The War Years in the
Limousin Occupation and Liberation
On the 3rd September 1939 France and Britain
declared War on Germany following the invasion of
Germany Invaded France In May and June of 1940
France capitulated in June 1940
France was divided into a German occupation zone in
the north and west and a nominally independent
state in the south to be based in the spa town of
Vichy, dubbed “Vichey France”.
This new French state, headed by Marshal
Henri-Philippe Pétain, accepted its status as a
defeated nation and collaborated with the Germans.
Charles de Gaulle, who was the Undersecretary of
National Defence, was in London at the time of the
surrender and made his “Appeal of the 18th June".
In this broadcast, by the BBC he refused to
recognize the Vichy government as legitimate and
began the task of organising the Free French
After Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain signed the
armistice in 1940, the Gestapo began hunting down
communists and socialists. Most of them went into
hiding. The obvious place to go was in the forests
of the unoccupied zones. Escaped soldiers from the
French Army also fled to these forests.
These men and women gradually formed themselves
into units based on political beliefs and
geographical area. These groups became known as the
Maquis (the name comes from the small scrub bushes
in that part of the world, which they frequently
used for cover against the Germans).
In the spring of 1942, communist militants, acting
independently of the leadership of the French
Communist Party, organized the first Maquis units
in the Limousin and the Puy-de-Dôme. Maquis groups
were established in many other regions of France.
As the Maquis grew in strength, it began to
organise attacks on German forces.
In the Limousin the communist militant, Georges
Guingouin, led the Maquis. At this time Guingouin,
was not supplied with any weapons. Therefore,
their main method of resisting the German Army was
sabotage. This included attacks on bridges,
telephone lines and railway tracks.
The Maquis also provided aide and protection to
refugees, immigrants, Jews, and others threatened
by Vichy France and the German authorities. They
frequently helped to get Allied airmen, whose
aircraft had been shot down in France, to gel back
Georges Guingouin – The 1st
Maquisard of France
1. Childhood Education
and Military Life (1913 .1940)
Georges Guingouin was born on the 2nd February 1913
in the Haute-Vienne the small town of Magnac-Laval.
His father was a professional soldier, a
non-commissioned officer who was killed at Bapaume
on August 28th 1914, at the very beginning of WWI.
From a very early age therefore, Georges Guingouin
was strongly influenced by his mother. Georges’
mother was a school teacher, who gave him a thirst
for reading, especially about patriotic events in
France’s past such as the peasant resistance in the
Vosges during 1815 and the ‘Tireurs Franks’,
Free-Shooters) of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870
After studying at the Higher Primary school in
Beilac, Guingouin followed his mother's example by
progressing to the Teacher Training School in
Limoges. Conscripted in 1934, at the age of 21
Guingouin went on to complete three years of
military service in the infantry principally as
Secretary of Staff to the 6th Training Company at
the Military academy in Paris, this position would
undoubtedly have provided the necessary skills to
organise and control the band of Résistance
fighters, which he formed as the war progressed.
However, at the outbreak of the war he was working
as a teacher in St-Gilles-les-Foret (Haute-Vienne).
More importantly though, during these formative
years, Guingouin rose to the position of secretary
of the Communist Party of Eymoutiers he had
discovered the works of Marx and Lenin and in his
position; Guingouin would have gained an
understanding of the people and thé political
climate of the eastern districts of the
Mobilised on August 23rd 1939, Guingouin was
attached to thé 120/124 transport group. However,
he was wounded in the head on June 17th 1940 and
was evacuated to the Sainte-Madeleine Military
Hospital at Moulins-sur-Allier On June 18, just one
day after Guingouin was evacuated the city came
under attack by advancing German forces. Guingouin,
refusing to be taken prisoner, joined the French
unit defending the city. Heavily under fire, the
unit were eventually forced to retreat to Montlucon.
Coincidentally, Guingouin's retreat to Montlucon,
under heavy fire and wounded, occurred on the same
day as General de Gaulle, who from the relative
safety of his London base, made his famous appeal
to the people of France. He declared the war for
France was not yet over, and rallied the country in
support of the Resistance. It was one of the most
important speeches in French history.
2. The Fight for Freedom
Guingouin returned to 3t Gilles-les-Foret in June
1940 and resumed his work as a teacher, and as a
secretary at thé Mayors office. In this role, he
was able to produce false identity papers. The
French Communist party had supported the
Nazi-Soviet pact (Ribbentrop-Mototov) in August
1939, which brought Government disapproval upon
them. With the outbreak of war, the Cabinet
completed the measures already taken against
Communism by ordering, on Sept. 26, the absolution
of the French Communist Party.
