THIS is the best personal history that has yet come out of the war. René de Chambrun was called up on the outbreak of war, and went to live in one of the underground forts of the Maginot Line. The reader shares his agony over the plight of the sturdy Lorrainer compelled to see his good earth flooded or neglected for the second time in a generation. He catches the claustrophobia which afflicts the newcomer underground. De Chambrun no sooner gets hardened to this subterranean existence than he is whisked away to be liaison officer with the British, and his anecdotes about the British are gems of characterization. His duties took him into Belgium when the Nazis crashed into the Low Countries. There he witnessed the havoc caused by ‘the only secret weapon I saw’—the fifth-column success in getting the roads blocked with panic-stricken refugees. Back in France, with the Nazis working the armies into a pocket, he shows us Gort, Ironside, and the French generals in action. Heroes strew the pages — from General Prioux’s Cavalry Corps covering the retreat with indomitable courage to the Guards defending Arras with incredible imperturbability and on to the lonely British military policemen on rock-like duty in the stricken villages. The author was the first officer out of the melee to get to Paris and report to Weygand.
This well-told story closes with that inevitable question: Will France rise again? The answer isn’t presented persuasively, and there’s no wonder, since de Chambrun is Pierre Laval’s son-inlaw. One doubts that the leadership which is in evidence at Vichy assures French regeneration. De Chambrun’s apologia, unfortunately, leads him into questionable statements, as, for instance, that in May there were only 200,000 British troops in France. Other sources say 415,000. The book’s greatest value, however, is its firsthand account of the most successful Blitzkrieg in history.