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The Killing Fields of Provence (Hardback)

Occupation, Resistance and Liberation in the South of France

Military WWII

By James Bourhill
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 405
Illustrations: 40
ISBN: 9781526761323
Published: 20th November 2019


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In the South of France, the most memorable event of the Second World War was the sea and airborne invasion of 15 August 1944. Perhaps because it went relatively smoothly, this ‘Second D-Day’ was soon relegated to the back pages of history. Operation Dragoon and the liberation is however only a small part of the story. The arrival of the Allies was preceded by years of oppression and strife. Provençal people still struggle to come to terms with the painful past of split-allegiances and empty stomachs which epitomize les années noires (the dark years).

The author’s blend of local and social history enables the English-language reader to discover the parallel universe which exists alongside these idyllic shores. In every corner of Provence, the mindful traveller will come across words, chipped into stone, which exhort: Passant, souviens-toi (passerby, remember). These sacred places of memory tell a story of duplicity, defiance, and ultimately, deliverance. Whether the stuff of legends, or the everyday experiences of lesser mortals, humanity is used to explain the Franco-American experience of wartime Provence, as seen through an Anglo-Saxon prism.

This is an excellent study of the impact of the Second World War on one part of France, with the area chosen well to give us an account of life under Vichy and then German rule, the struggles of the Resistance, and the military account of Operation Dragoon.

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History of War

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and learnt more about what happened in the region during WW2. Part of what grabbed my attention was to discover that this included the city of Grenoble, where one of our daughters now lives. I also learnt that a museum of the Resistance on the Vercours is not too far from them, and it is now on my list of places to visit when we next travel to visit Grenoble.
I will happily recommend this book.

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Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland

The author has provided a complete and well-researched study of the French Resistance groups, Allied agents and Special Forces operating against the Germans in the South of France. The story of the resistance in the South of France has been covered far less than the situation in Northern and Western France, a deficiency corrected by this very readable book. – Very Highly Recommended.

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As featured by

France Magazine, June 2020

It was certainly a good read of which I learnt quite a bit from, as I said earlier the Killing Fields of Provence are like the forgotten D-Day with far more publicity going to the one in northern France. This book comes with and excellent array of clear maps and illustrations to help form the picture in the mind, and towards the end of the book you have I must say high quality sections on abbreviations, a timeline, sources both published and unpublished and notes. All of which really do add to the weight and quality of this book in making it a must read and excellent stature. I’m going to give this a well-deserved 5 out 5 stars.

UK Historian

Click here to listen to James Bourhill speak with broadcaster Noah Tetzner

Stories of the Second World War podcast

Pen and Sword produce to their normal high standard with good glossy images that are relevant.

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Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

This book is a very detailed and well researched account of the progress of the war in Southern France. It necessarily focuses on the efforts of the various French resistance groups and the German counter efforts as well as the Allied landings in 1944. The narrative is pacey and at no time is the reader saturated in detail so that the overview is obscured. A well constructed narrative history of a region that was subsidiary to the main efforts in Northern Europe but was important to the eventual outcome.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About James Bourhill

Schooled at St John’s College, Johannesburg, James Bourhill holds a doctorate in history from the University of Pretoria. He did his national service in a mounted infantry unit and began his tertiary education at Cedara College of Agriculture, after which he went farming in Rhodesia and America. James is the author of Come back to Portofino – Through Italy with the 6th South African Armoured Division (2011); Deveron to Devastation: Brother officers of the 7th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (2014) and Return to Morogoro: With the South African Horse through East Africa to France and Flanders (2015). He divides his time between his farm in South Africa and his second home in the village of Plan de la Tour in the South of France.

Perfect Partner

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Famous for Calvados apple brandy and Camembert cheese, Normandy is a green and pleasant land now dotted with thousands of British-owned second homes. Its coastline is also dotted with thousands of indestructible reinforced-concrete bunkers and gun emplacements that formed part of the Atlantic Wall of Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Tourists passing through the ferry ports like Boulogne, Cherbourg and Dunkirk may wonder why there are so few old buildings. Few know that the demolition which preceded the extensive urban renewal of the ancient town centres was effected by British bombs during four years…

By Douglas Boyd

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