War Tourists and Ritzkrieg

In the weeks following the Liberation, Paris experienced an Anglo-Saxon influx which far surpassed the days of the Versailles peace conference. The very first arrivals included intelligence officers, counter-espionage experts and journalists. Within a week or two, the proportion of those simply ‘wangling a joyride’ from London – including the wives, or future wives, of men already there – gathered pace.

A more permanent population began to assemble during the middle of September, with officers posted to the city on official business, either attached to embassies or to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). British staff officers, with red bands round their service dress caps, were sometimes – to their furious embarrassment – mistaken for Soviet officers by French Communists, who acclaimed them with clenched-fist salutes and fervent expressions of admiration for the Red Army.

One of the first British officers to enter Paris was Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Rothschild. Victor Rothschild had been formally seconded to the United States army after D-Day, to train its officers in the arts of sabotage and counter-sabotage, and on entering Paris he joined General Eisenhower’s supreme headquarters. He was given lodgings in the Young Women’s Christian Association (‘How strange,’ wrote his friend Duff Cooper, ‘since you are neither young nor a woman nor a Christian’), but it was not long before he made his way to the house of his cousin, Baron Robert de Rothschild, on the Avenue de Marigny. He found it occupied by American troops, but turned them out and declared the house to be the headquarters of his own anti-sabotage unit.

His group’s first task was to locate and make safe demolition charges and booby traps left behind by the occupiers. (Some booby traps took the form of exploding horse dung, scattered on the roads by the departing Germans.) The rest of the unit, which included his future wife, Tess Mayor, arrived soon afterwards to work with the French Deuxième Bureau, hunting for arms and caches of explosives which might be used by a fifth column.

Muggeridge joined Rothschild at the Avenue de Marigny, since the Services Spéciaux to which he was attached had not yet set up shop. After a very good lunch, they decided to make their position official with the British military authorities, and set off for the Roger & Gallet building in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where they had heard that a British Force Headquarters had been established. The brigadier to whom they reported, immaculate in service dress with red tabs, took this very scruffy pair for impostors. As soon as he realized that he was talking to Lord Rothschild, however, he became positively deferential. It was the sort of behaviour that Rothschild loathed.

Victor Rothschild was a man of many parts and many paradoxes. Scientist, academic, and government adviser by profession, he was also, in his private capacity, a socialist, a millionaire, a jazz pianist and a peer who both hated privilege and enjoyed it. The servants at the Avenue de Marigny, headed by Monsieur Félix, the maître d’hôtel, were well aware of his foibles. They could not believe how meagre British army rations were and, since Victor Rothschild refused to eat better food than his soldiers, Muggeridge had to go off and scrounge K rations from the Americans.

The German occupiers had looked after the house on the Avenue de Marigny very well. The heavy furniture and decoration in the ‘style Rothschild’ of the 1860s were left unlooted. Muggeridge asked Monsieur Félix why he thought the Luftwaffe general who had occupied the house had behaved so well. ‘Hitlers come and go, Monsieur,’ came the reply, ‘but Rothschilds go on for ever.’ The servants had also done all they could to preserve the contents of the house. They had hidden the most valuable china and silver to keep it out of German hands, and returned it at the Liberation.


Few of the journalists then starting to pour in knew Paris better than Lee Miller. She had been the muse, lover and apprentice of the Surrealist photographer Man Ray between 1929 and 1932. Now she had come in the splendidly original role of war photographer forVogue. In her US war correspondent’s uniform, she went straight to the Place de l’Odéon. There she found the painter and theatre designer Christian Bérard and his lover, Boris Kochno. They took her to see Picasso in his studio on the rue des Grands Augustins. Picasso, for whom she had sat before the war, embraced her, declaring that she was the first Allied soldier he had seen and that he wanted to paint her again, this time in her uniform. They went to Picasso’s local bistro in the same street, Le Catalan, and Lee handed over her K rations to augment the lunch. Over the next few days she tracked down other friends from Surrealist times, including Jean Cocteau, and Paul Éluard and his wife, Nusch, who was looking skeletal.

‘Paris was liberated,’ Picasso later said to his friend Brassaï, the photographer, ‘but I was besieged, and I still am.’ It seemed that everyone wanted to visit him in his studio.

Cleve Gray, a young American painter serving in the US Army, longed to meet Picasso. Summoning up his courage, he went to the door of Picasso’s studio and knocked. Jaime Sabartès, Picasso’s friend and general factotum, stuck his head out of an upstairs window and peered down. He was very short-sighted. ‘Who’s there?’ he called. ‘I’m an American painter,’ Gray shouted back, ‘and I want to meet Picasso.’

