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 stark stone wall, which is a memorial to the dramatic and devastating events that happened there on 1st July 1944.
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 under 80 years ago.
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.
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.
The ‘Chemins de La Memoire’ are signposted across the Vaucluse Plateau and on towards Sault and it is very easy to see why this area was so important in terms of the efforts to hinder the German Army’s activities.
The Plateau itself is wild and relatively uninhabited and would have been well-known by those who lived there, but would have been a hostile environment to anyone trying to make their way across it. With its 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.
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.
In fact the town of Sault, at the heart of the Maquis de Ventoux, was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Gold Star, for the way it responded to the occupation, showing a rebellious spirit, and giving body, and soul to the efforts of the Resistance, despite being attacked three times and bombed twice. Hard to imagine now, when you visit the quiet little town and marvel at the sight of the lavender fields below.
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.
Or this one, just below Viens in memory of Roger Bernard, a young Maquisard from nearby Pertuis who had recently become a father, was shot in the back as he walked away from the Gestapo officers, believing they were letting him go.
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.
I still find the most poignant site is that of the crashed Wellington Bomber in the hills above Simiane-La-Rotonde, where the local write Rene Char was head of the local Resistance. The memorial there, created from pieces of metal from the remains of the burnt and twisted plane, is in a peaceful valley, that still bears the signs of what happened that night. https://vauclusedreamer.com/2017/12/20/a-memorial-amongst-the-lavender/
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, but this is such recent history, that it would be awful if we didn’t remember what happened.
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.
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.
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.