Puneet Varma (Editor)

Radio Londres

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City  London
First air date  1940
Broadcast area  France
Language(s)  French
Radio Londres
Slogan  Ici Londres! Les Français parlent aux Français ! (This is London calling! The French speaking to the French!)
Affiliations  French government in London, Special Operations Executive

Radio Londres (French for Radio London) was a radio station broadcast from 1940 to 1944 by the BBC in London to Nazi occupied France. It was entirely in French and was operated by the Free French who had escaped from occupied France. It served not only to counter the propaganda broadcasts of German-controlled Radio Paris and the Vichy government's Radiodiffusion nationale, but also to appeal to the French to rise up, as well as being used to send coded messages to the French Resistance.


Origin and purpose

In 1940, the BBC opened its studio to the first members of the resistance who fled France's occupation by Germany. Radio Londres was born and would become the daily appointment of the French people for four years. It opened its transmission with : "Ici Londres ! Les Français parlent aux Français..." ("This is London! The French speaking to the French..."), now a very famous quote in France. It was the voice of Free French Forces under Charles de Gaulle, who, on 18 June 1940, made his famous Appeal of 18 June, inviting his compatriots to resist and rise against the occupation.

By means of broadcasts from Britain, the French Resistance found a voice that could be heard on the continent, serving to counter the Nazi propaganda broadcasts of Radio Paris and Radio Vichy. Realizing the negative effect that it had on their occupation, the Germans quickly prohibited listening to Radio Londres. Radio Londres also encouraged rising up against the occupation, including De Gaulle's calls to empty the streets of Paris for one hour, demonstrations, and the preparation of D-Day, or the V for Victory campaign, involving drawing a V sign on walls as an act of subversion. It also sent coded messages to the French resistance (see below).

Breaking with the formal style of the French radio stations, some young announcers (Jacques Duchesne, Jean Oberlé, Pierre Bourdan, Maurice Schumann and Pierre Dac) changed the tone with personal messages, sketches, songs, jokes and comic advertising.

Coded messages

Georges Bégué, an operative with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) had the idea of sending seemingly obscure personal messages to SOE agents out in France to reduce radio traffic to and from SOE agents.

Broadcasts would begin with "Before we begin, please listen to some personal messages." It was clear to nearly everyone that they were coded messages, often amusing, and completely without context. Representative messages include "Jean has a long mustache" and "There is a fire at the insurance agency," each one having some meaning to a certain resistance group. They were used primarily to provide messages to the resistance, but also to thank their agents or simply to give the enemy the impression that something was being prepared. Because of the flood of messages and the limited number of Germans available to work to decipher them, the Nazis were not able to keep up. Often by the time they were able to decipher a message, the operation ordered would have already been carried out, prompting the occupiers to focus their efforts on jamming the messages instead.

From the beginning of June 1944, the Allies inundated the network with messages. On 1 June alone, over 200 messages were sent, making it clear to those listening that something was in the works. Although in some places the Axis jamming was more effective than others, the background noise and static were not enough to drown out the sound of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the first four notes of which correspond to the dot-dot-dot-dash of the Morse code letter V for Victory.

Shortly before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944, Radio Londres broadcast the first stanza of Paul Verlaine's poem "Chanson d'automne" to let the resistance know that the invasion would begin within 24 hours.

Les sanglots longs Des violons De l’automne Blessent mon cœur D’une langueur Monotone.

Blessent mon cœur d'une langueur monotone ("wound my heart with a monotonous languor") was the specific call to action.

By late 1944, Allied victory in France sounded the end of Radio Londres.


Radio Londres Wikipedia