As expected I was unable to have that lie in, despite my legs still aching with fatigue. I did manage to have a short afternoon nap to help my body recover, but this exhaustion was possibly due to the 5 hours of walking around museums this morning!
After a momentary panic thinking I had locked myself into a self-cleaning public loo, the magnificent building I was searching for came into view: the Musée de l’Armee, which is well known for it’s war exhibitions. The museum gave a detailed overview on the period building up to the outbreak of World War 1. In particular it highlighted Germany’s defeat of France in 1871. Leading to the treaty of Frankfurt (where I will be next week) and caused France to become paranoid. This fear led bolstering France’s military capabilities in comically choreographed training videos. The French also started colonising parts of Africa with fear that Britain, Germany or Russia would seize everywhere else and France would be left with nothing.
However, in the early 20th century, Germany felt surrounded. Following the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand in Austria in 1914, the Germans invaded the neutral countries of Belgium and Luxembourg (which I am also passing through in a couple of days). Britain immediately declared war and France was attacked by the Germans in 1914. After nearly 5 years of an extremely bloody war, a treaty was signed in the hall of mirrors at Versailles (where I was yesterday). This put the harsh demands in the form or reparations on Germany, many consider this a key factor in Hitler’s rise to power.
After this exhibition about the World Wars (don’t get the audio guide though – it’s rubbish!) there was a section paying tribute to Charles de Gaulle section which is extremely interesting. He was a soldier in the first world war but was injured three times and captured as a POW. He tried (and failed) to escape 5 times. Similar to a character from a movie. I likened him to – Inspector Clouseau.
De Gaulle did have a strong determination never to give up. He gave the vote to women, independence to colonies and privatised national businesses. Throughout his life he acheived incredible things, but in the context of the Second World War he really was a saviour. He fled to London when Hitler invaded France and Pétain signed the agreement with the Nazis; from there he helped the resistance against this new Vichy state of France that was in coalition with the Nazis and other Axis powers (Italy mainly). He helped the public maintain faith in their country, broadcasting incredibly valuable speeches. No matter how small his following for his country was, he still kept faith and worked at it until people realised they needed to join up to fight for the cause. Charles de Gaulle was an incredibly determined man who helped to shape the world in a better way.
Tonight will be a quiet one ahead of 3 days cycling to Luxembourg. I am still weary that I have a long way to go before reaching Auschwitz, with some big hills and likely cold weather. Lots more time for contemplation about this war, and for me to reflect on not just my British heritage, but what it means for me as a Jew to be making this journey.