Commemorations of liberation

As we have commented before, and probably all the world knows, traffic along the Côte d’Azur is pretty desperate in August. It’s not uncommon to find yourself trapped at some roundabout while what seems like half of northern Europe tries, with ruthless determination, to drive past to St Tropez. From the 15th of August, however, there is a novel hazard. The invasion of the south of France – the French prefer the word debarquement – occurred along the southern coast from the early hours of 15 August 1944, just over two months after D-Day. It was much less bloody and within days the French and other Allied Forces were well inland.

Such events need to be celebrated, and while there are solemn ceremonies at memorials and landing sites, their more visible manifestation is in parades of military and civilian vehicles of the period. So it’s very common in the villages round here for there to be a great celebration with streets lined with bunting, Tricolours, Stars and Stripes and even, in this Brexit age, the odd Union Jack.

Hitherto we have somehow managed to miss these, but with family staying, we noted that there was one in Vidauban (about a mile away) late Thursday afternoon. It was fascinating: lots of old cars, a small squad of not very military American marines dressed 1944 style and then perhaps twenty or so jeeps and lorries with drivers and passengers dressed in period style. Evidently there are a series of organisations of military vehicle and uniform enthusiasts who dutifully polish up their jeeps and trucks each summer and go round from village to village as they celebrate the liberation of the south.

It was certainly well received, not least by our grandchildren who were given flags and sweets from soldiers on the passing vehicles.

The slightly curious aspect was that there seemed to be no attempt to explain what exactly it was all about. One suspects that once these events were commemorative events of a gratefully received liberation, but now as the Second World War retreats into a distant memory for those over 85, they have become a parade for the sake of a parade.

Still, it was well done and enormous fun and credit to all concerned. We’re just awfully glad we didn’t have to drive through Vidauban just then.

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