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Marshal Pétain – Address to the French People – Radio Paris – August 13, 1940 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection
81 years ago this day, the French government, now under control of Nazi German occupation, appointed former World War 1 hero Marshal Phillippe Pétain as head of the French State. At 84, he was the oldest serving head of any government.
During World War I, Pétain led the French Army to victory at the nine-month-long Battle of Verdun. After the failed Nivelle Offensive and subsequent mutinies he was appointed Commander-in-Chief and succeeded in repairing the army’s confidence. Pétain remained in command for the rest of the war and emerged as a national hero. During the interwar period he was head of the peacetime French Army, commanded joint Franco-Spanish operations during the Rif War and served twice as a government minister. During this time he was known as le vieux Maréchal (The Old Marshal).
With the imminent Fall of France and the Cabinet wanting to ask for an armistice, on 17 June 1940 Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned, recommending to President Lebrun that he appoint Marshal Petain in his place, which he did that day, while the government was at Bordeaux. The Cabinet then resolved to sign armistice agreements with Germany and Italy. The entire government subsequently moved briefly to Clermont-Ferrand, then to the spa town of Vichy in central France. The government voted to transform the discredited French Third Republic into the French State, an authoritarian regime that collaborated with the Axis. After Germany and Italy occupied and disarmed France in November 1942, Pétain’s government was obliged to work very closely with the German military administration.
When France was defeated in June of 1940 and the occupation began, Pétain was urged to give the French people a pep talk, particularly the youth of the country.
And so this address, as a sort of morale boost, policy statement and assessment of how things were all rolled into one, on August 13th of 1940 was given by Marshal Petain and broadcast throughout France and relayed throughout the world, especially the U.S., who were still neutral at the time and who orchestrated aid by way of the Red Cross to assist refugees and the displaced.
Nobody knew that, or could even predict it in 1940. Here is that address by Marshal Phillippe Pétain, as given on August 13, 1940.
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