It was late morning, but Picasso was just getting out of bed, dressed in nothing but his underwear. The room had no pictures on the walls. The scene that followed was a bohemian version of the lever du roi. Picasso stood by the side of the bed, holding a copy of the Communist newspaper L’Humanité in one hand while he held out the other for Sabartès to thread it through a shirt sleeve, then he transferred the newspaper to the other hand while Sabartès pulled on the other sleeve. Picasso was just about join the Communist Party.

Then Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Picasso’s dealer, walked in. This was their first meeting for four years. The two men greeted each other with great warmth and effusion, though Kahnweiler was evidently irritated to find somebody else there.

They all trooped upstairs to the studio, a large, long room with heavy old beams and a floor of well-worn hexagon tiles covered by the odd small rug. Paintings finished during the Occupation were propped against the wall, including all those which Picasso was about to exhibit in the first post-Liberation salon. The collection of frames, easels and a stepladder, with a platform and pulpit for working on large canvases, gave the impression of a lumber room. Almost as fascinating as Picasso’s sculptures was his huge cast-iron stove with bulbous pipes ascending in pillared layers, like a Jain temple.

Picasso pointed to Gray’s army boots and said: ‘Look at them. Aren’t they extraordinary?’ Gray did not know what to do. Should he follow the Arab custom and take them off immediately to present them as a gift? Picasso might even render them immortal with a study. But if he did, how could he explain their disappearance on return to his unit? They were government property and he might face serious charges for selling them.

Charles Collingwood, the famously good-looking reporter for CBS radio, toured Montparnasse with Pamela Churchill, who had come to set up a club for British troops on leave. Collingwood, however, was feeling rather bashful, and certainly hoped not to be recognized. To scoop his rivals, he had made a pre-recorded report announcing the liberation of Paris, but this had been broadcast by mistake forty-eight hours before Leclerc’s troops reached the city. Parisians had listened in anger and disbelief to the reports of worldwide celebration while fighting continued all around them.

Almost everyone in London with a good excuse made sure of a trip to Paris as soon as possible after the Liberation. Like many from the OSS office in London, Evangeline Bruce, a future ambassadress but at that time responsible for creating personal histories for the false papers of secret agents, hiked a pillion ride on the back of an OSS motorbicycle for a tour of central Paris.

One of the sights to be seen at the Ritz was Ernest Hemingway. His room was the first port of call for Mary Welsh, who had worked for the London bureau of Time, Life and Fortune throughout the war, and managed to reach Paris in time to cover de Gaulle’s triumph down the Champs-Élysées. Another star of the Ritz was Marlene Dietrich, who used the hotel as her Paris base while she travelled back and forth to the front, singing to American troops. Hemingway had known her for ten years and they were still close – she used to wander into his bathroom in the Ritz and chat to him while he shaved – but he emphasized that he had never slept with her.

Hemingway did not stay only at the Ritz. He also used the Hotel Scribe, near the Opéra, which had been taken over as a centre for war correspondents. The lines of olive-green US army staff cars and jeeps with large white stars made the place look like a headquarters, an impression reinforced by the cluster of Allied flags over the entrance. The Parisians were envious of its privileged rations. Simone de Beauvoir, who visited the Scribe with a French journalist on Combat, wrote disapprovingly: ‘It was an American enclave in the heart of Paris: white bread, fresh eggs, jam, sugar and Spam.’

The Hotel Scribe rapidly became a subject of folklore. The rooms were full of military impedimenta – jerrycans of petrol, ration packs, waterbottles, weapons and ammunition. One visitor recalled seeing in every window of the central light-well a journalist in an army shirt with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, tapping away furiously.

During the course of that autumn and winter, the Scribe’s inhabitants included Robert Capa, William Shirer, Bill Paley, Sam White, Cy Sulzberger and Harold Callender of the New York Times; William Saroyan; Helen Kirkpatrick of the Chicago Daily News; Janet Flanner, the New Yorker diarist for Paris since 1925; Virginia Cowles, who had covered the fall of France in 1940, and her friend Martha Gellhorn.

George Orwell, a much later arrival, was delighted to be in Paris in uniform. Having heard that Hemingway, whom he had never met, was also at the Scribe, Orwell went to his room and knocked on his door.

‘I’m Eric Blair,’ he announced hesitantly.

Hemingway was packing. He looked up, displeased at seeing a British war correspondent – he was going through a strongly anti-British phase. ‘Well, what the ying hell do you want?’

‘I’m George Orwell.’

‘Why the zing hell didn’t you say so?’ bellowed Hemingway. He pushed the suitcases aside, bent down under the bed and emerged with a bottle of Scotch. ‘Have a drink. Have a double. Straight or with water? There’s no soda.’

Orwell had more in common – including the same tutor at Eton and a love of Dickens, Kipling and Hopkins – with the philosopher A. J. Ayer, who was also in Paris at the time. Freddie Ayer, the author of Language, Truth and Logic, had been an SOE officer and had a roving commission reporting on the liberated areas of France. For this task, he had acquired a large chauffeur-driven Bugatti in which he installed his army radio transmitter. He had now returned to Paris to work as an attaché at the British Embassy, where he impressed important guests by being able to explain what existentialism was.

