No. 194 NAI DFA Paris Embassy 19/34A

Confidential report from Seán Murphy to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Ascain, 18 June 1940

1. Shortly after the outbreak of the war in September last, I received a letter from the French Protocol to the effect that among other possibilities considered by the military authorities was that of the departure from Paris of the President of the Republic in which case (so stated the note) 'a residence would be placed at the disposal of the Heads of Mission so that they might be able to continue to fulfil their functions with the aid of a reduced staff'. The note enquired what diplomatic staff and what personal staff I would wish to take in the event of such a possibility arising and the weight of the archives which I would desire to have moved. A reply was sent to this note at once.

2. I heard nothing further about the matter until, with the turn taken by the war in Belgium and Northern France, I thought it better to ascertain the exact arrangements contemplated, in the event of moving, both for accommodating the Legation and in providing transport for the staff and luggage. I first approached the Nuncio, as Dean of the Corps. He was under the impression that a special train would be provided for the transport of luggage and of members of the Corps other than Heads of Missions who, he believed, were expected to reach their future quarters in their own cars. He advised me, however, to address myself to the Protocol for all details. I, therefore, had an interview with the Chef du Protocole. From him I ascertained the name and situation of the Chateau in the Tours region allotted to us. Beyond that, he could furnish me with no particulars and suggested that the best thing for me to do would be to go and see the place. It was already clear, however, that there would be no special train and that the various missions would have to make their own arrangements for transport of staff and luggage. On the 29th May I went to visit the Chateau du Grand Boucher, Ballan Miré, Tours, where we were supposed to go. I called at the Préfecture at Tours to get particulars of what I should do to be able to see the house. The Préfet sent an Inspector to accompany me. The Chateau proved to be a three storey house standing in its own grounds with a court-yard, a garage and over the garage four small rooms. The house when we saw it consisted, apart from rather limited servants' quarters, of three rooms on the ground floor (dining room, salon and library) two large bed rooms each with a large bath room on the first floor and three rooms, two of which were arranged as bed rooms on the second floor. This was quite a different arrangement to that of the house when first inspected by the authorities and set aside for a Legation in April 1939. When we saw it the proprietor with a companion was living in it although he was absent at Paris that day. If the house were completely empty, it would have been possible, in case of necessity, to use it for the Legation as there would have been sufficient accommodation in the main building for myself and one or two members of the Legation staff and the annex over the garage could have been used as an office. It was clearly, however, quite out of the question to install a Legation in the building unless the proprietor were to leave it. When I got back to Paris, I informed the Chef du Protocole of the actual state of affairs and gave him my views as to the possibility of its being used by our Legation. As he was not able to give me any information as to whether the owner would stay on, as I understood that the Government had not in fact requisitioned it and as it seemed abundantly clear that the proprietor had deliberately altered the house so as to prevent a Legation being installed in it, I decided that it would be rash to rely on it as a possible residence and that by far the wiser course would be to assume that we would have to make our own arrangements both in regard to our accommodation as well as in regard to our transport. The question of transport did not present any real difficulty as my car was capable of carrying all of the staff and the Secretary's car could carry such official luggage as we would require to bring with us. Events moved too rapidly, however, for me to be able to make arrangements in regard to accommodation.

3. Having to leave Paris to follow the Government became more and more a likelihood as time went on. All through the week ending on the 9th June it seemed inevitable that we would have to take this step. It was known on the other hand, because of the Government's decision announced after a council meeting at the end of May not to leave Paris except at the last possible moment, that one should be prepared to leave at very short notice. I had therefore made arrangements in so far as the official documents were concerned for our being able to leave within a very short time of receiving notice. Among other questions which were considered was that of leaving a member of the staff to look after the Legation and, in the event of no member of staff remaining, of leaving a concierge at the Legation. You will remember that I had discussed the former point with you during your visit to Paris in the middle of May. I felt that there was no point in any member of the staff remaining both because of the relatively unimportant nature of our interests in Paris and because no member of the staff had any locus standi vis-?is the French (or German) authorities except through the Foreign Office and by derivation from my position as representative accredited to the President of the Republic. As for leaving a concierge alone in the Legation, I decided against this course on the ground that I could not feel sure that the presence of a concierge, no matter how reliable, might not lead to some abuse and that, if a third party should forcibly enter the Legation, our position would be secure if all possible precautions to prevent such an event had been taken. I, therefore, paid off the concierge on the 10th June and, in accordance with the terms on which he was engaged in 1931, gave him a month's salary in lieu of notice. Before leaving Paris on the morning of the 11th I saw to it that all outside entrances to the Legation and Chancery were locked.

