French Boy Scout Chronology: World War II

Figure 1.--We do not have much information on French Scouting during World War II. Apparently Scouting was permitted in the unoccupied Vichy zone of France. French Scouts ( Scout d'Europe ) wore a light blue shirt and dark blue short pants. Some boys had khaki shorts.

NAZI Germany invaded and defeated the French Army (Junr 1940). In the resulting Armistace agreement, France was divided into an occupied zone (northern and western France and an unoccupied zone administered by Marshal Petain's collaborationist Goverment at Vichy. NAZI German occpationist authorities banned Scouting. This was the same action the Germans took in other occupied countries. The Germans as in Germany itself want all youth activities under Government control. In particular they did want any uniformed groups, even youth groups, to be outside their control. In the unoccupied zone, Vichy officials permitted the Scouts de France to continue. Famed French Scouting artist Pierre Joubert reportedly moved from Paris to the unoccupied zone so he could comtinue to remain active in Scouting. (After the War some looked on him as a collaborationist because of this.) The Vichy Goverment attempted to control the Scouts and other youth movements, but many of the members strongly favored the Allies and this sentiment increased as the war began to turn against the Germans. After the Allies invaded French North Africa (November 1942), the Germans occupied the unoccupied area as well. I do not know what action the Germans took toward Scouting at this time.

Phony War (September 1939 - May 1940)

The NAZIs invaded Poland (September 1) and Britain and France declared war on Germany marking the beginning of World War I (September 3). French forces were committed to launching an offensive to support the Poles, but never initiated serious offensive operations. The French Army remained in their prepared positions behind the Maginot Line. While the Luftwaffe conducted a massive bombing campaign against Warsaw. The Allies dropped leaflets on Germany. The lack of action in the West led to the press calling this period the Phony War. We have little information at this time about Scouting activities in France during this period. The mobilization of the French Army created a labor shiortage, especially farm labor. And as it occured in September, it occurred just as farmers were beginning to plan for the fall harvest. We note Scouts helping to bring in the harvest. One of thge strengths of France during World War I was that French farmers coukd feed the country while Germany was depensdent on imported food. We do not yet have details on Scouting activities to support the War effort.

German Invasion (May-June 1940)

NAZI Germany Launched in long-awaited Western Offensive (May 10, 1940). It was a spectacular success. They drice to the Channel and forced the Allies to evacuate at Dunkirk. The NAZIs than drove south. The French declared Paris and open city and the Germans entered the shocked French capital (June 14). The French subsequently signed a humiliating Armistace to stop the War (June 22). The Germans in the Armistace agreement divided into an occupied zone (northern and western France and an unoccupied zone administered by Marshal Petain's collaborationist Goverment at Vichy.


The Pétain Government after signing the armistace with the NAZIs on June 22 set up a governmnt in Vichy for the sector of southern France that was not occupied by the Germans. The Vichy regime in many ways cooperated with the NAZIs. The most shameful single act was Vichy assistance in rounding up over 80,000 foreign and French Jews as part of the Holocaust so they could be shipped to the death camps in Poland. vichy even ran camps in France with apauling death rates. After the War some Vichy officials were executed and the Gaullists nurtured a myth that the great majority of the French people bravely resisted the Germans. Gaullist claimed that the French people never accepted the Vichy regime as a legitimate French Government. Gradually it has become increasingly clear that the bulk of the French people, shocked by the collapse of the French army and thinking that the War was lost, sought accompdation with the NAZI occcupiers and looked upon Marshal Philippe Pétain with reverence. [Curtis] For years, any questioning of that myth was highly controversial. The film by Marcel Ophuls "Le chagrin et la pitié" (1969) was commissioned by French Government-controlled television, but the documentary on French life during the occupation proved so embarassing that officials were afraid to broadcast it.

NAZI Occupation Authorities

Our understanding is that NAZI German occpationist authorities banned Scouting. We do not, however, know precisely when this occurred or what the specific regulations were. This was the same action the Germans took in other occupied countries. The Germans as in Germany itself want all youth activities ynder Government control. In particular they did want any uniformed groups, even youth groups, to be outside their control. A French reader writes, "Scouting activities were stopped in the occupied zone after the German invasion. German regulations required a permit for all group activities. This would include camping, hiking, and even weekly meetiings. Such permits were never granted and Scout leaders for the most part were reluctant to even apply. Many Scout leaders were priests and the NAZI authorities for the most part didn't like French priest who they suspected, in many cases rightly so, of being French patriots. The Germans, however, never prohibited boys from wearing Scout uniforms. Some boys even went to the chuch dressed on their Scout uniform." This surprised us because in other occupied countries, wearing the Scout uniform was prohibited.

