France Will Recover
BRITISH RELATIONS WITH FRANCE
By ANTHONY EDEN, British Foreign Secretary
Delivered in House of Commons, London, November 14, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, p. 109.
SINCE the Prime Minister has himself not yet returned to this country, he asked me to give a brief account of our visit to the French capital this last week-end. The overwhelming impression left upon our minds by those crowded hours was the sincerity and spontaneity of the welcome which was accorded to us by every section of the French people. The House would recall, perhaps, that for reasons of security no announcement was made of the Prime Minister's presence, even on the morning of the armistice ceremony, in the French papers themselves.
Yet the news of his coming had spread overnight widely enough, at least, for immense multitudes to assemble on the main thoroughfares through which he would pass. It would be a great mistake to interpret this welcome as a momentary effervescence of spirit in the great capital city at last set free from four years of foreign rule. It was something much deeper than that. It was rather an impression of deep thankfulness for suffering at last ended.
One felt behind the tumultuous greeting of these vast but orderly crowds the heartbeat of a nation once again united with its allies and confident of its own future. It is difficult for us here to picture the life that is endured by a great nation under enemy occupation, completely severed from all contacts with the outside world, decimated by enemy propaganda and able only to get encouragement from time to time from some clandestine listening to overseas broadcasts.
Here it is right that I should say that from countless Frenchmen we heard countless expressions of inspiration and the will to live which they had drawn from broadcasts of the Prime Minister, and let it be added in fairness, from the whole regular work of the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation], and its contributors. A mass of German propaganda was directed against this country, but the fact remains of which we should take note that the effect of this propaganda, taken together with the sufferings of the French people in this period of tyrannous enemy rule, has been to place our friendship with France on a surer foundation than ever existed before in the history of our two countries. It seems that this very fact of the knowledge that our friendship has survived this most severe strain that could be put upon it gives it deeper and more vibrant significance. This, I am convinced, is the message which Paris was giving to this country during that period.
In the course of his speech of welcome General De Gaulle recalled Hitler's claim that his system would last for a thousand years. "I do not know," said General De Gaulle, "what will remain of his system in a thousand years, but I do know that in a thousand years' time France, which has had some experience of blood, sweat and tears, will not have forgotten what has been accomplished in this war through the blood, sweat and tears by the noble British people under the leadership of their Prime Minister."These are generous words. They were uttered by a man who is himself today unquestionably inspired and a man who personifies the unity of the French peoples. He has got around him a band of young and vigorous colleagues who have proved their worth in the ordeal through which France has passed. Many of them—in particular I would like to mention M. Bidault, now Foreign Minister of France. It was a great pleasure to the Prime Minister and myself to meet this gallant man, who is himself an outstanding leader of the French resistance movement. We could see the same confidence in France's future expressed in thousands of troops who marched past us in the Champs Elysee, the great majority of whom are very recently enlisted members of the FFI [French Forces of the Interior], and every man of whom is a volunteer.
Everybody who understands the history of France will understand the significance of that. No one can doubt that when time and opportunity offers, these men will give as suitable an account of themselves against the hated Nazi foe in the field as they have already given in the bitter and bloody warfare in France itself.
I would like to make just one reference to conditions in France, for we should bear in mind that despite some outward appearance life in Paris is a constant struggle with material difficulties. An almost total lack of fuel and transport are in themselves a severe handicap in these winter months, but worse than this is the mental suffering which these people have undergone and continue to undergo.
There are still over two and a half million French prisoners of war, political deportees and forced laborers in Germany. There is scarcely a family in France which has not a husband or son still in Germany. All parcels and letters have ceased. In fact, deportees have never been allowed any communication with their families since they were taken away. It is pretty hard. When we consider these facts we can estimate what the absence of these men means to France, not only in the loss of a very great part of the nation's manhood with all the social, economic and military consequences entailed, but also in the mental distress to those left behind.
It is not surprising that in these conditions France, which after these years has suddenly regained her freedom, should be like a man emerging from a darkened room into a blaze of light, dazed for a moment and grateful still to his friends for a measure of understanding and encouragement. But let us interpret this in the terms of France's position as a great power. It was indeed appropriate that the three Allied powers, the United States, the Soviet Union and ourselves were able to invite France on this very Saturday to take her place with us as a permanent member of the European Advisory Commission.
The new situation which was thus created, and the work that must flow therefrom was naturally the subject of discussions between us in Paris. Of those discussions I will only say now that both the French Ministers and ourselves regarded them as eminently satisfactory,
I would conclude with this confident message to the House: France's determination to work together with her allies expresses, I am sure, the heartfelt wish of the French people, and it is the will of the people which is the only sure foundation of foreign policy in a free land.
France will recover. Before now in her history she has shown powers of recuperation which have astounded the world. It is my belief that she will do this again. She can be assured that in her endeavor she will have the constant friendship, understanding and help of the British peoples everywhere.