Tuesday 4 May 2010

Mémorial de la Résistance – Chasseneuil-sur-Bonnieure -Part 55

The Franco-German armistice which was signed on 22 June 1940 at Rethondes was not followed by the expected peace, but by the occupation of France by the Germans.   France was cut in two by a line from the Pyrenees to the Swiss border.  Charente was split by a line which passed to the East of Angouleme; the occupied zone was to the West.

After the Allied landings in Algeria in November 1942, the Germans occupied the whole of France, including the so-called ‘free-zone’.  From March 1943, the gradual relaxation of strict controls along the demarcation line prompted the formation of little centres of resistance; this was the time for the creation of the resistance group “Bir’Hacheim” at Chasseneuil. (see below)

After the War, Andre Chabanne devised the plan to raise a memorial to the resistance, in particular to the Maquis Bir’Hacheim. It was built on a hill overlooking Chasseneuil on land given by Mt Edouard Pascaud, the then Maire (Mayor) of Chasseneuil-sur-Bonnieure.

The Maquis Bir’Hacheim was formed in July 1943, mainly because of the increasing number of volunteers. The main activities of the maquis were : combat against the militiamen, sabotage of railway lines (in particular the destruction of bridges), attacks on the German command post at La Rochefoucauld and the liberation of the Confolens region with the maquis group “FTP” of Colonel Bernard.

The four main members of the group were:

Colonel André Chabanne.  He was arrested by the Germans in 1940 but escaped from two prison camps. In 1943 he was appointed head of the secret army (AS) in the Charente.  He worked towards the construction of the memorial but was very sadly killed in a road accident on 13 Feb 1963.

Guy Pascaud.  He was actively involved with the young volunteers, he was arrested on 22 March 1944 which put paid to his activities and he returned to France in July 1945

Helene Nebout. She assisted in the formation of the group. She took part in many operations and by some miracle survived after changing her identity 14 times.  At the time of writing, she is still alive and as far as I know, she lives in La Rochefecauld.

Claude Bonnier.  He was an officer of the parachute forces.  On 8 February 1944 he was arrested and taken to Bordeaux where he committed suicide by taking a cyanide pill.

Construction started in 1945, mainly by former German soldiers who were, at that stage, prisoners.  The monument was eventually dedicated as one of the National Monuments to the memory of the Resistance on 21 October 1951 by the then President of the Republique, Vincent Auriol.

Messrs Peyronnet, Guiraud and Lamourdedieu carved the bas-reliefs depicting the lives of civilian and military resistance fighters, and their sacrifices to liberate France.

The 28 alcoves in the crypt hold the remains of 30 fighters, including Colonel Chabanne and the military delegate for Southwest France Region B.  Visitors entering the crypt will see an inscription overhead: "Français, ne les oubliez pas" ("People of France, do not forget them").

This necropolis spans over two hectares. Most of the 2,255 soldiers and resistance fighters buried here were from Southwest France. This cemetery's distinctive feature, however, is that it is perched on a hillside.

The building faces maquis bases. It is 21 metres high and features a victory V (the emblem of the Resistance) and the Cross of Lorraine. Considerable financial and physical resources went into this memorial. It took five years to build, cost francs 13,000,000, and weighs 2,000 tonnes.

The blocks weigh as much as two tonnes each. The bas-reliefs span 80 sq m. Builders had to dig a 1,125 sq m hole for the 2,000 cubic metres of concrete and 30 tonnes of steel used to build the crypt and nine supporting pillars.

Sources: Les Chemins de la Mémoire magazine, October 2001; Mémorial de la Résistance and the Chasseneuil Tourist board and museum.
All photographs are my own.


  1. I love your blog! The pictures are fantastic and I feel like I am on vacation and you are my tour guide.


  2. Thanks Linda, glad you enjoy the tour part as well as the norm. Diane

  3. It's so neat to learn about Charente. Great photos.

  4. Very interesting. I love the photos of the monuments.

  5. Thanks for an interesting post Diane ...

    ... on a lighter note, when I saw your post's title I immediately flashed on the TV comedy series 'allo 'allo ... about the French Resistance ... have you seen it? ... they're re-showing the series here ...