Vichy Youth Policies

In the unoccupied zone, Vichy officials permitted the Scouts de France to continue. The Vichy Goverment attempted to control the Scouts and other youth movements, but many of the members strongly favored the Allies and this sentiment increased as the war began to turn against the Germans. Vichy's reaction to the shock of defeat was to blame a weakening in the moral fiber of the country's young people. Pétain and other right-wing Vichy leaders blamed the Third Republic which they complained had been dominated by Socialists and Jews. Concerning French youth, Vichy blamed the French educational system which they saw as dominated by secular and even worse left-wing elements. Pétain also felt the schools placed to great an emphasis on scolarship and intelectual development. He felt that the schools should give more emphasis to building the moral fibre of French youth. Here his primary concern was with French boys. One reform in Vichy schools was to give more emphasis on phyical education. In a notable speech Pétain delivered (January 1, 1944), he insisted "ce qu'il faut à la France, à notre cher pays, ce ne sont pas des intelligences, mais des caractères" (`what France, our cherished country, needs is character not intelligence'). Vichy's National Revolution also was concerned about the growing secularization of French society. Pétain wanted more religious instruction in schools. Vichy reinstated religion as a compulsory subject (January 1941). In addituon to educational reforms, Vichy also gave considerable attention to youth movements.

Pierre Joubert

Famed French Scouting artist Pierre Joubert reportedly moved from Paris to the unoccupied zone so he could continue to remain active in Scouting. After the War some looked on him as a collaborationist because of this. Pierre Joubert was a French illustrator during the 1950s and 60s executed hundreds of drawings of French youth. Some were drawn in the 1930s and 40s, but most were produced in the 1950s and 60s. He draw numerous pictures for Boy Scout literature. His drawings show French Scouts happily hiking through the country, their banners proudly displayed. The boys commonly wear the berets and short pants that characterized French Scouts at the time.

Scouting in Vichy

We have very little information on Scouting in Vichy or the occupied zone. The Vichy regime’s youth policies during World War II was the state-directed mobilization of young people through sports along with the nd the politicization and militarization of youth activities. We had thought that the NAZIs banned Scouting in France as they did in other occupied countries. The fact that the French signed an Armistace with the Germans meant that the situation in the country, or at leasdt the unoccupied Vichy area was different than in other occupied countries. We think Vichy authorities did allow Scouting, but we have few details about this. A factor here was that Scouting had very strong ties with the Catholic Church and importabt part of Vihy's effort was to restore the authority of the Church in many areas of French society, including education and other areas of youth formation. We are also unsure if the situation for Scouting changed after the Torch invasiins when the NAZIs occupied the unoccupied zone (November 1942). We note that even in 1944 there were French Scouting publications such as calsndars. The situation is complicated and we have very litt;e information. There were several different Scout associations. We know that Vichy banned the Jewish Scout association (Eclaireurs Israelites). We do not know if they banned any of the other Scout assoiciation. One factor affecting the Vichy policy toward Scouting was the Catholic Church. There was a Catholic Scout association. Vichy would have had more difficulty banning that association than other Frech Scout associations. We also do not know to what extent Vichy attempted to exercize control over Scouting or to promote the non Scouting youth groups that they founded or supported. Nor do we know if the Catholic and other French Scout associations made any effort to assist Jewish Scouts. Hopefully French readers will be able to provide some information about Scouting during the War.

Eclaireurs Israelites

There was a separate Scout Association for Jews. I am not sure if this was because they wanted a separate association or because they were excluded from other associations. This may have depended on whther the boys came from religious or secular families. Of course Jewish boys probably would not have joined Catholic Scouts. I'm not sure about secular Scout assiociations. The Jewish Scouts association was the the Eclaireuses et Eclaireurs (EEIF). They met twice a week and conducted camps during school holidays. There were about 1,600 boys involved at the time the Germans invaded. I believe many were located in Paris. Most after the Armistace tried to reach the unoccupied zone governed by Vichy. They were supported by other Jews as best they could. They were only established in 2 towns in the unoccupied zone (June 1940), but eventually had organized units in 21 towns (April 1941). The movement was especially successful in North Africa. At first the EEIF expressed support for the Vichy regime's effort to promote traditional values. [Jackson, p. 364.] The EEIF helped set up homes for non-French children who had become separated from their parents, this included many Jewish children. The anti-Semetic nature of Vichy soon became apparent. Roundups and transports began (1942). Vichy authorities began targeting these homes. They thus had to be closed (1943). The EEIF helped with the transition. Families were found for the children, especually peasant families. Finding and rounding up Jews was difficult in remote rural locations. Some of the children were placed in Catholic boarding schools undwer assumed names. Vichy supressed the EEIF (1943). Jewish Scouts along with many other Jews began to go underground. One source says this was done under German pressure. [Saunders] This was not always the case. Vichy's anti-Semetic campaign was often conducted without German insistance. EEIF leaders and older youth joined the Resistance as the anti-Semetic campaign unfolded in France. The EEIF itself concentrated on saving Jewish children. A major effort was the creation of a social service for youth which hid Jewish children who were in danger. They also provided adults with false identity ppers. The group forged over 30,000 documents. The operation was very dangerous, especially the distribytio phase. The forged papers inckuddd y helped by forging identity cards, ration books, birth certificates and military papers. The work was conducted by 68 Jewish men and women of whom 26 were arrested and 4 shot. [Saunders] EEIF helped set up 13 rural groups in the unoccupied zone for training in agricultural work wso they would be prepared for aliyah to Palestine. Many of the youth in this program settled in Israel after the War. Older Scouts formed armed resistance units.[Jackson, p. 368.]

