Originally written in 1938, Charles Trenet’s ‘Boum’ (Boom) expressed the joie de vivre that epitomised French life at the time. The lyrics described a man newly in love, feeling his heart going ‘boom’ and seeing the world in an entirely new way. The song was so popular it won Trenet the Grand Prix du Disque. The song’s popularity endured during the Occupation, but it underwent several revisions to suit the new, less joyful prevailing mood. The various versions that emerged give voice to a diversity of French responses.
During the worst of the German blitz on London in the spring of 1941, Maurice van Moppes, a French illustrator and writer, wrote new lyrics to the song praising the courage and perseverance of the British and issuing a threat to the Nazis. The song was broadcast on radio and included in a pamphlet entitled Chansons de la BBC (Songs of the BBC) which was parachuted by the RAF into France to encourage ill-feeling towards Laval and demonstrate support for the British.
Several listeners sent in their own lyrics in response to van Moppes, including a 1941 version that celebrated RAF bombing successes in France: ‘Mais boum! L’avion anglais fait: boum! / Tout avec lui dit: boum! / Et les coeurs Français tressaillent!’ (But boom! The English plane goes: boom! / Everyone says with it: boom! / And the hearts of the French people flutter).
Another set of lyrics was written by Jean Nocher in 1942. Under the pseudonyms of Pleyel, Dural, and Merlin, Nocher had founded the resistance group Espoir (Hope) in Saint-Etienne and become departmental head of the southern resistance organisation Franc-Tireur (Maverick), which published several journals and organised sabotage groups. He was arrested in September 1942 and imprisoned at the detention centre Saint-Paul in Lyon. The lyrics he wrote during his imprisonment express a sadistic joy in sabotage and became famous as the song of the Saint-Paul terrorists:
The song’s popularity endured after the war and it was used in adverts for a variety of products from cars to vodka. In the 1970s it featured on an episode of the popular documentary series The World at War, where it accompanied the sound of machine guns on the Maginot Line (a wall built along the east border of France to protect it from German invasion in 1939). This song is one of the best-known symbols of WWII in France, and remains associated with it today.
By Daisy Fancourt
Chimello, Sylvia La Résistance en chantant (Paris, 2004)
Van Moppes, Maurice Chansons de la BBC et images de Paris (Paris, 1945).