As previously mentioned, I’ve recently finished reading Paddy Ashdown’s book ‘The Cruel ‘Victory’, which tells the history of the Maquis on the Vercors during the Second World War.
Anyone who has spent some time around here will probably have seen at least one roadside monument to those times: apart from the rather grandiose modern one on the D93 near Saillans, there are dozens of smaller monuments, some in the most unexpected places. But even with just a little knowledge, you start to understand why the episode has been so important in the region’s history.
In brief, in June1944, at the time of the D-day landings, the Maquis was emboldened enough by the Allies to re-establish the Free French Republic up on the plateau. And though the Germans knew that things weren’t going in their direction around the Normandy area, they still had enough strength in the south east to strike back punitively at the Maquis in Vercors. And that they did, with horrific results. A trip to the museum at Vassieux-en-Vercors will help you to understand the profound effect on the population of the whole area.
And yet, in less than a month, the Germans were gone. But the scars were deep, and can still be seen to this day. If you are in the area, do try to see the museum, and the cemetery at Vassieux, at least. In the meantime, do read Ashdown’s book. Even if you never visit the area, it’s a superbly written narrative, at the same time gripping and, as far as I can tell, historically accurate. It’s also groundbreaking in the way Ashdown places the history on the ground in a much wider political context, and how at virtually every level, the people whose lives were at stake were being let down by the very people, the Allies, either (it appears) for deliberate political ends, or through incompetence.
And if you do, you might start to understand the sentiment behind all those monuments you will see if you cycle round this area.