A lecture by James Barr, historian and author.
Seventy years ago this year, a predominantly British force fought a short but bitter war against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon. The British invaded to stop the Germans using the Levant as a launch pad for an attack on Suez. To win local support before they did, the British encouraged Charles de Gaulle to promise that the Free French would grant independence to both states, which France had ruled since 1919.
Once in charge, the Free French started backsliding and the British, alarmed that Arab unrest would spread to neighbouring Palestine, began to plot ways to engineer France’s departure from the region, leaving them sole masters. As a consequence, Lebanon gained its independence in 1943 and the French left the region in 1946.
By drawing on recently declassified papers from British and French archives, James Barr will bring this much overlooked clandestine struggle back to life and will reveal, for the first time, the spectacular way in which the French finally got their revenge.
James Barr read modern history at Oxford and was a Visiting Fellow at St Antony’s College Oxford during the research for his latest book, A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East. He has worked in politics, for the Daily Telegraph and in the city. His previous book, Setting the Desert on Fire, was published in 2006.