4. On the afternoon of Sunday the 9th June, the Nuncio visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enquire as to the likelihood of the Corps having to leave Paris. Later in the evening the Nuncio conveyed unofficially to the Legation that it was probable that a decision that the Government should leave Paris would be taken within the next two days. On the morning of Monday 10th June we received a note from the Protocol advising us that, consequent on the Nuncio's visit, the Government 'saw no objection to our moving into the provinces'. We understood that the Nuncio intended to leave that day. I therefore made all arrangements for leaving early on the following morning. It was in these circumstances that I sent you my telegram No. 47.1 That evening I called on the American Ambassador2 to ascertain what course he proposed to follow and whether he had any information as to what the Missions of other neutral States were doing. He informed me that he was aware that all or practically all the Heads of Mission in Paris had either already left on the 10th or proposed to leave by the 11th. As far as he himself was concerned, he intended to remain in Paris because of the tradition in the American Service that the diplomatic representative in Paris remain there whatever should happen. Apparently this course was followed in 1870 and in 1914. I gathered from Mr. Bullitt that he had insisted on observing this tradition even in the face of a direct message from President Roosevelt which he had received the previous evening to the effect that he should leave Paris. Later the same evening I received a circular telegram from the Foreign Office to the effect that the Ministry was that day moving, leaving Paris 'to install itself in the provinces in proximity to the residence which had been allotted to the Legation' (sic).

5. I knew that Father Travers, Rector of the Irish College in Paris, was anxious to leave the city in the event of the French Government deciding to evacuate the capital. It was his intention in such an event to get to the House of his Order (Vincentian) at Rennes. As soon as our decision to leave had been taken, I communicated with him and offered, if he so desired, to take him with us to Tours where another House of the Order existed. He accepted this offer. On the following morning, therefore, we all assembled at the Legation i.e. the Secretary,3 Mr. O'Byrne, Mme Froc, Miss Foley and Father Travers. We left the Legation for Tours at 8 a.m. An unusual and very dirty fog lay over Paris that morning whereas the weather up to then for a fortnight previously had been extremely fine with complete absence of cloud. This fog would appear to have been that which the official communiqué of the evening of the 11th alleged had been artificially created by the Germans with the object of crossing the Seine at various points west of Paris, the nearest of which was about 45 miles away. We understood that the roads leading out of Paris towards the south were likely to be heavily encumbered with traffic on account of the huge voluntary exodus of the civil population which was taking place. We, however, chose the direct road to Tours which runs through Versailles, Chartres, Chateaudun, Vend?and Chateau Renault. The total distance from Paris to Tours by this route is 235 kilometres (somewhat under 150 miles). In normal circumstances, the journey would be performed in less than 3? hours. As soon, however, as we had got to Garches, which is about 2? miles out, we ran into a heavy line of traffic running in the same direction. The result was that it took us over an hour to reach Versailles, a distance generally covered in about twenty minutes. We reached Epernon, which is c.40 miles from Paris, at about 11 a.m. At this point we with the rest of the line of cars, were obliged by the military authorities to leave the main road for Chartres. Until we got as far as Gallardon, a distance from Epernon of 15 miles, our progress was relatively rapid. To cover this distance from Gallardon to Sours, however, (about 10 miles) it took us about three hours. This was by far the most unpleasant part of the journey as we were advancing by stages of only from 10 to 50 yards at a time and the day had become exceedingly hot. We reached Sours at about 2.30 p.m. On arriving here I decided to see the military authority to insist that, as we were on an official journey, we should be allowed to take the main road. This was conceded and we therefore went to Chartres (about 5 miles away) at a normal pace and from there by the main route to Chateaudun (about 27 miles) which we reached about 3.30 p.m. All the hotels and restaurants at Chateaudun were overflowing and short of food but we finally succeeded in getting something to eat. We left for Vend?(25 miles away) by the main road, at about 4.30. On this stretch we did not encounter anything like the same volume of refugee traffic as on the whole journey so far as Sours. From Vend?to Chateau Renault, a distance of over 15 miles, progress was relatively good for most of the way. We had a puncture however, some distance before Chateau Renault and immediately afterwards ran into a traffic block which it took us almost three quarters of an hour to clear. From Chateau Renault we took the reserved main road to Tours (20 miles away).It rained rather heavily on this stretch. We ultimately arrived at Tours towards 9 p.m.

6. I thought it best on arrival at Tours, before making any further arrangements, to call to see the Prefect and ascertain from him the exact position in regard to the Chateau allotted to us. He informed me at once that this chateau was no longer available as the owner had installed a large number of relatives. I gathered from him that the experience in regard to our chateau was not an isolated one and that the Nuncio and a few Ambassadors who had arrived the previous evening had had to spend the night in chairs in his house. He said that there was no room whatever available at Tours but asked his Chef de Cabinet to see what he could do for us. The latter went to great pains in the matter and ultimately succeeded in securing for us more or less by means of requisition, a total of three rooms in the Hotel de l'Univers, regarded as the best hotel in the town. We left the Prefecture for the hotel at about 9.30. Just as we left the anti-air-craft defences set up a strong barrage which continued more or less without interruption until towards 11 p.m. As the sky was overcast, it was impossible to see what was being fired at but the flames of the bursting shells were clearly visible. When we reached the hotel we found the place in a state of considerable chaos. I eventually succeeded in getting, in addition to the three rooms obtained for us by the Prefecture, another room for my chauffeur and his wife who had accompanied him from Paris. We had, therefore, a total of four rooms for eight people as Father Travers found it impossible to locate the House of his Order that night. On entering the hotel, I met M. Gaston Riou, Deputy and Vice President of the Chamber Foreign Affairs Commission. He advised me to go at once for dinner and offered to assist in obtaining it. The hotel management, however, said that it was no longer possible to serve dinner on account of the 'alerte'. They advised us to try a restaurant further down the street. We did so but were informed that 'not an egg remained'. We had, therefore, nothing to eat that night.

