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  • Writer's pictureAngela Barton

Oradour-sur-Glane: 80 years on.

Flowers of remembrance are the cornflower in France and the poppy in Britain.

Before the war, Oradour-sur-Glane was a quiet, rural community in central France. In 1944, the village was left in ruins after after 200 German Waffen-SS troops massacred 642 men, women and children, before burning the village to the ground. I’ve visited Oradour several times and stood amongst the crumbling houses, schools, cars, hotels and shops, and seen the everyday household items still left where they were last used, untouched for the last 80 years. Singer sewing machines, metal picture frames, the butcher's scales, bed frames, pots and pans and much more.

Charles de Gaulle stated the the ruins of Oradour must never be demolished and must remain as a reminder of what happened that day to this "martyred village." The ruins serve as a reminder of Nazi atrocities suffered by not only the French but also other civilian populations who came face-to-face with Nazi oppression.

The group responsible for this heinous crime was the Der Führer regiment, a branch of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. Following the June 6th 1944 Allied invasion in Normandy, Das Reich was assigned a new mission to support German forces fighting in northern France. The Division also received orders to put down any members of the French Resistance while simultaneously intimidating the population and reasserting German control over central and southern France.

Having visited Oradour several times, I felt compelled to help keep the memory alive and was desperate tell the story from a survivor’s viewpoint. I had to create an innocent and ordinary protagonist because I was going to place some terrible obstacles in front of her and she needed to grow in character, resilience and bravery. So I created Arlette, a twenty-year-old young woman who lives with her brother and father on the family farm.

On the morning of June 10, 1944, only four days after D-Day, the citizens of Oradour woke to what they assumed would be another normal day. But around midday the Germans blocked all entrances and exits to the town. The town crier was sent to relay the message that all citizens, including the sick and elderly, were to report to the town's market centre. The elderly and infirm were carried by relatives, children were ushered from their play, babies awoken from sleep, women arrived with wet hair from the hairdressers, the baker with flour dusted hands, the sick still in their nightwear, guests in the town's hotel, diners at cafés, visitors queuing for tobacco rations...


First, SS troops separated the men from the women and children. Nearly two-hundred men were divided into groups and ordered to walk to six separate barns located throughout the village. When a signal was given, the SS men opened fire with machine guns, murdering many men lined up before them. A few men survived as bodies fell on top of them, shielding them from the onslaught. Many others were injured but unable to escape when the barns were set alight.

Attention was then turned to 240 women and 205 children who were forced into the town’s church.

Once locked inside, the troops first threw in grenades, injuring many while others suffocated in the smoke. Further panic ensued when the SS set fire to that building too, while shooting anyone who attempted to escape. After they'd finished at the church, the Germans searched for and killed anyone left hiding in the village and continued on by burning the rest of Oradour to the ground.

Only seven people survived the massacre. It's through the survivors’ testimonies that historians were able to piece together the events that occurred in the town.

Oradour: Present day

Readers of Arlette's Story will walk in step with my heroine along a path of love, danger, anger, desire and hatred. They will travel back to the war years of 1940s France, where they’ll discover what life was like living on a farm during that time. They'll meet Arlette’s friends, support her lover, fear her enemy, laugh with her and grieve with her. They’ll discover what led this naïve farm girl and her grandmother to bury the body of a member of the Gestapo in the vegetable plot during the dark, still hours of the night. Readers will also stand beside her in the church at Oradour at the exact moment the Germans pushed open the doors and committed an act that French officials to this very day are trying to ensure is never forgotten. It is one woman's struggle to fight back against the enemy in order to protect the ones she loves.


When Arlette Blaise sees a German plane fly over the family farm in 1940, she’s

comforted by the fact that the occupying forces are far away in the north of the

country. Surely the stranglehold of war wouldn’t reach her family in the idyllic

French countryside close to the small town of Oradour-sur-Glane?

But when her brother leaves to join the Resistance and the Gestapo set up their

headquarters in a nearby manor house, Arlette realises that her family’s peaceful

existence might be gone for good.

Arlette’s confusion intensifies by the arrival of Saul Epstein – a young Jewish medical

student who’s been forbidden from training by the Nazis. A tender romance

develops over the summer months, but when autumn arrives with the smell of wood

smoke and ripe-honeyed fruit, Arlette is forced to make decisions that brings the

danger she feared, right to her doorstep …


"I am English and have lived in the Charent for more than 20 years. Have been to Oradour sur glane twice.The excellent way you wrote the story has kindled in me memories, passion and the fact that all who have been there should read this book. From a 76year old lad!!!......Thank you."

“Arlette’s Story moved me to tears, but thanks to Angela Barton’s insanely beautiful writing, I also felt like I was getting hugged from the inside out. This book is devastating in parts, but it is also bewitching and magnetic.”

"My second book by Angela. I started this book in bed one night and I knew it was going to be good when I’d read 9 chapters before I even knew it!"

"Loved everything about it, although it was quite harrowing in places. Plenty of WW2 research had gone into this book. I was sorry to finish it. I loved Arlette’s story."

"I enjoyed this book so much, and I don’t usually read anything set in WW2, but it actually turned out to be my favourite book that I’ve read over the lockdown! It would make a great movie too..."

"We bought this book in France from the author, in person, while recently visiting the village where she lives. We were lucky enough to meet her and get a signed copy. We all read the book and could not put it down! Just the right mix for a book like this which was based on such a sad event and which actually took place in occupied France during WWII. We live in France, had been told about this village, and reading the story brought the whole terrible event to life. Thank you, Angela, for a wonderful book."

Arlette's Story:

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