The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                            PAGE FIVE
"OPERATION DRAGOON" - The Forgotten Campaign! continued . . .
Entertainment August 15th. Photo copyright Ria Stevens.  All rights reserved.

Celebrating around Les Arcs and Le Muy

There are Commemoration Ceremonies in many of the coastal landing sites, where every year French Military and local Municipal officials lay wreaths in memory of the Allied forces.   Memorial stones are to be found at these sites.  The principal villages that featured in the campaign, as well as laying wreaths, put on events to celebrate.  The memory of that day this region was liberated, is very much kept alive.

Le Muy, a small village, but the first to be liberated - in particular really lets it all out.  They host a troupe of re-enacters who get together every year and parade.   Two local enthusiasts Eric, Renoux and Jean-Michel Soldi, have for years collected memorabilia and, just a few years ago with the help of the Le Muy town hall who loaned them premises,  put together a small museum full of artifacts from that war and that time – uniforms, berets, battalion and regimental insignias, jeeps, flags you name it: the Musée de la Libération.

Parade in Le Muy. Photo copyright Ria Stevens.  All rights reserved.Parade in Le Muy.  Photo copyright Ria Stevens.  All rights reserved.
The parade in Le Muy

Sadly in 2011 on June 15th, this region had a terrible flash flood.  There was huge loss of life, people washed away in their cars, houses flooded and washed away, livestock drowned, small holdings and vineyards destroyed – the Argens valley was one huge washout.  And, most sadly, the small Museum in Le Muy, was also totally washed away under 3 meters of water.  However, not dismayed, these two enthusiasts who had so lovingly put together this memorial to the landing have continued their efforts and have succeeded in retrieving many of their artifacts, restoring them, cleaning them, and rebuilding, so as to keep the memory of that Liberation alive.

Ceremony in St-Tropez.  Photo Hubert Falco.  All rights reserved.Prefet of the Var laying flowers at Cavalaire. Photo Hubert Falco, Preft.  All rights reserved.
Wreath laying ceremonies in St-Tropez and  by the Préfet of the Var

There are Memorials in St. Tropez, Cavalaire, St. Raphael at Boulouris, Ste. Maxime, Rayol-Canadel and Hyères and also at le Muy/La Motte – at the ferme du Mitan,  and this summer come August 15th, wreaths will be laid and the people and Municipalities will pay hommage and host any Veterans who come to visit.   Sadly there are few left.   One US Vet a couple of years ago, fondly remembers landing in Cavalaire, he said  "I barely got my feet wet!"

Plaque honoring Lt Peter Matthews.  Photo Ria Stevens.  All rights reserved.

Lt. Peter Matthews, together with comrades of the British Airborne Division that landed in Le Muy, and who captured and held the vital Le Muy Bridge, used to come back regularly to renew contacts with his French friends in the town.  Sadly he passed away just a year or so ago, but the town has honored his memory with a plaque installed on the bridge – Pont du 4eme Battalion Parachutistes Britanniques.

Monument to the landing August 15, 1944

A museum worth visiting is that of the tiny Toulon Musée de Débarquement, Mont Faron, dedicated to telling the story of the landings. It is run on a shoestring by French War Veterans. This is no multi-million euro museum like the new ones built for MP13 in Marseille this past year.  It's a bit faded, but as a memorial, it has a touching soul, and it is packed with interesting exhibits which will fascinate visitors.   It starts with a few rooms dedicated to the main actors: i.e. the different national militaries involved with lists of battalions etc., then a room showing the preparations for the landings, followed by the drama of the landings themselves, recorded in photographs, with many weapons and maps, and finishing with a well-put-together film.

Mont Faron is hard to climb, as the landing troops found, but fortunately now for visitors there is a funiculaire to get one up there,

But, the cable cars can't operate in a mistral!

                                                                                                                                                                                         Monument to the Landing August 15, 1944

Anita Rieu-Sicart is the Editor of VAR VILLAGE VOICE
monthly magazine circulating to English-speaking residents, 
mainly expatriates, living in the Var region of the South of France. 
Visit her information-packed web site at
And, subscribe to the online edition! 

[Please mouse over photos for descriptions and credits.]

NAPOLEON'S JOSEPHINE:  From Martinique to Empire Botany
                                                                                                                                                                                                                               by Arthur Gillette

May 29th will mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon's Empress Josephine.
We thought the our readers might be interested in knowing more about her.

Empress Josephine portrait -

For some reason, the years xx14 have, over the centuries, proven important in the history of France.  In the winter 2013 edition, for example, FRANCE On Your Own wished a Happy Birthday to Queen Marie de Medici's Aqueduct, opened in 1614.  And let's not forget that, to cite just a few other examples:  Emperor Charlemagne died in 814; King (later Saint) Louis IX was born in 1214; sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle was born in 1714; the post-Revolutionary Restoration of the French Monarchy took place in 1814, the same year as were born painter Jean François Millet, musician Adolphe Sac (who invented the 'o-phone' of the same name) and the restorer of Medieval architecture (including Notre Dame de Paris) Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.  Among those who died in 1814 were the Marquis de Sade and the decidedly less sadistic Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie. 

That last name means nothing to you?  It was helpfully simplified (and feminized) when she became Napoleon's Empress Josèphine, to whom we dedicate this article.

Statue of the Empress in Martinique.  Photo courtesy of

Marie-Josèphe-Rose was born on June 23, 1763 near today's Fort de France, capital of Martinique.  Although she was the daughter of a family of planters originally from Metropolitan France, her actual race has sometimes been questioned.  On one had, still today her statue at Fort de France is occasionally decapitated, probably by locals who despise her as a symbol of white imperialism.  On the other hand, there are those who claim she was a 'creole' of mixed race and portray her with a complexion rather darker than a suntan.

At the age of 16, she was married to Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais.  The passive voice is appropriate here because, although they managed to have two children, this was not a marriage of love.  He dragged fairly heavily among his wife's friends while squandering his own fortune.  They parted six years after the marriage.  But the separation didn't prevent her from being imprisoned with her husband when he was caught up in Revolutionary turmoil.  She narrowly avoided being guillotined as he was, and after escaping from prison seem to have dallied with a number of men.

Among them was a Corsican office met at a rather high society dinner, some six years her junior and named Napoleon.  He apparently fell in love with her and they married in 1796 when he was 27 - insisting that Josèphe be feminized as Josèphine - and she 33.  His love not being reciprocated, and she being unwilling or unable to provide children, he too set to hunting among her friends.  Nevertheless, when he became Emperor in 1804 he insisted on crowning her personally, during an impressive ceremony at Notre Dame de Paris, as his Empress.

Coronation of Empress Josephine - Painting by Jacques-Louis David at the Louvre.  Courtesy Wikipedia.
The crowning of Empress Josèphine in a painting by Jacques-Louis David

Their marriage turned stormy and was ended in 1810.  She then withdrew to Suresnes, near Paris - and apparently not penniless - where she purchased the Château de Malmaison.

Château de Malmaison

There, and probably moved by nostalgic memories of her origins and with plenty of free time on her hands, she indulged in tropical botany, importing many floral species that were kept in early hothouses.  She gave impulsion among other efforts to acclimatizing tropical plants on the French Riviera.

During the Empire-to-Empire visit of Russian Czar Alexander I in mid-spring 1814, she showed her imperial visitor around her gardens.  Rather too-lightly clad, she caught pneumonia from which she died on May 29th of that year.

Contact Arthur Gillette to take advantage of his amazing knowledge of Paris
(and France) by enjoying one or more of his Paris Through the Ages Strolls. 
Visit our Marketplace page for a complete list of strolls and information about Arthur.

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