Léonie Villard Journal
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Léonie Villard Journal, Archives and Special Collections, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass.
History of the Collection
Summary of Journal
Mlle. Villard, who taught at the university in Lyons, France, probably in the field of English, started a war diary on June 17, 1940 "in my blue note book", and continued it until September 21, 1944. It seems likely the diary was handwritten, and then typed by Mlle. Villard, at which time she made corrections in ink. The Mount Holyoke Archives has the typed version of 106 pages in its collection.
Mlle. Villard's first entry in her wartime journal on June 17,1940 described the situation in Lyons, France, as "an avalanche sweeping us out of known mental and moral landmarks." They were days of "misery, shame, horror." Residents were ordered to leave Lyons in case Petain's request for an armistice was not granted. Under the guidance of her good friend, Lili, she and her brother, with whom she lived, joined the stream of refugees fleeing south. (Most of those mentioned in the journal are identified only by an initial.) The armistice was granted and she was back home in her flat on July 2.
That summer of 1940 and several succeeding summers were spent in Oussiat at the bungalow which she had built only the year before. It proved a great blessing for it was accessible by train and she could have a garden there and raise vegetables. She took along her portable wireless set which she had purchased in September so that she could hear BBC broadcasts.
The German presence in Vichy France was restrained at first but by November food shortages were apparent and the screw was tightening. In March 1941 she wrote that only rutabaga and Jerusalem artichokes were available in the market, but by the end of the year even they were gone. Coal and cooking gas were scarce, rations cut.
The Allied landing at Dieppe in August 1942 was a bitter blow for it made clear the difficulties of an Allied landing and destroyed hopes for a release in the near future. By 1943 German pressure was growing; there were house searches, arrests, imprisonments, and young men were being deported to Germany to work in the factories. Mlle. Villard's radio was a "great comfort" and she became a reliable source of information to her friends and neighbors. She secretly distributed any English papers which fell into her hands as well as Resistance tracts. The Sicily landing in July 1943 was good news but in September she wrote "starvation for all, deportation for many" sums up the conditions.
In 1944 she moved into the hallway in her flat because of the strict blackout. Jews were being persecuted, the university was closed, there were German reprisals, and by early May Allied bombs were falling, prior to the Normandy landing. Even as Paris was liberated, conditions in Lyons worsened - indiscriminate German shooting and looting. By September, however, DeGaulle was in Lyons amid great rejoicing.
Mlle. Villard took great pains to record as accurately as possible the events and conditions of the time and to sort out fact from rumor and second-hand reports. The journal effectively portrays the misery of civilians in Vichy France for four long years. The German grip grew tighter as the war progressed and although the Resistance Movement grew stronger, the terror for civilians grew too. Mlle. Villard survived the war but her brother did not; he died in December 1942.