Radio broadcasting and the war

“La chanson des V”. Beethoven’s famous 5th symphonie start was the signature tune for the BBC programme “Les Français parlent aux français”. The rythm of its first four notes equals the letter “V” (for Victory) in morse code. Liberation.b.34

The powerful role of radio propaganda during World War II cannot be overestimated. Information was transmitted quickly to vast populations across borders, overpassing enemy lines. In the UK, the BBC would broadcast in several languages, including French of course, and would even send secret messages to the French Resistance in the form of apparently senseless phrases. The Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection has several publications related to this topic, some of them particularly fascinating.

Maurice Van Moppès was an illustrator, Free France member and broadcaster who worked for “Les Français parlent aux français”, one of the BBC radio programmes that transmitted news from the Front (for more on this check the 5 volumes of Ici Londres, 1940-1944: les voix de la liberté, 539:1.b.820.2-6). The programme was also supposed to boost the French people’s morale and send code messages to the Résistance.

“Ça va clopin clopinant”, mocking Hitler’s various defeats. From Liberation.b.34.

Chansons de la B.B.C. (Liberation.b.34), which featured in the Literature of the Liberation exhibition hosted at the Library in 2014, is a collection of popular French songs with texts modified by Maurice Van Moppès aimed at deriding the Occupiers and collaborationists. It is illustrated by the author and contains both the notated music and texts. As we read on the exhibition’s catalogue, originally “it was published in England in 1943 as a booklet that was dropped over France by the RAF”. Dropping propaganda leaflets from hot air balloons or airplanes was a common practice during World War II. When it came to radio propaganda, dropping leaflets was also a way to let the population know exactly when and where broadcasts could be heard.

Another publication by Maurice Van Moppès is Londres en guerre (Liberation.b.185). It’s a portfolio containing 20 plates, again all illustrated by the author. They depict ‘normal life’ in London during the German bombing that lasted ‘8 months, every night, from 6 in the evening to 7 in the morning’. We read in the preface by Jean Marin (another ‘Free France’ resistant journalist transmitting from the BBC, who would later become president of Agence France-Presse): ‘Despite discipline, dangers and fatigue, London lived with charming good humour, as a pleasant complement to an exceptional courage’. (Click on the images to enlarge)

Jean Oberlé, the author of Jean Oberlé vous parle … souvenirs de cinq années à Londres (Liberation.c.1154) was also an illustrator and another of the main French speakers on the Free France broadcasts at the BBC. The book, an account of his years in London and of his work as a radio broadcaster, came with a little treasure: a detached sketchbook page depicting a young lady in clear 1940s fashion. The illustration is quite likely by the author himself, who also produced several other portraits printed throughout the book. Among them, there’s also a portrait of Maurice van Moppès. The copy is dedicated to Maurice Asselin, a painter and engraver, and is autographed by Oberlé. (Click on the images to enlarge)

Other interesting titles about radio broadcasting and the war to look at are:

  • Ici Londres… : le message du jour, by Théo Fleischman (Liberation.c.1000), containing the broadcasts to occupied Belgium in 1943-1944 over Radiodiffusion Nationale Belge (Léopoldville, Belgian Congo) by its director at the London BBC studios;
  • De la résistance à l’insurrection, by Andre Gillois (Liberation.c.160), containing radio broadcasts from the resistance station “Honneur et patrie” in London from 1943 to 1944;
  • Vers l’île captive, by Jean-Martin Franchi (Liberation.b.72); the broadcasts to Corsica in 1943 over Radio-France;
  • La libération des ondes, by Pierre Crénesse (Liberation.c.250)
  • L’Angleterre, comme Carthage, by Jean Hérold-Paquis (Liberation.c.1013); the author was a member of the Parti Populaire Français. He aired daily news on Radio Paris and his catch phrase was ‘England, like Carthage, shall be destroyed!’.

Clara Panozzo

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