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'A gaping silken dragon,/Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God./We, not the City, are the Empire's soul:/A rotten tree lives only in its rind.'

Thursday, 8 November 2012

French style...

A good friend of mine, and a reader of this blog, was inspired by the recent 'creeping' posts, and the Eastern Front Hanomags, to send me this gem:

A 1/72 kit of simply the most elegant mass-produced car ever. I've long been an admirer of the 'Traction Avant', and came near to buying one from a New Zealander back in 1998. The Kiwi had a sideline in importing these Citroens from NZ, where they had benefited from the high cost of imported cars in the 1950s (leading to owners carefully preserving their cars), and the lack of salt on the roads in winter. But, as usual, family commitments meant that the money went on more mundane matters, but, I had a ride in one .... ah, happy memory! 

But what has all this to do with the 'creeping' posts? Well, when the Traction Avant first appeared in 1934 it quickly became clear that it was a game changer (a bit like the DC airliners of the period), and soon became the car of choice for French gangsters. Of course, that meant that the French cops needed the same. And, as France slipped towards the abyss, so other baddies of one variety or another (e.g., the Cagoule) liked to burn around in this symbol of violent cool. And, unsurprisingly, once France had succumbed to the Nazi jackboot, so the German armed forces bought this powerful, fast, car, and all the usual suspects in both the Occupied and Unoccupied Zones wanted one. That included the Milice - hence the gift. Although, given fuel shortages, I wonder if that is as much part of the post-war myth of the car as any widespread reality. In fact, Traction Avants play a notable part in Louis Malle's controversial 1974 film, Lacombe Lucien, which follows the collaborationist progress of the eponymous Lucien. Traction Avants belt around carrying French Gestapo auxiliaries, and Miliciens on raids - sort of Nazi chic, I suppose. The film was so controversial because Louis Malle had the effrontery to cast the anti-hero as a working class youth. In the early 1970s, of course, the French Communist Party (PCF) was still a powerful force in France, resting on its June 1941-1944 laurels, and still part of the great Soviet axis. There was widespread outrage that anyone could suggest that anyone from the working class could possibly be anything but a 'socialist' of one variety or another. It was a reflection of  Jean-Paul Sartre's mad view that 'anti-Semitism was unknown among the French working class' (what a poisonous little freak!). In fact, just as the current 'socialist' incumbent of the Élysée Palace doesn't look very socialist to me, so other, earlier French socialists seem to have been not quite as Sartre might have imagined them. Foremost among those, of course, was the leader of the PCF from 1972-1994, Georges Marchais. His contribution to France's wartime effort was to manufacture Messerschmitts in Germany. 

Enough of all that - back to the plastic. The 1/72 Citroen is a short run kit from the Ukrainian company 'ACE', so the parts aren't quite as crisp as usual these days, and there are no transparencies. However, there are decals for four options - Heer panzer grey and civvie shiny black. That will be a dilemma. However, I do have some 20mm Luftwaffe field division chaps, and I can imagine the car joining them and other borrowed, begged and stolen vehicles. So, it's looking already like overall grey.

The gift sent me into my shambles of a shed to extract this:

A Heller 1:24 version, still unmade, bought many years ago. I have a smaller scale Heller version in black that would fit the 28mm Milice perfectly, but ... it's missing a wheel! Damn! I'll have to institute a search for the missing wheel - 'round up the usual suspects'.

The shed also disgorged  this Matchbox, 1/32 version:

Part built, but battered by repeated house moves. Sigh.

I might add, before I sign off, that I have been writing this post while listening to music featuring Edith Piaf ('Le Fanion de la Legion', 'Mon Legionnaire' etc), Fernandel, Charles Trenet ('Boum'), Johnny Hess. And, despite my pronounced Francophilia, I am afraid that they just can't sing! 


  1. Arf! No. I'm listening to some 1950s French jazz at the mo. Not sure what I think of that either. Funny how jazz types were seen as radical dudes then.

  2. I like these cars on the game table, and as I am painting up some Luftwaffe field division chaps I will look forward to your progress Stephen.

    1. Yes, everyone needs staff cars! I've started the build, and it's a bit tricky as it turns out.