Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ocean One: June 1943

Jacques Cousteau's book, The Silent World, (first published in 1953) opens with this paragraph:
One morning in June, 1943, I went to the railway station at Bandol on the French Riviera and received a wooden case expressed from Paris. In it was a new and promising device, the result of years of struggle and dreams, an automatic compressed-air diving lung conceived by Emile Gagnan and myself.

I rushed it to Villa Barry where mu diving comrades, Philippe Tailliez and Frederic Dumas waited. No children ever opened a Christmas present with more excitement than ours when we unpacked the first "aqualung." If it worked, diving could be revoluionized.

First, some political histoyr. In June, 1943, what was the state of France?
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, Vichy Government, or simply Vichy are common terms used to describe the government of France which collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944, during the Second World War. It officially called itself the French State (État Français) and was headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain, who proclaimed the government following the military defeat of France by Germany.

The Vichy regime maintained some legal authority in the northern zone of France (the Zone occupée), which was occupied by the German Wehrmacht, but was most powerful in the unoccupied southern "free zone", where its administrative centre of Vichy was located. In November 1942 the southern zone was also occupied and fully subjected to German rule.

Pétain collaborated with the German occupying forces in exchange for an agreement to not divide France between the Axis Powers. Vichy authorities aided in the rounding-up of Jews and other "undesirables", and at times, Vichy French military forces actively opposed the Allies. Much of the French public initially supported the new government despite its pro-Nazi policies, seeing it as necessary to maintain a degree of French autonomy and territorial integrity.

The legitimacy of Vichy France and Pétain's leadership was constantly challenged by the exiled General Charles de Gaulle, who claimed to represent the legitimacy and continuity of the French government. Public opinion turned against the Vichy regime and the occupying German forces over time, and resistance to them grew within France. Following the Allied invasion of France in June 1944, de Gaulle proclaimed the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF).

Most of the Vichy regime's leaders were later put on trial by the GPRF, and a number of them were executed. Pétain was sentenced to death for treason, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

The Free French, led by De Gaulle, were based in North Africa.

What about the French Riviera in 1943?
The Côte d'Azur (Azure (blue)Coast), often known in English as the French Riviera , is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France, also including the sovereign state of Monaco. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered to extend from the Italian border in the east to Saint Tropez, Hyères or Cassis in the west.

The French Riviera coastline covers 560 miles and consists of both sand and shingle beaches.

[WIkipedia doesn't say anything specifically about how the average French person lived, on the French Riviera, during this time, but does mention:
The Second World War

When Germany invaded France in June 1940, the remaining British colony was evacuated to Gibraltar and eventually to Britain. American Jewish groups helped some of the Jewish artists living in the south of France, such as Marc Chagall, to escape to the United States. In August 1942, 600 Jews from Nice were rounded up by French police and sent to Drancy, and eventually to death camps. In all about 5,000 French Jews from Nice perished during the war.

On August 15, 1944, American parachute troops landed near Fréjus, and a fleet landed 60,000 troops of the American Seventh Army and French First Army between Cavalaire and Agay, east of Saint-Raphaël. German resistance crumbled in days.

Saint-Tropez was badly damaged by German mines at the time of the liberation. The novelist Colette organized an effort to assure the town was rebuilt in its original style.

When the war ended, artists Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso returned to live and work.

Cousteau, a Navy man, was out of work after the Armistice of 1940, and did not join the Free French. However, as evidenced in the Wikipedia article below, he did do work for his country against the Nazis:
After the armistice of 1940, the family of Simone and Jacques-Yves Cousteau took refuge in Megève, where he became a friend of the Ichac family who also lived there. Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Marcel Ichac shared the same desire to reveal to the general public unknown and inaccessible places — for Cousteau the underwater world and for Ichac the high mountains. The two neighbors took the first ex-aequo prize of the Congress of Documentary Film in 1943, for the first French underwater film: Par dix-huit mètres de fond (18 meters deep), made without breathing apparatus the previous year in the Embiez islands (Var) with Philippe Tailliez and Frédéric Dumas, using a depth-pressure-proof camera case developed by mechanical engineer Léon Vèche (engineer of Arts and Métiers and the Naval College).

In 1943, they made the film Épaves (Shipwrecks), in which they used two of the very first Aqua-Lung prototypes. These prototypes were made in Boulogne-Billancourt by the Air Liquide company, following instructions from Cousteau and Émile Gagnan. When making Épaves, Cousteau could not find the necessary blank reels of movie film, but had to buy hundreds of small still camera film reels the same width, intended for a make of child's camera, and cemented them together to make long reels.

Having kept bonds with the English speakers (he spent part of his childhood in the United States and usually spoke English) and with French soldiers in North Africa (under Admiral Lemonnier), Jacques-Yves Cousteau (whose villa "Baobab" at Sanary (Var) was opposite Admiral Darlan's villa "Reine"), helped the French Navy to join again with the Allies; he assembled a commando operation against the Italian espionage services in France, and received several military decorations for his deeds. At that time, he kept his distance from his brother Pierre-Antoine Cousteau, a "pen anti-semite" who wrote the collaborationist newspaper Je suis partout (I am everywhere)

Begin a notebook for Ocean One, if you have not already done so. It should be a loose-leaf notebook, so that you can take out and insert pages as needed.

Write each name below on its own sheet of paper. Keep track of their activities in chronological fashion as we go through This Silent World.

* Jacques Cousteau
* Simone Cousteau
* Emile Gagnan
* Philippe Tailliez
* Frederic Dumas

1 comment:

  1. The real Jacques Cousteau, not the myths