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FRENCH HISTORY

French resistance hero Hubert Germain to be honoured on Armistice day

The coffin of French resistance fighter Hubert Germain will be paraded along the Champs Elysées in a tank on Thursday in a special tribute to the World War II fighter, who died last month.

President Macron stands to attention next to the coffin of late French resistance leader, Hubert Germain
President Macron stands to attention next to the coffin of late French resistance leader, Hubert Germain (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

Born in Paris in 1920, Hubert Germain travelled much of the world as a child, following his father who was stationed as a soldier in the Middle East and Hanoi. He returned to Paris as a teenager to study and had been preparing to join the French navy when war broke out in 1939. 

By the time Germain was sitting his final exam at naval college, France had capitulated to Germany. Rather than graduate and serve in a navy effectively taking orders from the Nazis, he handed in a blank exam paper – much to the bemusement of the college instructors. 

At around this time, Germain heard the call from Charles de Gaulle, broadcasting over the radio from London, for the French to fight on. He boarded a cargo ship to Britain with hundreds of Polish soldiers who had managed to escape westward. 

Germain was sent to Syria in 1941 to take part in the fight between French Vichy forces and the Free French Gaullists – the battle was personal as his father was a senior general in the Vichy regime. During the fighting, casualties from both sides were sent to the same field hospital in Damascus and often attempted to kill each other in the wards. 

After a successful campaign in Syria, Germain saw fighting in Cairo and Libya where he was among the French troops who held off a German offensive at the Battle of Bir Hakeim for two whole weeks despite being outnumbered 10 to one. The French forces were eventually forced to flee after running out of ammunition and water. 

With the tide of the war turning in favour of the allies, Germain was sent northwards to Italy where he was wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino in a particularly bloody advance. “As the Italians said, the poppies were redder than usual,” he recounted in later years. His bravery during the fighting won Germain an Order of the Liberation medal. 

He was not out of action for long and soon landed with the Free French in the southern city of Toulon. The atmosphere as the city was reconquered was jubilant – although Germain was disappointed to see that many of his fellow countrymen refused to join the soldiers as they pressed further towards Paris. “I fought for France, not the French,” he said after the war. 

Germain eventually reconciled with his father after the war and went on to have three children with his wife, Simone Millon. He pursued a career in politics serving as the mayor of Saint-Chéron from 1953-1965, as an MP intermittently from the late 1950s to the 1970s, and as a government minister from 1972-74. During his time as Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, he was instrumental in equipping France with the most modern telephone system in Europe. 

Germain came out as a freemason after retiring from politics created the first Grand Lodge in France. He quickly rose to the rank of grand master. 

When Germain died last month, aged 101, France lost the of its last Compagnons de la Libération – those 1,138 men and  decorated for their role in resisting Nazism. President Macron will honour his legacy with a speech at the Arc de Triomphe tomorrow morning and again at a special burial in Mont-Valérien – a site where many members of the French resistance were cruelly executed by the Nazis. 

“With his brothers in arms, he defended our freedom,” said Emmanuel Macron at an even surely after Germain’s passing. “On this day, the thousand-year-old spirit of the French resistance goes with you.”

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FRENCH HISTORY

French history myths: France only sent one Statue of Liberty to the US

You might already know that New York's Lady Liberty was a gift from France, but did you know she is far from the only Liberty figure, and not even the only one to have travelled from France to the United States?

French history myths: France only sent one Statue of Liberty to the US

Myth: The French have only sent the Americans one Statue of Liberty

It is likely common knowledge that the United States’ iconic 93-metre-tall Lady Liberty is actually French in origin, gifted to the USA to mark 100 years since American independence.

But you might not realise that the New York City monument is not the only one the French have gifted to the United States.

In 2021, another – this time smaller – Statue of Liberty travelled to New York from France.

This replica was also meant to be a symbol of French-American friendship. Having previously been on display in Paris with the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, the statue travelled across the Atlantic to the United States in June of 2021. It eventually made its way from New York to Washington DC, where it went on display at the French ambassador’s residence for Bastille Day. It will remain there until 2031.

The conservatory told CNN that sending the statue to the United States was meant to “send a very simple message: Our friendship with the United States is very important, particularly at this moment. We have to conserve and defend our friendship.”

The original statue stands as the third tallest in the world, but she is not the only Lady Liberty in the world. The second-most famous Statue of Liberty was actually gifted to the French by Americans, specifically those living in Paris. Only a fourth of the height of the original, the Statue stands on the Île de Cygnes in the Seine river in Paris, facing westward toward the New York statue.

Several other replicas – at least 100 of them – exist across the world. There are several of them in France alone, and if you want to find them you can plan your Lady Liberty road trip by clicking HERE.

READ MORE: Where to find France’s 12 Statues of Liberty

The original Statue of Liberty also represents more than just the shared friendship between the United States and France.

French historian Édouard de Laboulaye came up with the idea for the statue and made the proposal for it in 1865. While the statue was intended to be a gift to strengthen the relationship between the two countries, Laboulaye was also an anti-slavery activist and avid supporter of the Union during the Civil War. He hoped that the statue would represent liberty and symbolise the freedom of thought repressed under Napoleon III’s regime. 

Eventually, it was sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi who brought the statue to life (reputedly modelled her face on his mother) helped by a famous engineer known for another and tall structure – Gustave Eiffel.

The statue was intended to mark 100 years since the American declaration of independence in 1776, but initially only the torch-bearing arm was displayed, the full statute was not finally completed for another 10 years and was dedicated in 1886.

This article is part of our August series on myths and misconceptions from French history.

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