Wednesday 11 March 2020

Join Historical Fiction author, Suzy Henderson, as she takes a look at life in Europe during WWII. There is also a chance to check out Suzy's fabulous book — Madame Fiocca @Suzy_Henderson

Life in Europe during WW2

By Suzy Henderson

Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished. Tomorrow, as today, I will speak on the radio from London.”

This was the end of a speech given by General Charles de Gaulle on 18 June 1940, who had recently fled France and the Germans to seek refuge in England. His rousing speech talks of resistance, of which minute sparks would erupt throughout France in the aftermath of the fall of Paris. Often, we think of resistance in WW2, we conjure images of burly Maquisards with rifles slung over their shoulders, and of people in dark clothing and black berets strapping explosives to train tracks or bridges. Resistance took many forms and for many civilians, making a stand in some way was to resist, as we shall see.

Slogans and propaganda played a big part in the Second World War. In Britain, slogans such as "Keep Calm and Carry On" became widespread and despite the bombings and losing loved ones in the war, the British did indeed hold their heads high and carry on. Women also did their best to look nice, which ties in with another popular slogan – "Beauty is your duty". Despite the ration, women discovered ways of making the best out of making do. When stockings became scarce, ladies painted gravy browning on their legs and used beetroot juice for lip colour. The government relied on the radiant smiles of well-groomed ladies on the home front to boost the morale of servicemen.

Cosmetics giants picked up the baton too, creating powder puffs shaped like military caps, and the infamous 'Regimental Red' lipstick by Helena Rubinstein. Improvisation was key, with a smoking match a substitute for an eyebrow pencil, soot residue defining the brows. And if a girl was all out of rouge, there was only one option – pinch the cheeks to infuse a rosy glow.

In a sense, fashion became a weapon with which to fight the war. The good ladies of Britain, whether serving in some capacity or on the home front were not about to let Hitler see them suffering and downtrodden. The message soon filtered back to Nazi Germany that neither Hitler nor the Luftwaffe could break the British spirit.

When the East End of London was first bombed, the King and Queen visited the very next day, and whilst expressing deep concern and sympathy, some public jeered. A short time later, when a bomb fell on Buckingham Palace, the King and Queen visited the East End once more and the people cheered, with many erupting into a rousing rendition of the national anthem. As news of the morale-boosting royal visit reached the Fuhrer himself, Hitler declared Queen Elizabeth to be the most dangerous woman in Europe.

Going back to cosmetics, it's no secret that Elizabeth Arden created shades of red lipstick named 'Auxiliary Red' and 'Victory Red'. Wearing red lipstick was seen as glamorous, a way of defining oneself, and the vibrant shade became a leading trend in fashion. Indeed, the SOE heroine, Nancy Wake, looked forward to her personal parachute each month in the Auvergne, France, when London would include a box of goodies marked, 'Personal for Helene'. The package included an Elizabeth Arden red lipstick.

When the Germans marched into Paris on June 1940, civilians lined the streets, many with tears streaming down their faces. The reaction was mixed, with some feeling relieved, thinking war was over for them, and the Germans might bring stability and safety to France. Some were indifferent, but many were horrified, fearing the worst. However, war was far from over, and France was subjected to a harsher life than before.

Soon a small number turned to resistance work, determined to disrupt and hinder the enemy. In the beginning the flame was slow to burn, but as weeks of an occupying force turned into months, more people dared to defy their captors. And there were many ways in which the people could 'do their bit' for the war effort. Just as in Britain, fashion would become a weapon with which to fight in France.

From the moment the Germans brought their wives and girlfriends to France, along with female serving officers, the German women could not resist following the French fashions. This infuriated many French women, and, as sisters-in-arms, they fought back, determined to keep a little of France to themselves. If all they were able to do was cause confusion and irritation, it gave them some control, boosting their spirits if only for a short while.

Battle lines were drawn and the women of Paris decided to set their own fashion rules, creating outrageous designs, such as headdresses of vegetables and straw. It was bad enough that Paris was occupied, brought to Nazi rule, but to have the German wives copying Parisian fashion was an insult. The French fought back, prompted the enemy to copy them and cause ridicule.

Initially, the south of France was classed as the free zone, but in November 1942, the Germans crossed the line of demarcation, entering the south and troops marched into Marseille. Soon after, their wives and girlfriends arrived. The ladies of Marseille now had to bear the German women encroaching upon their ranks adorned in French clothes, and so, like their fellow Parisians, they set out to create their own rules.

In her autobiography, Nancy Wake talks about this with immense pride, explaining how the ladies of Marseille took a stand and ceased wearing hats. All too soon the enemy copied the apparent trend, so Nancy and the women of Marseille created further confusion by wearing hats once again, but not just any hats. No, they donned hats with a green feather, an emblem with great significance. The green feather was the symbol for a green bean – les haricots verts, the same name the French used for the Germans. So, by wearing such a hat, the French ladies were indirectly mocking the enemy.
Soon, when the German women procured the finest stockings, the French women abandoned theirs, in preference of bare legs. The German women followed suit only to discover the French wearing ugly thick woollen stockings. The Germans conceded at that point and the battle was won.

And so, fashion became a weapon for woman to utilise throughout the war. Fashion gave women an option, a choice, when all other avenues seemed hopeless in the face of an occupying force. It was a mere
flicker of resistance, but a flame nonetheless, and the message was clear. Out of desperation, anger, and fear, the flame of resistance grew bright and spread throughout France, throughout Europe, and women did extraordinary things to "Keep Calm and Carry On", ultimately, to survive.

Madame Fiocca

 By Suzy Henderson

Marseille, September 1939. War is coming.

Nancy Wake is a gregarious twenty-seven-year-old about to marry wealthy French industrialist, Henri Fiocca. When Henri is called to the Front to fight, Nancy, determined to help the war effort, travels to Paris to join the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. Every day she witnesses atrocities. When Paris falls, Nancy flees the German oppressors and returns home to Marseille.

France is a nation defeated; its people are in despair. As Nancy recalls the Germans who whipped Jews on the streets of Vienna a few years earlier, she vows to fight for what is right.

A chance encounter with a British officer draws Nancy into the heart of the Garrow escape network, despite Henri’s reservations. Armed with wealth and charm, she convinces Henri that the Germans will never suspect such a woman. But soon she finds herself caught up in a deadly game of espionage.

As the iron fist of the enemy tightens, neighbours denounce neighbours. No one can be trusted. When the enemy closes in, Nancy and Henri face an impossible choice. Has she done more harm than good?

Pick up your copy of

Madame Fiocca

The Beauty Shop

By Suzy Henderson

England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more.

Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.

John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.

Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has just begun.

Based on a true story, "The Beauty Shop" is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.

Pick up your copy of

The Beauty Shop

Suzy Henderson

Suzy Henderson lives with her husband and two sons in Cumbria, England, on the edge of the Lake District, a beautiful and inspiring landscape of mountains, fells, and lakes. She never set out to be a writer, although she has always loved reading and experiencing the joy of being swept away to different times and places.

In a previous life she was a Midwife but now works from home as a freelance writer and novelist. While researching her family history, Suzy became fascinated with both World War periods and developed an obsession with military and aviation history. Following the completion of her Open University Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, she began to write and write until one day she had a novel.

Other interests include music, old movies, and photography – especially if WW2 aircraft are on the radar. Suzy writes contemporary and historical fiction and is a member of the Historical Novel

Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors. Her debut novel, The Beauty Shophas been awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion. 

You can discover more about Suzy here: Website • Blog • Goodreads • Facebook • Twitter.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx