Nicholas Atkin
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The conflict of exile
Servicemen

The many histories of the French armed forces during the Second World War reveal the history of the Free French. Little mention is ever made of the sizeable numbers of French sailors and soldiers, over 10,000 in total, stranded in camps in Britain at the time of the defeat, and who largely chose repatriation over enlistment in the Free French or action with the British services. Charles de Gaulle conveniently blamed their unwillingness to join him on Mers-el-Kébir, and suggests that the British were not as supportive as they could have been in his recruitment drive. There is a measure of truth in these claims, in particular the accusations against London. The British government had serious doubts about the reliability of French servicemen and their worth in battle. Yet the reasons behind the failure to rally were far more complicated; and it is significant that the attitudes of many exiled servicemen reflected those of their comrades-in-arms in metropolitan France.

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The forgotten French

Exiles in the British Isles 1940–44

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