7. It was quite evident that Tours was in a complete state of chaos which was only likely to grow in subsequent days with the increasing influx of refugees on their way through to the south and of Government officials coming to be installed in the region. My experience had also convinced me that it would be quite useless to expect any assistance whatever in the matter of obtaining accommodation from the Protocol. At the same time so long as we were in a position to be in contact with the Government, there seemed no strong reason why we should be in very close proximity to them. I, therefore, decided to proceed towards the south in the hope of obtaining accommodation, intending to go, if necessary, as far as Bordeaux. Poitiers, which represented our first stop and where we had lunch (it is about 65 miles from Tours) was completely full, both with refugees and the administration of the Belgian Government. Angoul?, the next stage of the journey (about an equal distance from Poitiers), was likewise completely full and there was nothing whatever to be had in the hotels. We, therefore, continued to Bordeaux which we reached on the evening of the 12th at about 8 p.m. I, at once, called at the Prefecture as offering our best hope of obtaining accommodation in Bordeaux if, as I thought would be the case, the hotels were full. I was unable to see the Prefect but had an interview with the Secretary General who, by a coincidence, happened to be the nephew of the Legation architect and was probably, therefore, better disposed towards us than might otherwise have been the case. He undertook to do what he could the following day to get us suitable accommodation. As regards accommodation that night, he said that the hotels were completely over-flowing but that he would see what he could manage in the way of rooms. He finally succeeded in securing for us a total of three rooms, one in the Hotel Continental and the others in the Hotel Terminus. The party was divided up between these hotels, myself, Mr. Cremin and Mr. O'Byrne staying in the one room in the Continental. The following morning I called, as arranged, at the Prefecture to have another interview with Mr. Ziwes. I was, however, quite unable to see him as he was in conference all morning. The explanation of the conference was that the Government had the previous night decided to move to Bordeaux. I tried on several occasions in the course of the day to see Mr. Ziwes but did not succeed in doing so until late in the afternoon when he told me that their arrangements had been completely upset by the sudden decision of the Government and intimated that there was little hope of any kind of suitable accommodation being placed at our disposal at least in the immediate future. This was my own judgment from the crowds which I could see in Bordeaux and from the developments which had taken place in the matter of hotel accommodation. Our hotel had that day been requisitioned for the Government and it was only by reason of the fact that our room was already regarded as requisitioned by the Prefecture for us that we were able to remain in it. Practically all other clients of the hotel were ordered to leave it in the course of the day. It has since been stated that by that date Bordeaux contained a population of three times as great as its normal population (about 250,000). As before leaving Paris the possibility of our having to go even further south had not been excluded, I had asked the Special Counsellor4 who was leaving Paris for Ascain to look into the prospects of our obtaining accommodation in that region. It seemed unlikely that I could make any useful contact with the Foreign Office on the next day, Friday the 14th. I, therefore, paid a visit to Ascain which is about 120 miles south of Bordeaux. I found that Count O'Kelly had, in fact, been able to secure accommodation in Ascain itself for the whole party in the event of our requiring it and that he had also succeeded in finding rooms which could serve as an office. I, therefore, decided to move the whole party down to Ascain. I returned to Bordeaux the same evening and we left for Ascain at 3 p.m. on the following day (Saturday 15th June). I had spent the morning in Bordeaux in an effort to get in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but, though I ascertained where they were supposed to be, it proved impossible to find any member of the Ministry either there or elsewhere.

8. There are in all at least about 25 heads of missions in the Biarritz, St. Jean, Ascain area. In addition there is at Biarritz a considerable number of members of the staffs of other missions. From what I have since gathered from some of my colleagues it seems that my decision to push on in the first instance from Tours and in the second instance from Bordeaux was a wise one. Their experience in regard to the accommodation allotted to them at Tours was similar to mine and some of them have informed me that accommodation which was alleged to have been assigned to them near Bordeaux after the government decided to move there was not available. A number of the Missions which have remained in Bordeaux have, I understand, done so because of the facilities in the matter of personal and office accommodation offered by their Consulates in that city.

1 Not printed.

2 William C. Bullitt (1891-1967), United States Ambassador to France (1936-40).

3 Con Cremin.

4 Count Gerald O?Kelly de Gallagh.

Purchase Volumes Online

Purchase Volumes Online



The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.

Free Download

International Counterparts

The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
Read more ....

Website design and developed by FUSIO