In September 1940 Guingouin lost his job because he
was a communist. The communist party also did not
approve of him, because in August 1940 he wrote a
call to arms against the Vichy Government and
Germany. The communist party felt that he should be
tolerant with the Germans because of the
German-USSR pact. He had no choice but to go in to
Georges Guingouin met with several like-minded
people and decided to start a resistance movement
At this time, Guingouin was known as "Raoul" - the
name he kept throughout the war.
Propaganda was the only resistance action available
at this time. Paper was in short supply and ink had
to be made from linseed oil and soot, but they
produced leaflets, often at night in cellars or
cowsheds, and distributed them to famers at local
Guingouin created a resistance group based in the
forests around Chateauneuf la Foret. France was now
an occupied country so it was necessary to keep the
location secret. Life in the camp was difficult and
dangerous. The local population gave much help and
many people wanted tojoin the group. However, there
were traitors who tried to infiltrate the
resistance movement. If a traitor was discovered
they were immediately killed – too many lives were
at stake – and there were no prisons in the forest!
The resistance movement operated on many fronts.
They carried messages and hid underground workers
for the allies. Many airmen who were shot down
during the war owe their lives to the resistance
groups. They were hidden and assisted in their
escape from France. In October 1942, the Vichey
Government decreed that boxes of food should be
sent from rural areas to Cities in Germany. The
local population did not have enough food as it
was, Gutagouin and his group who destroyed as many
empty boxes as possible. They stole dynamite and
destroyed bridges factories, and railway lines -
anything that would make life difficult German
It was difficult to obtain weapons (especially for
Guingouin who as a communist was disliked by De
Gaulle) but there were occasional parachute drops.
On June 26th 1944, 72 planes dropped 864 parachutes
in the Domps area. It was an exceedingly difficult
and dangerous daytime operation due to the
proximity of German troops staying in the village.
A further large "drop" was expected on the 14th
July but the resistance had advance information
that a large contingent of German soldiers was due
in the area. It was too late to cancel the "drop",
so Guingouin and the Maquis took all the weapons
and ammunition to Mont Gargan where they lay in
wait for the Germans to find them. On the 17th July
2,500 German soldiers in 500 vehicles arrived at
Mont Gargan and a 7 day battle ensued. 342 Germans
were killed but only 47 of the Maquis. It was a
great battle and one of the most important in the
history of thé Maquis.
3. The D- Day landings
and afterwards – 1944
The BBC warned the resistance movement about the
D-Day landings in coded broadcasts. Their brief was
to delay the German troop movements towards
Normandy in order to buy time for the Allied
Two tradgedies occurred in the Limousin during this
time at Tulle and Oradour sur Glane. A Panzer
division (Das Reich) were moving north from
1944… D-Day. The allied incasion
of France via the Normandy beaches began. Das Reich
was passed the order, “Come to march rediness”.
1944… March preparations were
finalised and the Division prepared to move off on
the road to Normandy, over 400 miles to the North.
1944… Das Reich moved off in the
early morning and had skirmishes with the
resistance at various locations. The journey was
made both tiring and trying by roadblocks of felled
trees and various barricades. Later in the day,
they heard that the Resistance had mounted a
full-scale attack on the German garrison in the
town of Tulle.
June1944… Part of Reconnaissance
Battalion II under Heinrich Wulf retook the the
town of Tulle. In a reprisal for the attack itself
and the killing and mutilation of numerous German
garrison troops, they hung 99 suspected members of
the Resistance from lampposts and balconies.
The commander of Der Fùhrer Battalion III,
Sturmbannfuhrer Helmut Kampfe was sent to the town
of Guret in order to relive the garrison there;
which was reported to be besieged. On his return
from the town that evening and whilst travelling
alone he was abducted by the Resistance He was the
highest-ranking German officer ever to fall into
their hands throughout the war years.
Battalion I under Adolf Diekmann had a most
difficult day, encountering numerous dashes with
the Resistance and losing some men killed in action
on the march
1944... Early in the morning,
troops from the Gross Deutschland Regiment of Das
Reich took severe reprisal action against the
village of Marsoulas in the Haute Garonne following
their being fired on from the church.
Because of the abduction of Kampfe, circumstances
combined to send Adolf Diekmann to the town of
Oradour sur Glane, where during the course of the
afternoon the entire town was destroyed and 642
inhabitants were killed as a reprisal.
