led victory would be the least worst option for France.

Justification of suspicion

The very challenging and complex situations in which the French and British governments found themselves during the war caused each to have to defend their interests in ways that were sometimes damaging to the other. Just as the British government was alarmed by some of the actions taken by the French, so a number of actions taken by the British gave Vichy real, legitimate concern.

The first of these was the British attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir on 3 July 1940. While Franco-British relations had been tense since the French surrender, it was this act of what Vichy saw as unjustified aggression that caused the formal severing of diplomatic relations between the two states and enabled Foreign Minister Paul Baudouin’s directeur du cabinet, to declare that France was henceforth free from any obligations towards its former ally.


The fallout of Mers-el-Kebir might have been surmountable had it not been followed so soon by a British and Free French attack on Dakar on 23-5 September 1940. The attack on Dakar shattered the détente in Franco-British relations that had been so painstakingly rebuilt after Mers-el-Kebir. The fact that there had been no call for British help from the people of Dakar only fed into Vichy’s narrative of Britain’s malign intentions towards France’s colonial empire. It allowed Baudouin, who had been seeking to improve relations, to assert that the British government was using the threat from the axis as a pretext for eliminating a powerful rival navy and seizing the spoils of a defeated former ally. However legitimate the military and strategic justifications may have been, they did not mitigate what was arguably a political misjudgement that played directly into Vichy’s suspicions. The British bombing of Sfax on 29 May 1941 and the British occupation of Madagascar in mid-1942 only fuelled these beliefs.

Even when the British government did seek to reassure Vichy that it did not have malign intentions, its lack of attention to French sensitivities only aggravated matters. In a note sent to the French government via Madrid on 21 October 1940, the British government sought to assure Vichy that it would restore France’s ‘independence and grandeur’ after the war. The problem was, that the note’s assertion that France was ‘powerless’ to protect its empire from German or Italian infiltration and that it needed British assistance to do so went entirely against Vichy’s insistence that it would defend the sovereignty of its colonial empire. The language of the British note may have been clumsy, but it was a measure of a lack of faith in Vichy’s assurances.

The problem was that French and British governments had fundamentally opposing approaches and priorities in relation to the French colonial empire. A significant gulf emerged between Vichy’s exaggerated insistence that it retained a high level of sovereignty and British suspicions that the French government would be unable to resist axis demands. For the British government, the risk of the French empire and navy falling into axis hands outweighed the need to allay French suspicions. When Baudouin sought assurance (August 1940) that the British government would not seek to detach France’s colonies from Vichy’s control, Churchill refused.

Assessments of British intentions

At the heart of Vichy’s foreign policy were the conflicting impulsions of weighing up the most likely outcome of the war against the preferred outcome. In the initial months after the French surrender, few believed there was any realistic prospect of a British victory. Even as the tide started to turn against axis in 1941, officials at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs concluded that the most Britain could hope for was a compromise peace. But whereas diplomats maintained that a German-led victory would be significantly more harmful to France than a British-led one, the likes of Darlan, Laval and Petain maintained the opposite.

Numerous reports, including from sources sympathetic to Vichy, stated that any unpleasantness from having to endure future British domination would be as nothing compared to the territorial and material losses that Germany would impose. In his analysis for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 14 October 1940, Charles-Roux summed up the unanimous view of diplomats in stating that a ‘pax Britannica’ would be infinitely less disadvantageous for us than a ‘pax Germannica’. Without concrete assurances from the axis, Vichy risked playing a ‘fool’s game’ in defending its colonies against the British and the Free French only to find that it then lost them to Germany, Italy or even Spain or Japan later on.

Yet despite criticisms even from colleagues such as General Doyen, the head of the French armistice commission for Germany, that their assessments of German intentions towards France were not based on political realities, Darlan, Laval and Petain continued to maintain that French interests were better safeguarded under Germany than under Britain.

Contrast with Italy

I want to draw a comparison between Vichy’s dogmatic distrust of Britain and the way that Vichy viewed Italy.

