In the Footsteps of the Resistance

In the centre of the pretty village of Saint Saturnin les Apt is a peaceful square (home to the vibrant Tuesday morning market), and to one side is a small garden area that sits in front of a dramatic stone wall, which is a memorial to the dramatic and devastating events that happened there on 1st July 1944.

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The Memorial Wall in the centre of Saint Saturnin Les Apt

The wall is one of the many memorials that are found across the area that have been erected to remember those who paid the ultimate price for playing their part in the Resistance that rose up against the Nazis during the Second World War and it seems hard to imagine that this quiet place was the scene of such violence just over 70 years ago.

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Plaque giving details of the tragic events of 1st July 1944

The memorial holds a plaque that gives details of the terrible events that took place that day and remembers the ’14 martyrs’ who were killed in the villages and hamlets nearby, during the course of the day’s massacre, including the 4 (Paulette Nouveau, Jean Fossier, Armel Collet & Robert ‘Le Belge’), who were shot in the village at the site of the wall that afternoon.

In fact this is just one of the many memorials that can be found around the area, which recognise the efforts made and ultimately the lives lost by ‘Maquisard’, members of The Resistance in the latter part of WW2, which are now clearly marked as part of the well-signed ‘Chemins de la Memoire’ routes that criss-cross the area.

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Map of the ‘Chemins de la Memoire’ in Saint Saturnin

I first came across a sign when I was cycling across the Plateau from Saint Saturnin to Sault, on the corner where the road splits by a farm and was fascinated by the story that was recounted there and then noticed more signs along the way.

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The first sign I saw just outside Saint Saturnin on the way to Sault

The ‘Chemins de La Memoire’ are signposted across the Vaucluse Plateau and on towards Sault and it is easy to see why this area was so important in terms of the efforts to hinder the German Army’s activities. A leaflet & guide to the routes is available from the Tourist Office in Sault and offers a range of routes for you to take across the area.

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Beautiful today, but the Vaucluse Plateau is an isolated and wild area

The Plateau itself is wild and relatively uninhabited and would have been well-known by those who worked there, but would have been a hostile environment to anyone trying to make their way across it. Sparsely inhabited, with isolated farms housing fighters as well as the stunning Chateau at Javon (which became a stronghold for the Resistance with gun turrets being built into the walls either side of the entrance) it was ideal territory for the Maquis to make their plans.

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The stunning Chateau at Javon which was a Resistance Stronghold

The numbered signs, which are translated into English & German too are placed at the side of the roads on the ‘Chemins’. They highlight not only the Memorials to those who died, but also places of interest along the way and allow you an insight into the actions that took place across the whole area alongside the bravery of those using guerilla tactics to undermine & repel the occupying army.

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Roadside Memorial to Henri Liotard Stele just outside Sault

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Detail from the sign

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The Battle at St Jean – another sign on the Plateau above Saint Saturnin

Whilst we’ve passed and read many of the signs there are others that we have yet to see and it is clear that there is much to be discovered across the area for anyone with an interest in recent history.

Away from the clearly signed ‘Chemins’ I’ve often come across roadside memorials, recognising places where other atrocities took place. All the memorials are well-tended, but are sometimes in unexpected places, like this one in the garden of a Farm, just outside the pretty village of Vacheres.

I must admit that I found this one to be particularly poignant as it highlighted that Arthur Vincent (the disabled farmer) had been assassinated by the ‘French Gestapo’ and the farm set on fire as he was suspected of aiding the Resistance.

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Memorial in a Farm Garden just outside Vacheres

Or this one, just below Viens in memory of Roger Bernard, a young Maquisard from nearby Pertuis who had recently become a father, who was shot in the back as he walked away from the Gestapo officers, believing they were letting him go.

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Memorial to Roger Bernard on the Viens road near the junction of the Apt – Cereste road

The whole area carries the memories of what happened there just over 70 years ago, whether it’s the memorials or the spectacular lavender fields that acted as old landing sites and I feel it’s important to understand what took place and the sacrifices that were made in an area we love so much.

If you see a memorial and want to find out more about the person (or people) being remembered then a good website to visit is http://maitron-fusilles-40-44.univ-paris1.fr/ where you can enter the name you have seen on a WW2 memorial and find out the circumstances in which the person died. It may sound a bit morbid to some, but this is such recent history it would be awful if we didn’t remember what people did .

At nearby Fontaine de Vaucluse there is also an excellent museum L’Appel de La Liberte http://www.vaucluse.fr/culture-patrimoine/les-musees-departementaux/le-musee-dhistoire-1939-1945/ which presents what was happening across the Vaucluse and in wider France during the time of the Occupation and the rise of the Resistance in the area. A sobering view on a very different life in the region.

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Memorial on the Rustrel to Simiane La Rotonde Road

The Vaucluse is a spectacularly beautiful place to visit and we, along with many millions of others, are lucky to be able to enjoy everything it has to offer today. It is very easy just to sit back & enjoy the views whilst sipping on a glass of chilled rose in a quiet café, but without the sacrifices made by the men & women of The Resistance it’s very likely that we would not be able to do that.

This is recent history and many local residents can still recall what happened in the mid 1940s, and I believe it’s important that what happened is being marked so well now, so that future generations remember and understand what took place.