After the war, General Charles de Gaulle decreed
that the village of Oradour sur Glane would never
be rebuilt. Instead, it would remain as a memorial
to the cruelty of Nazi occupation.
1944… Georges Gingouin and his
faithful Maquisards freed the City of Limoges with
no bloodshed. The occupying Germans realised that
the city was surrounded, so they laid down their
arms and left the city.
The role of women in the
There were many brave women in a variety of roles
in the resistance movement.
Mrs Bourdaria was nicknamed "The Mother of thé
Maquis". Her husband and son had been deported
but she continued to feed and assist the
Thérèse Menot sabotaged the factory where she
worked; she was caught and deported to
Ravensbruck - the concentration camp for women.
Fortunately she returned to France after the end
of the war and spent years talking about life in
the camps to school children. Another important
woman who was deported to Ravensbruck was
Violette Szabo she was an English SOE operative:
and arrived in the Limousin after the D-Day
landings. She was deported and killed by special
order in January 1945. she was awarded the George
Cross, Croix de Guerre.
Hitler was elected on the 30th January 1933. He
opened the first concentration camp In March 1933
at Dachau The camp was built to imprison political
opponents, mentally ill people and homosexuals
Until 1939, the prisoners were essentially German,
but after the war began any person who was an enemy
of the Nazi's were captured and imprisoned. There
were Jews, gypsies, resistance members, political
activists, homosexuals etc..
Life in the camps was really hard: each person had
a number tattooed on their arm. They were never
known by name and must say the number in German or
they were punished. There was also a coloured
triangle sewn on to their clothes, Red for
political enemies, pink for homosexuals, yellow for
Jews. Conditions in the camps were appalling: food,
hygiene and medical assistance standards were
abysmal and many people died.
By 1942 there were about 20 camps and 165 satellite
work camps. There were 6 extermination camps based
in Roland and Germany - Chelmo, Belzec, Sobibor,
Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz. The latter two
were combined extermination/concentration camps.
There was large scale human medical experimentation
in the camps. After the war, these crimes were
tried at what became known as the Doctors Trial,
and revulsion at the abuses perpetrated led to the
development of the Nuremberg Code of Medical
Internment camps in France.
In 1938, the French government had created
internment camps in France to accommodate the
Spanish who escaped from the civil war raging in
their country. The first opened was "Rieucros" near
Mende in the south of France. Later other camps
were built and by 1940 there were 93 internment
camps in the South alone - 3 of them in Haute
Vienne. The Vichy government used these camps to
imprison Jews, Communists, Resistance members and
many others - it was usually the starting point
transportation to a German camp.
In Haute Vienne the first to open in 1940, was the
camp at Saint-Germain-Les-Belles. It was not open
for very long but two further camps were built in
November 1940 - Nexon and Saint-Paul-d’Eyjaux. On
the 11th June 1944, 54 prisoners were liberated by
French Interior forces from Nexon. The same day,
Maquisards liberated the camp at Saint-Pairf-d'Eyjaux.
The Milice (Militia) was a paramilitary force
created in 1943, with German aid, to help fight
“Terrorism” - that is the French Resistance - in
Vichy France. The Milice, headed by Joseph Darnand
participated in summary executions, assassinations
and helped round up the Jews and Resistants in
France for deportation. It was the successor to
Joseph Damand's Service d'ordre légionnaire (SOL)
Like the Gestapo, the Milice often resorted to
torture to extract information or confessions from
those they rounded up. They were often considered
even more deadly and cruel than the Gestapo and SS
themselves, since they were Frenchmen who spoke the
language had a full Knowledge of the towns and
land, and knew people and informers.
In August 1944, rightly fearing he would be called
to account for the opinions of the Milice Marshall
Petain made a clumsy effort to distance himself
from the organization by writing a harsh letter
rebuking Darnand for the organisations “excesses.”
Darnand sent back a sarcastic reply, telling Petain
that he ought to have voiced his objections sooner.
The actual strength of the organisation is a matter
of some debate, but was likely between 25,000 -
35,000 by the time of the Allied invasion of
Normandy in June 1944. It began melting away
rapidly thereafter, however.
Following the Liberation of France, those of its
members who failed to complete their escape to
Germany (where they were impressed into the
Charlemagne Division of the Waffen-SS) or elsewhere
abroad generally faced either execution following
summary court-martial or were simply shot out of
hand by vengeful Resistance workers and enraged
is part of the diplay at the Resistance Museum at
Peyrat le Chateau
very much worth a visit either before or after
Oradour Sur Glane