In the years of the couples romance, France had a wary eye cocked toward Germany. Although he was a busy medical student, Pierre Chevallier was an acute observer of political developments on the continent. He would rant to Yvonne that the English and French strategy of German appeasement would ultimately fail because Adolf Hitler was mad for power.
Appeasement failed, of course, and France declared war on its neighbor when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. The Germans arrived on French soil in 1940, and the mighty Third Reich tanks and bombers quickly steamrolled most of France.
Although just the 10th largest city in the nation, Orleans became a tactical target because the Loire River developed into a line of demarcation. Germany bombed Orleans mercilessly, destroying many of its historic treasures, including a museum dedicated to its hometown hero, Joan of Arc.
France surrendered on June 22, 1940. A German military force occupied three-fifths of the country, including Paris and Orleans, and the remainder was administered by the French Vichy government, a puppet for Germany.
Four days before the surrender, French army General Charles de Gaulle, in exile in London
, was given time on BBC radio to make a plea to his countrymen across the English Channel
. He first explained apologetically that the French military had been overwhelmed by the German blitzkrieg.
He went on:
"But has the last word been spoken? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No! Believe me, I speak to you with full knowledge of the facts and tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us to a day of victory. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast empire behind her. She can align with the British empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of the United States. This war is not limited to the unfortunate territory of our country...The destiny of the world is here. I, General de Gaulle, currently in London, invite the officers and the French soldiers who are located in British territory or who would come there--with their weapons or without their weapons. I invite the engineers and the special workers of armament industries who are located in British territory or who would come there to put themselves in contact with me. Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.