The Exodus Begins

  • Theme - WW1, WW2 & Military
  • Year - 1940
  • Location - Evreux
  • Filmmaker - Fernand Bignon


To see more films from Upper Normandie, please visit the website of our cross channel partner, Pole Image Haute-Normandie at

This is a very moving film. The additional music emphasises this feeling, but the beautiful images speak for themselves. It is 19th May 1940, in Evreux, and young Jacqueline is preparing for her first communion. Her mother helps her put on her alb, gloves, veil. Everything is set for this day to become an event. But the event is taking place in the street, beneath the family's windows. The people of Evreux are leaving the town in great numbers, in cars, on bikes, on foot. It's the exodus. Despite everything, Jacqueline's family tries to forget the tragic events that are unfolding but it's difficult. At the church, the communicants struggle to bring smiles to their faces. Jacqueline herself manages an embarrassed smile for the photographer who is capturing the moment. At the end of the film, reality crushes all hope. Three weeks after the communion, Evreux is bombed. Houses, and the church where Jacqueline confirmed her belief in God, are destroyed. This story is worth so much more than the words of any historian.

40-05-06, May-June 1940 : some of Upper Normandy's population leave for the South. End of May- Beginning of June : Before the German threat, French-English troops were evacuated from Dunkirk to England.
18th June 1940 : Call, from London, by General de Gaulle to the Resistance 22 June 1940: the armistice is signed, as requested by Pétain. The United Kingdom and its Prime Minister Churchill refused to sign the peace agreement with Germany. France was suffering a double military and political collapse, with the Vichy regime turning its back on the Republican ideal of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and collaborating with the enemy. In the meantime, many refugees fled from enemy troops. In Le Havre, they tried to take to the sea, but many of the boats in which they will sailed were sunk by the enemy, as was the case of the Niobe (nearly 800 victims). 28 June 1940: the English acknowledged de Gaulle as head of the liberated French. Life for the French became more and more difficult during the four years of the occupation. Many items were rationed, especially clothes, coal and food (ticket system). The occupiers prohibited movements after 22:00, confiscated radios, controlled newspaper content, sent those opposing the occupation and Jews to concentration camps. Those from Rouen and Le Havre, amongst others, also suffered regular bombings by the English, aimed at destroying the Nazi facilities, but which actually ended up also destroying their homes. When the sirens sounded, people sought refuge in uncomfortable shelters. Evacuations were arranged, and in Le Havre, the Mayor evacuated children from 1942-1943 to other areas which seemed safer, in Eure or Lower Normandy.

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