No. 358 NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/1

Confidential report from Seán Murphy to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(P48/18) (P48/15) (P48/14)

Vichy, 3 December 1940

With reference to my telegram No. 3721 I am taking the opportunity of a friend who is going to London to send you a more detailed report on the situation here.

I gather from your telegrams No. 982 and 3913 that you have formed a definite opinion on the situation with which the views expressed in my reports are not in harmony. I have always endeavoured to give you the facts of the situation as I see it objectively and without prejudice and it is consequently somewhat disheartening to receive telegrams of the kind to which I have referred, which seem to suggest that I am drawing on my imagination. Whatever may be your other sources of information I think my reports are entitled to be taken on their face value until at least they are shown to be incorrect.

In order to properly appreciate the situation here one has to remember that France has received a knock out blow and has only recently recovered consciousness. At first the only desire of the French people was to find someone to blame for their defeat other than themselves. They very naturally came to the conclusion that it was due to lack of British support. In this view they were greatly assisted in the official statements made and by the incident of MERS EL KEBIR. Their great desire was that the war should end quickly so that they could return to more or less normal existence. Being very egotistical they could not see how the British could resist the German attack longer than they had. However, as the war went on and the end had no appearance of arriving they began to look for other reasons for their defeat. They gradually came to the conclusion that they were mainly responsible themselves. With the growth of this point of view they became less and less anti-British until now the majority even in this zone are hoping for a British victory.

The grant of full powers to Marshal PETAIN and the suspension of the parliamentary system was generally accepted for want of a better solution of the existing difficulty. It might be said that at the moment the new regime had what we understand as popular support. The fact, however, that the majority of the National Assembly were in favour of the grant of full powers to the Marshal, with the authority to frame a new Constitution, does not necessarily mean that the same majority is in favour of his use of the full powers. The Marshal is, of course, a dictator in the fullest sense of the word. Full powers are invested in him personally and he has of course the means to enforce his policy. I am not suggesting that the policy has not support. What I do suggest is that it has not popular support as we understand that term. This state of things is not unnatural when one considers the various laws which have been decreed since he took power. The wholesale dismissal of prefects and sub-prefects, the removal of primary and secondary school-teachers, on a large scale, the dissolution of municipal councils are not acts which one can expect to be popular. The deputies and senators continue to draw their parliamentary salaries. They are still a sphere of political influence in their various circumscriptions and have not abandoned hope of returning to their former activity. In addition the South of France which forms a good part of the free zone, has always been, and I understand still is, very 'Red'. All these facts, together with the disbandment of free masons, and the law against the Jews explains why the present regime has not the popular support. A very considerable number of people have been effected directly or indirectly by these measures and in nearly all cases the groups affected had heretofore very considerable influence.

The PETAIN Government has, of course, the support of the Church, not because its policy is Catholic, for it is up to date only incidentally so, but because it is conservative and less anti-clerical than those which preceded it. The suppression of free masonry was purely a political act. The abolition of the law prohibiting teaching by Catholic congregations was merely removing a legal disability rather than creating a new situation of fact. It was really more an act of non anti-clericalism than of positive Catholicism.

I have already reported on the unpopularity of LAVAL,4 and have given the reasons for such unpopularity which I have said do not seem sufficient. There is no doubt that he is generally unpopular, even amongst his colleagues in the present Government. I think there can be no doubt that if the Marshal were to die in the morning, LAVAL would not be accepted as his successor. In my opinion, which is I think fairly general, the present regime will last as long as the Marshal lasts.

With regard to the question of collaboration with Germany, as I have said in my telegram the French public do not consider it inevitable and they very much hope that circumstances will not make it inevitable. At the beginning they were prepared for a form of collaboration in the hope that it might assist the internal situation. They had great hopes after the meeting of MONTOIRE5 that good results would follow almost at once. If this had happened, I don't think there is any doubt that it would have had a considerable effect on public opinion, at least in this zone. They were led to believe by statements made by LAVAL and by official press releases that the results of the meeting would bring about the release of a great number of prisoners, almost at once, facilities of transport, a betterment of the economic conditions in both zones, and a considerable reduction in the costs of occupation, which at present is 400,000,000 francs per day. In all these things they have been disappointed and to make matters worse 70,000 French from LORRAINE have been expelled and have had to seek refuge in the free zone which is already greatly strained from the economic point of view. All this has not been helpful to the PETAIN regime and has if possible increased LAVAL's unpopularity as he is the author of collaboration.

With regard to the occupied zone, I understand that at the beginning the population took the occupation very calmly and were even prepared to be friendly with the Germans. After some time, when German regulations and restrictions of various sorts were put into force, the opinion began to change. They began to see that the Germans were going to make them feel their defeat and humiliate them as much as possible. The opinion now is, I understand from those I have met from Paris, very strongly pro-British and somewhat critical of the Government here whom they regard as having somewhat abandoned them. They are very strongly opposed to any policy of collaboration, because they believe from experience that it will bring them nowhere with the Germans. DE GAULLE has considerable support in the occupied zone and particularly in Paris. Here, again it is what he stands for that finds support and not himself, personally. I understand that there is great unemployment in the occupied zone and although the Government is doing what it can, it is unable to make much impression on the situation. Also the food situation is very serious, and there is great lack of coal for heating and cooking. This situation is aggravated by the fact that the Germans are sending considerable quantities of food to Germany and are of course requisitioning large quantities for the Army of occupation. One can well imagine in these circumstances that a policy of collaboration would not find much support. It may, of course, eventually have to come but the French are anxious to put off the evil day as long as possible. In a word the general attitude is one of expectancy.

I hope that I have succeeded in covering all the points of interest and in making more clear the facts of the situation here. I should be glad if you will let me know if you desire me to report from time to time by telegraph on the situation here.

[signed] Seán Murphy

1 See No. 356.

2 See No. 236.

3 See No. 345.

4 See No. 356.

5 Hitler and Pétain met at Montoire-sur-le-Loir on 24 October 1940; the meeting, arranged when Laval and Hitler met at the same location on 22 October, marked the start of organised French collaboration with Nazi Germany.

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