As thousands of G.I.’s fought their way through fierce German resistance along the coast of Normandy on D-Day, they carried in their packs an illustrated pamphlet that told them what they’d find—and what would be expected of them—once they had secured their beachholds and begun the liberation of France.
Created by the U.S. War Department under conditions of the highest secrecy—then lying forgotten in archives for decades after the war—Instructions for American Servicemen in France during World War II, presented here in a facsimile edition, is a compact trove of information and reassurance. Written in a comfortable, conversational tone, the book is equal parts propaganda piece, cultural handbook, and travel guide. Though its central aim is to dispel any notions about French weakness—and simultaneously to highlight the nation’s historical importance as an ally—from our historical vantage it is the manual’s portrayal of French culture that is the most fascinating: “French beer is flatter and more slippery than our beer but the French like it, when they can get it;” “the neighborhood French café is the most French thing in all France;” “French hotel bills are complicated.” For soldiers reading Instructions in 1944, a long road lay ahead—but with each confident description of the once and future life of various French provinces, it’s easy to imagine that end seeming just a tiny bit closer.
Read the press release.