  6. Hi Becca, Glad you like the photos.

  7. Hi Pam, There is a lot of history in this area, glad you are enjoying it.

  8. OneStonedCrow, Yes we had Allo Allo on the other night, I pick up TV from the UK!! It is good that there can be some lighter notes to what must have been a very difficult period. Diane

  9. How grateful we are that those bad days are past Diane. So many people were killed and it was a terrible time. On one memorial here to the war it says "Lest we forget".

  10. Hi Joan, It will never be forgotten, though maybe to a cetain extent forgiven. There are so many horrendous stories. There are small war memorials all over the place though this one is very special. Because of where it is situated on the hill and its size is an everyday reminder. Diane

  11. It is important not to forget those who paid the price for the freedom we enjoy today. It is nice to see them so honored. Thank you for sharing this with us. Blessings...Mary

  12. I agree Mary, our lives would be so different if all the war heroes, and there are so many un-named ones, had not given up their lives for us. May they never be forgotten and rest in peace. God bless. Diane

  13. I just love this post and the history... It really is an amazing monument.. I love all the angles!

  14. Lostpastremembered - It is stunning to look at and very overpowering situated right on the top of the hill. Diane

  15. there is a particular thing in british culture and british comedy in particular which likes to paint french people as collaborationists or cowards. however i am the manager of a chateau in SW France which was the local HQ of the german soldiers during the war. I think it was the HQ of German soldiers as opposed to Nazis or Gestapo as I know the owners granddaughter from the time who told me her grandparents refused to leave the house and so spent the war in a small room in the house with an attached kitchen - I cannot believe that such common decency would have been forthcoming from ideological nazis. What i do know for certain is that the neighbours house was used to shelter and transport jews and other people not welcome here - a delicious irony. But also that the mayor at the time Maurice Chastang was transported to germany to a concentration camp and died on one of the long marches of prisoners which the nazis used to try to erase all proof of the concentration camps(not death camps).

    The more i research into the resistance the more i realise how wrong our stereotype of the french really is and far from being cowards they steadfastly refused to let the nazi scum get under their skin.

    As an aside i am only 3/4 british. my grandfather came from alsace who during the war was conscripted into the german army not as a frenchman but as a german owing to the centuries old dispute of the region of alsace loraine. he was placed on the eastern front fighting in russia and realising the war was lost and fearing the advancment of the fairly pissed off red army stuck his leg under a tank and was transported back from the russian border to frankfort from where he got minimal treatment but could essentially leave and he WALKED home to alsace. His wife at the time had been in Belsen and she walked home to alsace also. she died of tb in 1949.

    I am currently lobbying for the reopening of the resistance museum in angouleme and would appreciate any help i could receive

    but more than that and this might seem a bit po faced but i would like british people to realise that having to make do with dripping sandwiches and the threat of invasion was not as bad as what the french had to put up with in reality.

    i apologise in advance to any brit who was there (and i wasn;t even born) who gave more than me or mine i do not try to create controversy but I really do get a bit annoyed at Brits who think the french were white flag waving cowards

  16. The reopening of the resistance museum in Angouleme would be good, but I have no means of contacting you. Not sure with only being here for 6 months of the year I would be much help but......

    Thanks for the long comment. Diane

  17. I think the museum may now be open but certainly the one in the Tourist Information Office in Chasseneuil is very good. My friend and I were there a couple of days ago and the assistant was so helpful and talked us through it all. Her grand father had been in the resistance and in fact was in a group photo in the museum. She was very proud of him (rightly so)and I'm sure if he could have heard and seen her today he would be proud of her too.

    1. Shirley the Tourist Information Office and museum in Chasseneuil has always been a mine of information. The woman that used to work there was completely bilingual, and she also had family that had been in the Resistance. She was really interesting. I have only been there once since she left and the person then did not know nearly so much. I must go in and see who is there now. Thanks for the visit and the comment. Diane

  18. I really enjoyed the pictures of that area on your site. My uncle (USAAF)was promoted to corporal in the Resistance February 4, 1944 by Claude Bonnier and later arrested by the Germans March 22, 1944 at Endourchapt close to the village of Négret in the community of Saint Claude in Charente. Germain Potevin, his wife Helene and their two daughters Jacqueline and Eleonore helped him while he was there. Their son Andre was killed in that incident. I am curious if you are familiar with that family.


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