Celebrating a century of cross-Channel friendship
The France-Grande Bretagne Association is open to both French and English-speaking members, and has a fascinating, century-long history.
The association (www.afgb.free.fr), which has branches all over France, has a singular aim: the “development of intellectual, moral and economic relationships between France and Britain.”
Created in 1916 by a group of influential people who decided links on both sides of the Channel needed to be reforged following the First World War, the France-Grande Bretagne Association was successful from its earliest days, attracting members from major companies, while the President of the Republic became its patron. Shortly afterward, a sister organisation was created in London, which is now the Franco-British Society.
Just before the Second World War, the France-Grande Bretagne Association had 1,200 members in Paris and 600 in Bordeaux. Many members were Jewish and, just before the German occupation, all their papers were burned so the Nazis, hoping to find details of important citizens, found their offices empty. The Association went underground but many members remained active, sometimes helping British soldiers get back to Britain.
Membership declined after the war but began to build again in the 1990s and beginning of the 21st century, with rising numbers of UK citizens retiring to France. According to Gérard Hocmard, who has been a member of the Paris Branch since 1962, interest is growing in its activities.
“There was a period when the younger French generation were more interested in the USA,” he said. “Now there is a wave of people who have been to work in London, come back and wish to keep up their links with the UK. I think there is a continuing interest and fascination in what goes on across the Channel.”
In the Paris branch, 90% of the 150 members are French but English-speakers are welcome and the last two members to sign up are from the UK.
Mr Hocmard believes English-speaking members join the Association to meet French people, helping them integrate and enjoy cultural events. He said: “I gave a talk to the Limoges group and found people would come from 50km away. The great thing is the exchange between two nations, but it takes different forms in each group. Lyon has had cooking clubs and Cahors introduced a plant swap.”
The Quercy France-Grande Bretagne branch in Cahors (www.quercyfgb.com) has around 270 members, split 50/50 between French and English speakers.
Vice-President Angela Dunn has been a member for almost 20 years, and says joining is a very good way to meet French and English-speakers, make friends and improve language skills. She added it helps foster relationships between Britain and France, and said: “When Brexit was announced, our French members were very sympathetic and our President, Michel Bellanger, wanted to stress that an event like this deepens ties between French and British.”
Mrs Dunn says new members are always welcome and there are still places available for some of the French lessons.