In 1942, the bombs were being dropped across England.
The French men and women in London, who had also been working towards victory, had their own meeting places to get together between fellow countrymen: Carlton Terrace, headquarters for “la France Libre”, but also Gaston’s, the French bistro in Soho. A few steps away was also Madame Rose’s restaurant, which served generous steaks, though they were careful not to mention that the steaks were in fact horse meat. And, a little further on, there was Patisserie Valerie, held by two Belgian sisters who let you chat for hours in front of the beverages that the rations allowed.
However, this was not enough for the French men and women to come together, to organize themselves by vocation or by shared interests. Associative activities needed to breathe in new life, after being suspended due to the hostilities.
So in 1942, in anticipation of the return to a normal life, the “Fédération des Associations Françaises en Grande Bregtagne” (Federation of French Associations in Great Britain) was founded. To bring the people together and to be the voice of support for all the scattered entities.
In the beginning, the Federation focused on defending the political and associative interests of the French.
Then in 1982, a tightly knit group of political representatives called the “délègués du Conseil supérieur des Français à l’étranger” (Delegates of the High Council of French Nationals Abroad) moved to the UK and claimed the right to represent the political interests of the French living on British soil.
As a consequence, the Federation declared itself apolitical by vocation, not at all bothered by letting experts handle political issues.
Its mission of gathering and representing the French in the UK continues to this day. Giving each member association a way to be heard through inter-association communication, that not only conveys useful information but also helps to give them a stronger sense of ‘belonging’.
As Jean Gueguinou, Ambassador in London, pointed out when he said: “It [the Federation] has a role in representing the very diverse components of the French community”. Which is why the Federation is responsible for the organisation of France’s national bank holiday on the 14th of July.
The new council members and President are working to submit to the member associations new projects to be developed and achieved together, to highlight the French profile in the United Kingdom while in keeping with the values of the Entente Cordiale which bring us closer to our friends across the Channel.
By Antoinette Chambeyron