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On a recent trip to France I stayed in a charming little village along the coast of Normandy. The day after my arrival I felt it would be appropriate to call on my next-door neighbour and introduce myself. An elderly woman warmly welcomed me and offered an aperitif and some conversation. Being in a part of France that had seen the great Normandy invasion of World War II we naturally ended up discussing the war as she was from a generation that had actually lived through it.

Vividly she would describe the humiliation of the French defeat to the nazi forces in 1940 and the hopelessness, which led many French to be perhaps too "friendly" with the new occupiers, something they were to regret 4 years later when liberation came.

I naturally had to ask about the famous "tondues", the women who?s heads were shaved for dating German soldiers.

"Ah monsieur, In this town that whole thing went totally crazy, in most villages around here maybe three or four women was treated in this way, but here almost every woman would celebrate the warm summer of liberation wearing a hat, if you understand."

-?Almost every woman was a collaborator?? I asked

?Not really all?, she replied, ?but a large German garrison was stationed here, and all of the French men where taken to do forced labour in Germany or were already there as prisoners of war. Four years is a long time and many women were also perhaps disappointed with the French men, the defeat of the army and all that. With the lack of fuel and food during the cold winters of 40?to 44? many women would be a lot better off with a German friend?

She took a sip of the aperitif and moved closer to me as she lowered her voice: ?when liberation came and the men returned, they were furious with what had been going on! And for two days they went, well: "crazy" and it took a long time before everybody recovered, but you see monsieur, passion can lead to strange behavior…"

?-You must tell me what happened!? I said from my recently assumed position on the edge of my chair…

Oh, of course? she replied, and began her story:

One morning, about three or four days after the invasion, word got around in the village that allied forces were only a few miles away and this meant that soon 4 years of occupation would be over. The former occupiers wasted no time boarding their cars and lorries to head off for safer shores, little seemed to keep them.

The minute they had left the village the reckoning began, and those who had enjoyed privileges during the occupation were now to be punished for this, and most of them were the women who had both earned extra food, clothes, cigarettes and alcohol by "servicing" the occupiers as well as making a profit as black-marketers.

Most locals felt that now with the liberation of the village, these collaborators should experience a "liberation of the scalp? The hair on their heads, long and thick from the good food, easy living, and visits to the beauty parlour – would face grinding clipping machines and that would make sweet music to the ears after years of watching these women prancing up and down the main street with their warm overcoats, full bellies, and expensive "coiffure?. When justice had been done they could throw away the hairbrush and buy some polishing wax instead!

Thus the roundup began, and the local post office was chosen as ?headquarters? In fact the reckoning started right there at the post-office as the two women running it were considered to be the two biggest whores in the village, and although they struggled fiercely, both were quickly relieved of their hair, stripped to their underwear and placed on two high stools in each corner of the postmasters office.

Now with the addition of large swastikas to their foreheads they were to write down the names of all who were brought in.

With some thirty to forty women waiting in line, five women at a time were seated in the front room and told to sit still and wait. Most of the women were quite cheerful at first, perhaps expecting only to pay some fines or have their earnings confiscated. However the sight of the first women emerging from the postmaster?s office with just uneven stubble where their pride and joy had once been put an end to the chirpy mood and replaced it with a dead silence from the women mixed with the buzzing sound of the clipping machines coming from behind the door.

When the women entered the room they were seated on a long bench, a tablecloth was draped around the neck and the shearing began; many of the makeshift barbers started on the forehead cutting a large "Autobahn" down the middle of the woman?s head, then the head was pressed forward and attention was switched to the back of it where four or five quick drives upward with the machine removed the vast majority of the "plume". Finally the sides and what was left on the top of the head was cleared, and in most cases it took no more than a few minutes to render the woman?s head absolutely bald.

Most of the younger women expected to trade in their close friendships with the German Army with equally close friendships with the arriving allied forces and deeply resented the idea of meeting them with a bald head! They would struggle all the way to the bench to try and escape the scalping. However a firm grab of the jaw, or the top of the head from helpful bystanders efficiently ruined that prospect. Most of the unfortunate "customers" also gave up the fight when they saw the first thick swats of hair land on the floor.

