Chère Maman – A Sailor’s Story – from France and the Mediterranean to Gabon and Cameroun
– the Vicissitudes and Impact of World War II

Marty Bratzel

Introduction

Diversions! Oh, those unexpected, annoying, serendipitous diversions! Here is one which proved most enlightening.

The primary focus of 'Les Oblitérations du Cameroun 1914-1960', published in 1990, was the postmarks of Cameroun under French administration. A considerable amount of additional information has been compiled since then, warranting preparation of a revised and expanded version that also addresses the postal history of the territory. One section will focus on Cameroun during World War II – postal censorship in the territory (with Maddocks’ landmark publication as the point of departure), Cameroun’s contributions to the armed forces and the military campaigns, and prisoners of war and internees held there.

The diversion began with the acquisition of a massive file about a young sailor who was aboard the Vichy Aviso Bougainville when it was severely damaged off Gabon then beached in November 1940. This ship caught my interest because of correspondence regarding two other sailors from that ship, both interned in Cameroun, one at Batschenga and another at Mokolo.

The extensive personal correspondence from a loving son to his mother traces his formative years, his joining the navy in 1938, and his service through mid-1940. This is followed by her correspondence with naval authorities, the Red Cross, and others after the fateful Gabon campaign in November 1940. Together, the correspondence provides interesting insight into naval postings immediately prior to and during World War II, allegiance to de Gaulle’s Free French movement, the challenges of communication during the war, and a mother’s frantic concern about the fate of her son and her desire to hold on to his memory.

This study is a blend of politics and postal, military, personal, and social history. Indeed, these cannot be separated. Let’s begin the story in the middle, with the Gabon campaign of October - November 1940 and with the Aviso Bougainville, then expand in both directions...

to read more of this fascinating article see pages 82 - 110 Journal 285)

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