By Peter Allen

A French mayor has insulted the memory of hundreds of British soldiers who died liberating his village by displaying a portrait of a notorious Nazi collaborator.

Bernard Hoye, civic leader of Gonneville-sur-Mer, in Normandy, insists on honouring Philippe Petain, the Vichy leader who brought shame on his country during the Second World War.


This is despite the fact that British commandoes including the Royal Marines and SAS spent days fighting off the town’s German garrison in the weeks after D-Day.

Now Christian Leyrit, the Lower Normandy prefect – or government representative – has written to Mr Hoye ‘in the strongest possible terms’ telling him to remove Petain’s picture ‘immediately’.

‘This portrait cannot be placed alongside the official portraits hung in a town hall, which is a highly symbolic place for the French Republic,’ Mr Leyrit wrote.

Mr Leyrit’s words reflect growing disgust at an attempt by some French people to try and rehabilitate the memory of Petain, who was a Gallic hero during the First World War.

Petain was imprisoned after the 1944 liberation of France after setting up a pro-Nazi regime in the spa town of Vichy, effectively abolishing the French Republic to become a German slave state, collaborating in everything including the persecution of the Jews. Petain died in disgrace in 1951.

Mr. Leyrit wrote to Mr Hoye following a complaint by the France-based civil rights group, the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA).

In a strongly worded letter, LICRA wrote that it was deplorable that the prefect was ‘obliged to give lessons of history and law to the mayor of a Norman town only a few months after ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the allied landings.

‘Keeping the picture on show is an affront to the memory of the victims of Petain’s anti-Semitic persecutions, of the resistance and the Allied soldiers’.

Mr Hoye, who was elected mayor of Gonneville in 2008 as an independent, said: ‘This picture has been around for decades. Petain appears in a gallery of portraits of French heads of state.

‘Whether they are controversial or not, I don’t have to take sides, unlike the LICRA which is not objective.’ Mr Hoye, a qualified lawyer, said there was no question of him removing the portrait, and that nobody else had the power to do so.

After weeks of fierce fighting, Gonneville-sur-mer was finally liberated in mid-August 1944 by British commandoes who had fought their way up from the Normandy beachhead. It is now one of the largest villages of France, with some 500 residents.