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Title: Heads of Allied Nations headquartered in Great Britain
Creation date : 1941
Dimensions: Height 50.3 cm - Width 38 cm
Storage location: Memorial of Caen, city of history for peace (Caen) website
Contact copyright: © The Caen Memorial
Picture reference: MEMO_AFFI_00813 / 94-17-2
Heads of Allied Nations headquartered in Great Britain
© The Caen Memorial
Publication date: October 2016
A "European" poster
From September 1939 to June 1941, Nazi Germany accumulated military successes in Europe. In what has become the capital of free Europe, so many governments in exile are being formed, claiming to be the only ones to legitimately represent their different Nations.
While the Resistance movements (internal and expatriate in England) were organized first and foremost by country, a “European” propaganda campaign was launched in 1941. In January, the Belgian section of the BBC , encourages his compatriots to draw Vs - like Victoire in French and Vrijheid that is to say Liberty in Flemish - everywhere in Belgium, very quickly, relayed by "French" waves. The Vs (traced on walls or cars, figured with fingers, etc.) began to spread in the Kingdom, but also in Holland, France and finally in the rest of Europe, becoming one of the symbols of the Resistance.
A symbol shown on the poster Heads of Allied Nations headquartered in Great Britain studied here, which, translated into different languages, is clandestinely disseminated and placarded in most of the occupied countries. Both "educational" and political, this image emphasizes the community of destinies of the occupied countries. It therefore plays a non-negligible role in the development and consolidation of the idea that the Resistance is the same fight shared between the different Nations of the continent.
"V" for Victory and Freedom
This poster is therefore composed around the famous "V". In the background, the city of London is represented by an illustration which shows its most famous monuments: Saint Paul's Cathedral (right), Big Ben, Westminster and, it seems, Tower Bridge (at left).
It is indeed in London (as the text at the bottom of the poster reminds us) that the "Heads of the Allied Nations" meet. So many "chefs" whose portraits subtitled with the names of each are arranged inside the imposing V which occupies the center of the image.
We can therefore identify King Peter II of Yugoslavia (at the bottom of the triangle), juvenile and smiling, head of the Yugoslav government in exile, installed in London in 1941. King George II of Héllènes, head of the Greek government in exile since 1941. Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, installed in London in August 1940. General de Gaulle, leader of the Free French forces in London since June 1940. Particularly serious, almost severe, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, leader of the Free Poles (force of 100 000 combatants) installed in London since August 1940. Édouard Bénès, former president of the republic and president of the Czechoslovak provisional government, in exile in London since July 1940. King Haakon VII of Norway, head of the government in exile since June 1940. Hubert Pierlot, Prime Minister of Belgium during the German invasion and subsequently head of the government in exile since 1940. And finally Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, head of the Dutch government dais in exile since May 1940.
An educational and political poster
Due to the diversity of the countries (from Luxembourg to France) and the very different roles they actually play in resistance networks, the "leaders" represented here have very variable weight and historical importance. However, they all had the same function in 1941, which was to embody a figure (hence the importance of the portrait) of their nation remained "free" by refusing to collaborate with the Nazi occupiers.
Distributed in London but also in the occupied countries from which they come, this poster therefore has a strong political function. In the eyes of the world and especially of their fellow citizens (expatriates or those who have stayed in the country), this series of portraits brings a double legitimation through the image: that of their role as head of government and that of these same governments, thus validating their status as "Heads of nations". By personifying a power in exile and therefore distant, this poster thereby provides images and symbols to national resistance, whatever the actual implications of these "leaders". Through these civilian, military or crowned figures who provide a form of continuity with the past before the invasion, the different countries therefore remain "themselves" in London, independent and free.
The poster also has an educational function. It indicates to European citizens who do not know who are the "legitimate" representatives of the different nations. Above all, it shows that each invaded country has kept its own government which does not intend to submit to Nazi Germany. From this community of destinies, can emerge the idea that resistance is and must be considered on a continental scale, at least ideologically.
Thus exploited by the poster, the "V" already famous at the time of its release sends out a message of hope and fight. From the last unoccupied home (London, proud and sunny), the reconquest is possible. This poster also underlines (in an almost mechanical way, first visual and pictorial) that unity is necessary: we indeed note that it is necessary to associate and unite all these “leaders” (their countries and their forces) to make a V, achieve victory and regain full freedom.
- War of 39-45
- De Gaulle (Charles)
- Free French Forces
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To cite this article
Alexandre SUMPF, "London, capital of the European Resistance"