Nicholas Atkin
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The tradition of exile
La colonie Française

In 1931, the French comprised 9.2 per cent of all foreign nationals living in England and Wales. After the Polish and Russian communities, the French constituted the third largest European group of émigrés. For the first half of the twentieth century, the French continued to number around 30,000 inhabitants, yet the outbreak of war in 1939 reduced this figure to just over 10,000. The irony was that, at this moment of contraction, it became increasingly difficult for them to retain their anonymity. Not only did the new arrivals from France seek out their countrymen and women as a point of reference in a foreign land, but Gaullists and others were eager to recruit among their ranks while, in the background, the British government kept a close watch on their activities, ensuring that any pro-Vichy sympathies did not get out of hand. Wartime was thus an uncomfortable experience for those who had long settled in Britain for whatever reason: economic, political, religious or otherwise. No longer would they be able to play out their quarrels in private.

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The forgotten French

Exiles in the British Isles 1940–44


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