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A REMARKABLE document has come my way, and just in time for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

It's all too easy to forget that the French themselves made a notable contribution to the success of Operation Overlord and the Normandy landings. I

A REMARKABLE document has come my way, and just in time for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

It's all too easy to forget that the French themselves made a notable contribution to the success of Operation Overlord and the Normandy landings. I don't know if the Allied command was sensitive to the importance of having French units involved in the liberation of France: certainly it was a master-stroke of diplomacy to assign the freeing of Paris to Général Leclerc and his 2nd Armoured Division.

The Normandy landings were helped immeasurably by the Resistance. It's a debt that's impossible to calculate. The actions of the Resistance are by now woven inextricably into the French national consciousness.

But here in the South, it was different. After occupying the north of France in 1940, the Nazis allowed the south of France to look after its own domestic affairs, with an administration set up in Vichy, a town in the Allier département known mainly for its natural springs until Maréchal Pétain established a pro-Nazi puppet government there. In November 1942 Nazi and Fascist Italian troops moved in to occupy southern France too.

What swelled the numbers of the French Resistance in the south, sometimes called the maquis, was the universal imposition of the Service Obligatoire de Travail, shortened to STO, by which all men not employed on the railways, in the mines, in agriculture and other prime areas were required to register for work for the Nazis in Germany or elsewhere. This was virtually slave labour, and it's hardly surprising that thousands of young Frenchmen simply disappeared and went underground rather than sign on for the STO.

Among them was Rex Martigues, a weaver from Tarn département. Summoned to register with the STO, he and several friends slipped away into the impenetrable forests of the Montagne Noire. They gave themselves code-names: the weaver called himself 'Y-grec' (French for the letter Y) because when you reversed his first name and surname it sounded like 'marteeg-rex', with the sound 'ee-grec' hidden inside it, a subterfuge baffling enough to his intimates let alone to any Gestapo investigators.

The southern Resistance was beginning to organise itself, supplied mainly by the British. Y-grec and his pals tried to join various embryo units, but found it difficult: no one trusted anyone, denunciation was endemic, the Vichy government wasn't universally despised, some actually welcomed the Nazi occupation. Rather than harbour possible traitors to the general movement, it was sometimes more expedient to encourage small bands of Resistance fighters to operate independently, with freedom to attack the enemy as and when possible. By 1944 Y-grec and his half-dozen pals formed themselves into a CFL, a Corps Franc de Libération, under the loose control of the Tarn Resistance command, and so began the headiest days of his life.

The document I referred to above is Y-grec's private - and very restricted - CD containing the records, such as they are, of his CFL, in which he held the rank of sergeant. The group really came into its own after D-Day, as the Nazi troops occupying the south were called to reinforce the embattled German forces in Normandy. Groups like Y-grec's CFL harried them every step of the way: the citations on the CD mention fire-fights in remote farms, ambushes, sabotage, assaults in force on staging camps, the 'cleansing' of Toulouse of miliciens, pro-Nazi police.

But there was another side to the undoubted courage and determination of Y-grec's men in face of the enemy. Memories are long, and 60 years on I still have to take care not to identify people too closely. The transcribed oral accounts include the meting out of local summary justice: collaborators ('collabos') with the authorities beaten up and mutilated; a suspected informer executed by firing squad; a factory-owner promised the same fate if he didn't pay his workers within 24 hours (we're not told the outcome of this); requisitions of food, vehicles, petrol and particularly cigarettes, and we don't know if they were ever paid for. Cruel times. I can't help being reminded of present-day Iraq.

The photographs are particularly fascinating. The summer of 1944 was hot, to judge by the bare torsos of fit and healthy young men exercising on improvised shooting ranges, draped over the bonnets of their requisitioned Citroën tractions avant, a car familiar to us from Maigret films, requisitioned cigarettes drooping from their lips, British-parachuted side arms at the ready. The 22-year-old Y-grec, neat and soldierly, looks out proudly, conscious of the strength of camaraderie, but hardly of the heroic qualities he will be vested with later.

I know Y-grec well. He's an old man now, of course, but the memory of those heady days of 1944, for all that they only lasted a few months, has never left him. It's given to few of us to have experienced the danger, the adventure, the excitement, the sharp-edged team mentality, under the umbrella of an intense patriotism and the sense that one is really doing something very important for one's country. I leave Y-grec with his transcribed account of the announcement of the D-Day landings:

'The landings have started, at least that's what Albert heard just now on Radio Vichy. But we don't have the details and nothing is certain. So we're all there gathered round the radio, mad with impatience and excited to the highest pitch, when it packs up. However Zazou listened to the BBC broadcast in English, which confirmed what we already knew.

'So what joy, what immense joy . . . what delight in this house where everything was mournful and sad: suddenly everything is happy, we're happy to be alive . . . obviously a wave of sadness swept over us at the thought of our comrades, our friends who have been killed. They too waited for this news, but we, the terrorists [he actually uses the word terroristes], the maquisards know that they will be avenged.'

ANOTHER LARGE entry for last month's competition: First to identify les Biterrois as coming from Béziers, les Sochaliens from Sochaux and les Bordelais from Bordeaux was Jonathan Lassen, so f élicitations ! Honourable mention to Eileen Hobson, Martin Stone, Simon Oliver and Sandra Davies, while ardent Francophile Cynthia St Clair answered two of the questions correctly but unaccountably - for a lovely lady for whom Bordeaux features at most meals - forgot about the third.

Here goes for this month's competition: A year or two after 1789 the Revolutionary authorities instituted a new calendar, which didn't catch on despite the twelve 30-day months having very beautiful names like Thermidor, Floréal and Vendémiaire. However twelve 30-day months makes only 360 days . . . so:

1. What connection do the odd 5 days (6 in a leap year) have with underwear, and

2. Who devised the new calendar?

First e-mail to me with the correct answers wins.