Days of Glory:
remembering the forgotten soldiers from North Africa

Christophe Chataigné reviews the new film about North African soldiers who liberated France from the Nazis

This week sees the British release of Days of Glory, a war film that focuses on a hidden fact of the Second World War – the contribution of hundred of thousands of North African soldiers recruited from France’s colonies, known as “indigènes” in French.

It is the first film to depict the motives and experiences of the North Africans who joined General Charles de Gaulle’s army and fought to liberate France from the Nazis. And it has touched a raw nerve in France, sparking huge debates and enraging politicians from Jean-Marie Le Pen’s fascist Front National.

The official history of France celebrates the “Free French” army led by De Gaulle. It downplays how the bulk of the French ruling class collaborated with Hitler once France was occupied by the Nazis in May 1940.

What isn’t widely known is that in 1944 more than half of the Free French army’s 550,000 soldiers were colonial subjects from the “empire” – 134,000 Algerians, 73,000 Moroccans, 26,000 Tunisians and 92,000 sub-Saharan Africans.

A Scene from the film

The fact that France was rescued from the Nazis largely by black and brown troops remains a sore point for racists in the country today.

Days of Glory starts in Sétif, Algeria, in 1943 as volunteers for De Gaulle’s army wait to be shipped to the front.

It centres on four “indigènes” from Morocco and Algeria, who have volunteered for a variety of reasons – money, love of France, to escape poverty, to prove that North Africans were equal to the French, or even just a desire for adventure.

They start fighting in Italy before moving on to Provence in the south of France, then up through the mountainous Vosges region in the north west.

Eventually they find themselves alone, defending a village in Alsace-Lorraine – a border region between France and Germany that was annexed by the Nazis.


This is the stuff of conventional Second World War movies – but the twist in Days of Glory is that there is a war within the war.

Even though the indigènes are fighting and dying with their French comrades, the soldiers from the colonies are victims of racism and injustice.

They are served separate meals with smaller food rations. They have less leave from the front than French soldiers.

And they face the constant paranoia of the authorities who are desperate to prevent relationships forming between French women and African soldiers – even to the extent of censoring or blocking mail between them.

Racist Nazi poster entitled ‘France’s mistake’

Days of Glory’s director Rachid Bouchareb and its co-writer Olivier Lorelle prepared for the film by combing through archive material from the Free French Forces, as well as visiting places in France, Algeria, Morocco and Senegal to meet veterans of the war and their families.

The film was released in France last year and highlighted the scandal of indigènes pensioners.

After liberation, soldiers from the colonies learnt that they would have to do with a lesser war pension than their European counterparts – and from 1959, when the old colonies become independent, the French government decided to freeze their pensions altogether.


Over the years these pensions dwindled to a small fraction of those of other veterans.

The outcry that followed the film’s release eventually pressurised France’s president Jacques Chirac into promising to spend 100 million euros a year to bring the indigènes pensions in line with those of French veterans.

Days of Glory pays homage to all the soldiers from Africa that fought the Nazis and liberated France.

Indigènes fighting in eastern France

It also comes out at a time when the status of France’s immigrant communities has become an “issue” for all the mainstream political parties – especially following the youth uprising across France’s suburbs in late 2005.

Don’t miss your chance to catch one of the most thought provoking and political war films you’re likely to see.

Read an interview with director Rachid Bouchareb here

From, read more about the film and its background here