Operation Torch (November 1942)

The Allies executed Operation Torch and invaded French North Africa (November 1942). Vichy forces offered disilutory resistance. The Germans obstensibly because the Vichy forces in North africa did not vigorously resist the Allies, occupied the unoccupied area. The Germans hoped to seize the surviving French fleet, but the French Navy honoring their pledge, scuttled the vessels before the Germans could seize them. I do not know what action the Germans took toward Scouting at this time.

The Resistance (1940-44)

One author suggests that the Scout training of many members of the Resistance was very valuable. Hw writes, "The emphasis at the earliest stage on woodcraft and the playing of games requiring observation, had an unforeseen consequence. Designed to help youth, whether happy in a good home or miserable in a bad, to equip itself for victory in the battle of life, these methods were of great, often of vital aid to many thousands of Scouts and former Scouts when faced with that most difficult of all tasks, the maintenance of resistance against a heavily armed, well-equipped and utterly ruthless foe." [Saunders] I do not know how much of the resistance was made up by Scouts or former Scouts. One estimate suggests that "In some sectors seventy-five per cent of the Resistance were Scouts or had had Scout training. [Saunders] This of course is a very emprecise statement and gives no real clue as to the overall importance of Scouts in the Resistance. We know that the Communists played a key role in the resistance and suspect that Communists were less likely to have been scouts than other French boys. Scouts and Scouters were active in the resistance in a number of ways. We believe this was primarily through the worl of individuals or close friends in local troops. Any effort by the Scoit associations would almost certainly have been broken by the Gestapo. Scouts and Scouters are known to have assisted French POWs (1940). Cubs left packages wih clothes, money , and documents near tempraru barbed wire camps before the POWs could be moved to permanent camps German. Scouts also helped POWs escape from Germany back to France. A couple who had been involved with Scouting in Alsace helped POWs croos the Rhine [Saunders] One former Scout brough forged identity papers to Konigsberg in East Prussia where French POWs were working. Scouts also helped downed airmen and helped distribute cladestinr newspaper. Paris Scouts were especially active. One source notes the Clan (Troop) Bayard in the Chaussee d'Antin as heavily involved. Scouts were involved in the fighting that began in late 1943. Here there wre both forner Scouts and active Rover Scouts. A letter survives from one of these Scouts to his former Scout master, " Here we are all volunteers. Happily a good friendship joins us to each other. Many Rovers and manual workers and students who have all lived in Maquis and seen friends stricken dead by their side. On 8th June, '44, order for guerilla war has arrived. On 10th we have attacked 'miliciens' in Uriage. Truly it was my baptism of fire. I've been shot at point-blank by our 'miliciens' who have immediately run away. Till 15th of September night and day we've fought against SS Alpine Infantry and Tartars, a special picked anti-guerilla regiment. Everywhere in Isere department have begun attacks on transport columns with light machine-guns and grenades. Roads were mined and countrymen looked upon us as lunatic boys. But we knew why we fought. We have seen our wounded friends despatched by German troops, and we have known their criminal mines. (One of my best friend's body blown up; I could have brought it back in my cap.) At the end German columns were convoyed by armoured cars and canons; but, placed under cover of rocks along the roads, we shot at retreating German troops' cars. Often we have seen death as in the front line. Thus one day on the Grenoble-Lyons road after our attack, Germans counterattacked with machine-guns, mortars and planes flying close to the ground. They were perhaps a hundred and we were twelve. Or when we attacked Grenoble in broad daylight and after having shot Germans at drill we waited for night to get away. We were assaulted at fifteen metres, everywhere hand-to-hand. We ask how we can have come back. Dear Chief, you've said to us ' Between two ways choose always the hardest one.' I remember that to-day."

Liberation (June-August 1944)

Scouts were also active in aiding Allied forces after the D-Day landings (June 6). Hitler issued orders that Paris be destroyed before the Allies could seize it. The Paris Resistance rose up against the Germans (Augyst 15). Paris Scouts and Rovers participated in the rising One source mentions St. Francis Xavier and St. Stanislaus Clans who served ad reconnaissance units for the armoured cars of Leclerc's Division rushing to reach Paris. They helped alert them to German gun implacemnents and tank deployment at the Luxembourg Palace. The Clans of St. Nicholas and St. Severin helped erect the barricades and fought there. They also opened a canteen to feed fifgters and the elderly. The St. Anne and the Maison Blanche Clans manned the Danton barricade with arms seized from the Germans. [Saunders] General Leclerec's Free French armored division and American units reached Paris (August 25). Amid scattered gun battles by die hard Germans and collaborationists, they were greeted by tumultous crowds celebrating the liberation. Crowds cheered when they saw a Scout in his unform on the Eifel Tower. [Saunders]


Jackson, Julian. France: The Dark Years, 1940–1944 (USA: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Saunders, Hilary St George. The Left Handshake (1948).


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Created: 6:03 PM 8/3/2005
Last updated: 7:38 AM 2/7/2011