After a false start and second thoughts, a teenage aristocrat and officer from one of France’s then most noble families, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, along with several other officers, slipped out of the country in April 1777 from Bordeaux on a small ship called Victorie. (They left without formal permission from King Louis XVI, who had banned officers from traveling to America because England had threatened war with France if France aided the American rebellion.) La Fayette was determined to meet General George Washington and help America in any way he could.
And the rest, as they say, is history. The locality of Soulac-sur-Mer has made it clear on the statue’s base that this was perhaps the last French land that Lafayette saw before reaching America. “Lady Liberty” stands just across from the town’s magnificent beachside promenade.
Interestingly, note the flags around the statue: the European Union, left, the U.S. Stars and Stripes just behind it, and the French Tricolor. None of those flags existed in March 1777 when La Fayette stepped aboard Victorie in nearby Bordeaux harbor. Nor did his name as we know it then exist: he did not begin to call himself “Lafayette” (one word, rather than “La Fayette”) for several more years to come.
Fast forward 100+ years. U.S. General Joseph Pershing, or one of his subordinates, supposedly announced on arriving with the first U.S. troops in France in June 1917, “Lafayette, we are here.” Whether any of them actually did, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) under Pershing relied heavily on Bordeaux as its major port. Many of the nearly 2 million U.S. soldiers who arrived in France between June 1917 and November 1918, and the incredible amount of supplies that came along with them, and which would help defeat Imperial Germany in World War I, landed hereabouts.
Nearly thirty years later, during World War II, after D-Day (June 6, 1944, when British, Americans, Canadians, Free French and Polish forces invaded Normandy well to the north of here), the retreating Nazi German army (which had occupied the entire French Atlantic coast since June 1940) left behind residual garrisons at various French ports. Their orders were to hold out as long as possible in the hopes doing so would impede the Allied supply build up on the continent and therefore slow the Allied advance into Nazi Germany.
One group held this sandy peninsula on which Soulac-sur-Mer sits; the peninsula juts out northwards into the Gironde estuary that leads southeast to Bordeaux harbor. As long as Germans held this narrow and gradually hillier peninsula, they could fire on ships in the estuary.
Decaying fortifications are still plainly visible here and there. At least 70 French FFI soldiers (former Nazi occupation resistance fighters who were absorbed into the reborn French army in 1944-1945) were killed in battle here in April 1945 finally defeating the long cut-off Germans.
If you as a fiction writer (or an aspiring one) say you can’t find anything out there to write about? Or that you have “writer’s block?” You have to stop fretting, sit back and let the world “wash” over you. There is so much out there that is so fascinating and that so many of us know so little, or nothing, about and which might serve as a source of fictional inspiration.
Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