The outbreak of the Second World War

1st September 1939: Germany invades Poland after having annexed Austria (Anschluss 12 March 1938), the Sudetenland region (1st October 1938), then Bohemia-Moravia (15 March 1939) in the preceding months.

3 September, 11 a.m.: England declares war on Germany.

3 September, 5 p.m.: France declares war on Germany.

After years of procrastination and evasions by the Western democracies in the face of Adolf Hitler’s expansionist demands, the Second World War broke out on the 3rd of September.

In the Dordogne, very few people had a radio set at the end of the summer of 1939. As in 1914, it is by the tocsin which resounds in the villages that the populations learn the news of the general mobilization of the reservists in the armies.

The surprise was not total because of the international political climate and the various crises that had already been shaking Europe for several years already. But the shock is no less violent,

and the feeling is one of stupor and resignation.

Marie Solange Bodet (née Raynaud), 21 years old, was living in Saint-Laurent-des-Hommes and was about to take up her first post as a teacher.

her first teaching post in Beaupouyet. She recalls the « general collapse » that gripped the villagers: « I cried about it… My father had been in the First World War. He talked about it a lot… It must have been the ‘last stand’.

Jean Marotin (1875-1947), who came from the Paris region to visit his son Robert, who worked at the Mussidan station

at the Mussidan station, left a poignant account of the departure of these sons, fathers or brothers for the war: « Women wept, some loudly. Later, an old farmer saw his son leave, too, and sobbed. From now on, after each departure of the train taking Mussidanese, fathers, mothers, women and children will parade along the avenue, overwhelmed, in tears, with handkerchiefs over their eyes or mouths. It is the return from the cemetery after the funeral.

All these men join their mobilisation centre, go through training, then are directed towards their place of assignment.

Alphonse Dureisseix, from Sourzac, was 20 years old when he was sent to Bassens (Gironde). There he discovered the unpreparedness of the French army, as « some reservists had neither rifle nor clothing ».

François Bouthier was 23 years old. Originally from Saint-Michel-de-Double, he was posted to the

20th Dragoon Regiment of Limoges as a machine gunner. As soon as he had completed his service,

he was posted with his unit to Sarreguemines, above the Maginot Line. It was there, along the German

the German border, where a large part of the French army was positioned, expecting an offensive

Hitler’s armies, themselves withdrawn behind the Siegfried Line. But, with the exception of a few skirmishes and coups de main, the front line remained relatively calm

for nine months, from 3 September 1939 to 10 May 1940. During this long period of waiting

nicknamed the « phoney war », the soldiers sank into routine and boredom. Léon Bouillé, posted to the Hochwald, the most important structure of the Maginot Line, describes a typical day as follows: « In the morning, I went to the power station. We cleaned the engines and the gas-oil tanks and washed the floor. In the afternoon, we sunbathed on the casemates.

Psychological warfare was a major element of the ‘phoney war’. The German army

sent propaganda units on the roads to broadcast « benevolent » messages to the French soldiers with their loudspeakers. Alphonse Dureisseix remembers enemy soldiers posted near the French lines who « spoke in French through loudspeakers, greeting and… welcoming… ».

This strange war, without major fighting, ended on 10 May 1940.

Poster announcing the general mobilisation.