Flag of Charles de Gaulle's government in exile during World
Winifred Fortescue's support and help to the French nation during World War II is well documented in two of her books - Trampled Lilies and Beauty for Ashes. Together with her neighbour and close friend, an exiled American - 'Mademoiselle' Elisabeth Starr, she was responsible for the formation of Foyers, firstly in her own village, and later in the high Alps around Briancon. These Foyers provided a warm and dry location where soldiers could meet in the evenings and relax, play cards, obtain cigarettes, write letters and the like. Day after day they brewed gallons of hot chocolate which was consumed as fast as they could make it. They collected and distributed warm clothing as many soldiers, mobilised at short notice, had only thin cotton uniforms.
Mobilisation Générale had meant the entire French fighting force of 6 million men were forced to leave their homes, farms and occupations and march to where they were needed. The little village of Opio, perched on a hilltop and well hidden amongst olive groves had suddenly become an important military centre, well placed for the Italian border. Winifred and 'Mademoiselle' watched thousands of weary troops passing their door. The officers were billeted in homes including Winifred's own Sunset House and 'Mademoiselle's' chateau. The humble poilu were less fortunate and Winifred was so concerned about their lack of comforts that the Foyers with food and shelter were started. In addition to collecting warm clothing they searched the area for blankets, mattresses, sheets and even straw and hay to stuff sacks for beds. Winifred's small Fiat car and 'Mademoiselle's' Peugeot were pressed into service when they could obtain petrol and served as a taxi, ambulance and general transport to move equipment and people. The money to provide the Foyers was their own, and included any money that Winifred received from the sale of her books. It frequently ran out!
Below is the framed certificate presented to Winifred Fortescue by the Association des Francais Libres in recognition of her outstanding work. Sadly, she never received the national decoration in recognition of her services that France had planned to award her.
Documents - a Niece of Lady Fortescue & P.Riley