As with Britain, France had long-running colonial and naval rivalries with Italy, especially in the Mediterranean. France and Italy had also been allies in the First World War, and their governments had also diverged over the peace terms of 1919. French support for sanctions against Italy over its invasion of Abyssinia, the election of the Popular Front and the Spanish Civil War widened tensions between the two states. But as with Britain, it was from the fall of France that a narrative of betrayal developed. The Italian declaration of war on France on 10 June 1940, as it was already on the verge of collapse was widely seen as Italy ‘stabbing’ France in the back. And yet, despite all this, between July 1940 and November 1942, Baudouin, Laval and Darlan each sought rapprochement with Italy claiming it was France’s natural ally.

The need to ease the burden of the German armistice terms led to the creation of a cultural rationale that enabled Vichy to transcend the resentments over past Italian action and suspicions about Italian intentions. Over late summer and early autumn 1940, Laval and Baudouin engaged in sustained efforts at rapprochement with the Italian government, citing cultural and historical affinity as two ‘Latin and Catholic’ countries.

These attempts at an alignment with Fascist Italy were not ideologically-driven efforts in pursuance of collaboration with Germany. Indeed, in the summer and autumn of 1940 and in the winter of 1941, Laval, Baudouin and Darlan sought explicitly to appeal to Mussolini isolate the German government, weaken its domination and pressurise it into granting concessions on the armistice terms.

What this comparison suggests is that cultural perceptions functioned as shaping elements but not determining factors in the formulation of Vichy’s foreign policy.

Amateur diplomats

The sudden, brutal nature of the rupture in Franco-British relations in July 1940 was perhaps best summed by the Marquis de Castellane, the First Secretary to the French embassy in London. Diplomats had spent years working to create an atmosphere of reciprocal trust and friendship between Britain and France. But after the attack on Mers-el-Kebir, ‘this closeness was destroyed within the space of one day […] we suddenly went from the closest of alliances to acts of hostility, a […] situation which has perhaps no precedent in modern history.’

Despite this, I would suggest there was nothing inevitable or irreversible in the rupture in relations. Rather, the picture is one of misunderstanding and wilful misrepresentation due in no small part to the changes and reduction in influence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

According to Francois Charles-Roux, the secretary-general at the Foreign Ministry, ministers in Vichy suspected the entire French diplomatic service of disapproving of the government’s foreign policy and harbouring sympathies for Britain. As a consequence, many experienced diplomats were recalled, retired, moved or like Charles-Roux, resigned. Foreign policy came increasingly under the domain of two men who had little or little recent experience in foreign affairs. Instead, Laval and Darlan were driven by their own political agendas and personal views. Since leaving office in January 1936, Laval had been cut off from the Quai d’Orsay and was consequently out of touch when he returned to government in June 1940. Darlan’s lack of experience saw him out of his depth and outmanoeuvred. In the negotiations for the Protocols of Paris, for example, he made significant concessions to Germany on the use French airfields in Syria and the port of Bizerte for little in return. French diplomats expressed deep concern at Darlan’s ignorance of Nazi ideology and the delusion of those in Vichy who believed that the final peace terms would be like those at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, in which France would lose Alsace-Lorraine, pay some indemnities, and that would more or less be the end of the matter. The chaotic and inexpert nature of Franco-British relations during this period is epitomised in Louis Rougier’s unofficial mission to Britain in which he exaggerated his authority, misled his interlocutors in London and Vichy and ultimately only made matters worse.

As Baudouin noted in late September 1940, one of the consequences of allowing emotive negative perceptions to prevail over balanced analysis was that Franco-British relations had become a seemingly endless string of unfortunate incidents. And the main beneficiary of these misunderstandings was, of course, Germany.

The podcast of this and other papers presented at the colloquium is now available:



British Ambassador's Residence, Paris

British Ambassador’s Residence, Paris


Images from the day

British Ambassador's Residence, Paris

British Ambassador’s Residence, Paris


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