After they had their haircuts most of the women would naturally head straight for the shelter of their homes, but often the local children would chase them up and down the main street mocking them with rhymes like:

"Head held high with curly hair

Now she had a harvest there"

And so it went on: more culprits were brought in who all pledged their innocence or tried to dismiss the severity of their crimes. There were the three sisters who complained that they only "serviced" the Germans once, "because it was winter and the household was short of everything?, but everybody knew of the traffic around their house, and they left the building very ?short" themselves.

Some weren?t even taken to the post-office but stopped in the street by a crazy outfit of ex prisoners-of-war who rode around on bicycles calling themselves "The Flying Barbers", they claimed that no women in the village was innocent and all should receive a "victory-cut" Nobody seemed to interfere with their doings, and they would probably have moved on to make every female head in France resemble a freshly peeled onion if they?d had motorcycles instead of bicycles.

Actually it seemed like every local citizen carried scissors in their back-pocket ready for use, I remember one incident where a group of auxiliary-policemen directing traffic stopped an entire column of vehicles because it included twenty teenage girls on bicycles who came from a catholic girls? school run by a pro-Nazi Priest. Most of these girls had worked voluntarily at the German barracks so the policemen felt they should be rewarded for their efforts: only after twenty sets of waist long braids were lying in the ditches and each head carefully clippered, the girls and the rest of the vehicles were allowed to pass on, many applauding the incident with their automobile horns. The girls were apparently so surprised they kept a straight face and just bicycled on in a straight line with their naked heads gleaming white in the sun.

Since solicitations and pledges for mercy rarely worked, some would try to flee to the countryside to save their hair, but most of them was caught. These women were shaved completely bald with straight razors without the use of soap! a horrifying experience that itched and burned. I recall that the local treasurer, who black-marketed gasoline and Turkish cigarettes, ran away with his young secretary the day before the liberation, leaving his also collaborating wife at the mercy of the resistance. The two "lovebirds" were quickly caught however, and the wife took great pleasure in bringing the young hussie to the kitchen and using a pair of the secretary?s own paper-scissors to dispose of her newly bleached curls. This didn?t help the wife?s own case though, as she had to hand the scissors over to the captors and also leave her own hair on the kitchen floor.

One women was the sister of the mayor (who had fled to Germany) and she kept talking about her "connections" and how she would go to "higher places" if she was not released immediately. After the obligatory crew-cut she was placed high up in the church clock tower with her head out the window and made to shout out the time of day every hour until midnight. I remember that for many years after it was a popular joke in the village to say: ?ask the mayors sister? if someone asked you for the time.

As the number of shorn women grew, and still more were brought in, some of the "barbers" got more "creative", cutting swastikas or "V" signs into the buzzed hair, or leaving little locks on the forehead, or squares of hair on the top or back of the head. The towns own hairdresser got some of this special treatment: during the occupation she had often enjoyed the "attention" of a German general, and his generous gifts allowed her to have her hair permed to a multitude of small curls. She suffered to be seated in one of her own salon chairs and have the hair on the back and sides of her head shaved right off but the top of her head was left undone. This made her resemble the poodle she once received from the general and to complete her new look one of the general?s medal ribbons (he had fled in civilian clothes and would later face the war crimes committee) was tied around the remaining locks before she was paraded around town wearing only a pair of the general?s woollen underpants.

By late afternoon the floors of the post-office was covered with a thick layer of hair in various colours, and close to forty women of the village were now back in their homes rubbing their scalps and searching though closets and cupboards for anything that could serve them as ample head covers until the hair had grown back.

?Well, that was the story of that crazy summer, monsieur? she said laughing and went on; ?and as I said it took a long time before everybody were on speaking terms again, but you know; time heals all?

?But what about you, Madame? I asked

?Oh I had no problems with all of that -I was the head of the local resistance!

?You!? I said, ?yes, yes, all the men were in the POW camps you know? and she continued: ?I owned the small clothes shop just off the town square where the Germans went to buy gifts for their girls ? it was the perfect cover! I could observe every truck, lorry and tank passing through the town and report it to the British, and I had the whole basement full of guns and ammunition, and nobody suspected anything! – ?And you know what?? again she leaned forward and whispered

?After all the haircutting I remember going into my storage room to look at all the things I had there: scarves, old hats, knitted caps for children, all of it things gone out of fashion, things I thought I?d never sell ? the next day it was all gone and I?d made almost three hundred Francs!?

?Supply and demand? I added, ?oh yes monsieur? she said with a chuckle ?but you know Monsieur? she continued, ?that was nothing compared to what I got from selling all that hair to wigmakers in Paris??

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