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June's true story of Resistance betrayal

By Herald Express  |  Posted: December 15, 2013

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MOST adult learners enrolled on a French course would be happy mastering past participles and adjective agreements, but not June Harwood.

For June (pictured), from Totnes, enrolling at the Alliançe Française in Dartington was the start of an adventure which has ended in her publishing a book about the little-known wartime past of the small Burgundian town of Cluny.

From Cluny to the Camps: Memoirs of Occupied France tells the story of resistance and betrayal in the words of survivors and their relatives.

June retired from her teaching role at the University of Plymouth in 2001, which gave her the chance to pursue her love of the French language and culture.

She said: "It all started when Alain Pézard, an inspirational teacher, took a group of us over to his home town.

"Despite having grown up in the town, he had no idea of what had taken place all those years before."

In Cluny, June and her husband David made many friends, which led to her discovering that on St Valentine's Day, 1944, more than 70 Resistance fighters and sympathisers were denounced by a collaborator. They were rounded by the Gestapo and sent to German labour camps where one third of them died. For years no-one spoke of what happened — survivors thought it best forgotten. But with the passing of time, there was a new willingness to speak. The Amicales des Deportés de Cluny was formed and they published the testimony of survivors and their relatives.

Now June had another reason to perfect her French — so she could meet and interview the camp survivors and their relatives for herself, so their story could be more widely known.

The question of language was only one barrier to be overcome. June also had to navigate the ancient divisions which still surface between communists and Gaullists.

Eventually she met with the group in the Café du Nord, the very café where nearly 70 years earlier 'walls had ears'.

June said: "They were a bit suspicious. They weren't sure what I wanted."

She was able to convince them of her good intentions and after four years of interviews, research, writing and translation, From Cluny to the Camps: Memoirs of Occupied France has been published.

June said: "I uncovered many moving and inspirational accounts of the activities of men and women from all walks of life. An amitié has grown. They are like family now."

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