In January 1945, Hemingway was visited by Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. They found him in bed with a heavy cold, wearing a green newspaperman’s eyeshade.

Hemingway promptly grabbed Sartre by the hand enthusiastically. ‘Vous êtes un général!’ he exclaimed, embracing him. ‘Moi je ne suis qu’un capitaine: vous êtes un général.’ Bottles of Scotch were produced and the drinking began. Sartre later admitted that it was one of the few occasions when he had passed out from alcohol. Around three in the morning, he recovered and, opening one eye, watched in astonishment as Hemingway tiptoed round the room, collecting up the empty bottles to hide them from members of the hotel staff.

Allied officers benefited from what might be termed unofficial privileges in Paris. Establishments, including all the bonnes adresses of the Occupation, were compulsively generous to senior Allied officers. They were allowed to dine free at the Tour d’Argent, they were given scent for their wives by Guerlain, and shirt-makers fell over each other to offer them prices so special that they were almost free. Even the grandest institutions were not averse to political insurance in these uncertain times.

The Jockey Club, at 2 rue Rabelais, quickly offered membership to a number of senior American and British officers. The British military attaché, Brigadier Denis Daly, received ‘the impression that members of the Jockey Club had very probably supported the Pétain régime’ and that they felt it would be ‘wise to have the support of the British and the Americans during the months to come’. At lunch, the Duc de Doudeauville plied Daly with questions about the menace of the Red Army. When Daly said that there was no doubt that the war could not have been won without the Russians and that from a ‘realistic point of view’ the Allies should therefore be grateful, Doudeauville appeared ‘considerably shaken’.

This highly advantageous state of affairs for Allied officers was soon somewhat curtailed. For example, British officers were no longer allowed into restaurants in uniform, since most of the good ones depended on black-market produce. To circumvent this inconvenience, Maxim’s in the rue Royale was taken over as an officers’ club, and Albert, the maître d’hôtel who had bowed to their tables almost every German officer from Reichsmarschall Goering down, was soon doing the same for their enemies. The French army, not to be outdone, took over Ciro’s as an officers’ club, and Charles Trenet and Edith Piaf went to sing there.

With a large number of British and American officers avid for Parisian cooking, restaurants reopened with startling speed. For the richer officers, Prunier and the Méditerranée in the Place de l’Odéon were soon serving fresh seafood in a triumph of black-market enterprise over appalling communications. Lucas Carton in the Place de la Madeleine, perhaps the greatest of all Parisian restaurants, possessed an outstanding advantage over its rivals. Having bricked up its wine cellars (which run right under the Place de la Madeleine itself) just as the Germans entered Paris in 1940, it could still offer the very best vintages.

Parisian nightlife was in great demand, especially among those on leave from the front. At least 60 per cent of the audience at the Folies Bergère were in uniform. Soldiers were attracted to the bals publics or dance halls, which, having been banned throughout the Occupation, reopened with the Liberation. The most popular were the establishments on the rue de Lappe near the Place de la Bastille and the numerous bals musette around the edge of the city. The musicians were amateurs, working part-time, who gave rousing versions of popular songs on accordions and percussion instruments.

The next tier up –les dancings – included the more sophisticated dance halls and nightspots from the Moulin de la Galette to some of the smarter places on the Champs-Élysées, employing almost all the capital’s 1,500 professional musiciens de danse. At the top were places like Monseigneur in the rue d’Amsterdam, an ornate and expensive establishment, heavily White Russian, with Tzigane violinists serenading the diners. You went to Monseigneur, remarked one of Martha Gellhorn’s characters in her collection of short stories A Honeyed Peace, only if ‘beginning a romance’.

The revival of public dancing was short-lived. At the end of October the provisional government banned it again, this time in response to a press campaign claiming that too many families were in mourning to permit such levity. On 16 January, cabarets and nightclubs were also closed.

The Syndicat des Artistes Musiciens de Paris denounced the measure as ‘a prudery out of touch with the virility demanded by the war’. Dancing, they argued, had never been forbidden in London throughout the Blitz or the VI rocket attacks, because the authorities realized how important it was for morale. Dance halls used less electricity, because their customers did not like too much brightness, and gaiety must be kept up in the capital: ‘Afin que PARIS reste PARIS!’ But protests were in vain. Dancing in public places was not permitted again until April 1945, just before the German surrender, and even then organizations representing deportees and prisoners of war objected.

Many of the most expensive nightclubs ignored the January ban, but they received a shock the night after it came into effect. The police raided six establishments and took a total of 300 customers off to unheated cells in police stations. One of the clubs targeted was the Monseigneur. Those unfortunate enough to have picked Wednesday, 17 January, to begin their romance got off to a chilly start.

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