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Memorial at Sault to the members of the Ventoux Maquis & other members of the Vaucluse Resistance who lost their lives

It may not be how you want to spend your time when visiting the Vaucluse, but if you find yourself passing a sign or memorial then it is always worth stopping for a few moments to pay your respects to those whose actions helped in ensuring we can fully enjoy the area as we do today.

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Thank you.

Sharing this via #AllAboutFrance #26 on Lou Messugo Blog

Lou Messugo

24 thoughts on “In the Footsteps of the Resistance

  1. These memorials are so tragic and as you say, so recent. Everything is a little uncertain right now but I agree it would serve us all well to remember how awful and destructive the war was to countries. Wonderful post

    • Thanks – they are tragic & the stories of the young people who did what they could to defy the occupying army & Vichy Government are incredible & it’s so hard to come to terms with the fact that this happened less than 75 years ago. It may not be what people want to think about when they visit the Vaucluse, but it is important to remember & recognise what happened. #AllAboutFrance

  2. Fascinating post, thank you. I live in SW France, where there was considerable Resistance activity, and there are similar monuments and memorials here. It’s not that long ago and some older folk here don’t want to discuss it. I have to be very diplomatic. But it’s so important to remember. #AllAboutFrance

    • Thanks – I remember when we first visited France nearly 30 years ago that there was little information or recognition of what had been done by members of The Resistance & it’s good to see it is much more widely recognised & remembered now – when you read about that period in history it’s easy to understand why people who lived through it don’t really want to talk about it. #AllAboutFrance

  3. We live many, many miles from where you are, but sadly, we too see these memorials and chemins de la memoire all over the countryside here (not far from the Atlantic coast near La Rochelle). So much destruction, but important not to forget.

    • Thanks & totally agree – it’s very easy to think it was a very long time ago, but in reality this was less than 20 years before my hubby was born – a blink of an eye really #AllAboutFrance

  4. Hi Julie: What a great post on a tragic subject. Your photos are interesting in the contrast between Provence’s beauty and the sad stories. Thanks for sharing #AllAboutFrance

  5. What a great article – thanks for reminding us not to take anything for granted. There is a memorial just down the street a ways from me that recounts the execution of four members of the resistance whose bodies were then tossed into the nearby canal. Such tragedy, hard to believe this kind of thing was and is still possible. And I had no idea that the Chateau at Javon became a stronghold for the Resistance! Another great tidbit of information…

    • Thanks – the stories of those whose lives are remembered in the memorials are incredible & it’s so hard to imagine what was happening such a relatively short time ago. The Chateau has gun emplacements to the side of the entrance, apparently added during WW2 – amazing really, but it must have been a very difficult place to attack. Thanks again

    • Thanks for your comment – it’s always so easy to write about everything that draws us to provence today, but without the actions taken by these and so many other brave local people it is likely that it would be a very different place. Thanks again #AllAboutFrance

  6. Thank you for sharing this very important post. It’s important to remember the sacrifices that others have made in order to ensure that we have a future. This is especially important in the uncertain times we are living in now. I don’t feel it’s morbid to take time out to honor those who’ve sacrificed so that other’s may live without fear. Its important to remember what made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms we often take for granted. #allaboutfrance

    • Thanks – I believe it is important to remember & the nice thing is now that the memorials are well-kept & maintained too, often with new wreaths laid on them from the local Mairie. As you say it feels especially important in such uncertain times & in reality this wasn’t all that long ago. This summer my hubby & youngest will be cycling through the battlefields of Eastern France on their way down, to pay their respects there too – as without the actions of those young men and women we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the Country as we do today. Thanks again #AllAboutFrance

  7. I echo what everyone else has said, this is a beautiful piece on a sensitive and tragic subject. I haven’t seen anything like this in all the years I’ve been in France, and I must admit my knowledge of the Resistance isn’t great. I can’t believe there wasn’t any in my area, I just wonder why it’s not honoured like this. All too poignant and important to remember and LEARN from now with the rise of facism again….it feels scarily too much like history could be about to repeat itself. Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance

    • Thanks Phoebe and you’re right about the feeling that history could be about to repeat itself – the rise of the Right is scary and my son who is studying it for his History GCSE is constantly making the links & finds it hard (like us) to understand why others don’t. I am sure there will have been a lot of Resistance activity around you – I know that Nice in particular was a focus of Nazi activity & a lady called Charlotte Sorkine helped to create false documents & smuggle groups of children away towards Switzerland, but I am sure she was one of many. The stories are brave but tragic too and it’s nice to see their efforts recognised in this way today. Thanks again #AllAboutFrance

  8. I love the various commemorations of the Resistance around France. Thank you for this lovely explanation! #AllAboutFrance

  9. I noticed this memorial when in St Saturnin last month. I’m very grateful to know more about it. I have read many books about the Resistance but not many covering Provence. I have the book ‘The Death of Jean Moulin’ which was one of the first I read. Thanks again!

    • Thanks – the memorials are such a stark reminder of what took place such a short time ago & the Resistance was very active in the area both here and across towards St Rémy in particular. I still want to find out more – especially when you notice streets in villages named after young people who died when they were caught supporting the Resistance’s efforts. Thanks again

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