Friday, June 28, 2013

The Astoria Music Festival, Community Radio and D-Day

The Astoria Music Festival, now in its third and final week, much of it broadcast by our beloved Coast Community Radio (KCPB 90.9 and KMUN 91.9), brought out my obsession with World War II history.

In 1940 the BBC started broadcasting to occupied France entirely in French. Radio Londres (London Radio) was operated by Free French Forces who had escaped the Germans.

Each nightly program began with the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony -- bom-bom-bom-BOM. Three dots and a dash -- Morse code for the letter "V" -- for Victory. And then the words: "Ici Londres ! Les Fran├žais parlent aux Fran├žais..." ("This is London! Frenchmen speaking to the French...")

It was in essence community radio, with amateur hosts injecting personal stories, humor, even fake advertising, along with news and entreaties to join the Resistance, into the programs. The program was wildly popular, a staple of French life.

A man from one of Britain's secret services, the Special Operations Executive, suggested using Radio Londres to broadcast secret messages to the French Resistance. Most of the messages were nonsense:  Jean has a long mustache was frequently repeated. The Germans knew some of the message had meaning, but there were so many it was impossible for them to separate the signal from the noise.

One of the best-known poems in France was Paul Verlaine's "Chanson d'Automne" (Autumn Song). The Resistance had been told to be on alert, that D-Day would begin within two weeks, when they heard the first line:
Les sanglots long des violons de l'automne
The long sobs of the violins of autumn
It was broadcast repeatedly beginning on June 1, 1944.

The next line would signal that D-Day operations would begin within 48 hours and the resistance should begin disruptive operations:
Blessent mon coeur d'une langueur monotone
Wound my heart with monotonous langour
The line was repeatedly broadcast beginning on June 5, 1944. Above, from the wonders of YouTube, is a recording of the original broadcast.

Within 48 hours 100,000 British, Canadian, and American troops and 12,000 airplanes were in France. In two months, over 2 million troops, including my late father.

Lucian Marquis survived the Battle of the Bulge. He went on to become a beloved professor for over 40 years. He died of Parkinson's Disease in 2005.