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Oyonnax (Municipality, Ain, France)

Last modified: 2019-04-06 by ivan sache
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Flag of Oyonnax, two versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 14 February 2019, and Ivan Sache, 30 May 2014, respectively

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Presentation of Oyonnax

The municipality of Oyonnax (22,459 inhabitants in 2011; 3,598 ha; municipal website) is located in upper Bugey, at mid distance (100 km) of Lyon and Geneva. The former municipalities of Veyziat and Bouvent were incorporated to Oyonnax in 1973.

Oyonnax was located in a sparsely inhabited area, where agriculture was the main source of (low) income. The farmers spent the long and harsh winter crafting wooden items; as soon as spring made the roads practicable, several farmers went hawking their items. Oyonnax exerted a local monopoly on the production of boxwood combs; the tradition claims that the monopoly was granted in the 7th century by King of the Franks Clovis II. Around 630, Leodegarius, the king's emissary, had to stop his journey in Oyonnax after a wheel of his cart had broken down. To reward the villagers who had taken him in while they swiftly repaired the cart, Leodegarius urged the king to grant them the monopoly of comb production. Later appointed bishop of Autun and martyred during the political unrest that scoured the waning Merovingian kingdom, Leodegarius was canonized as St. Leodegar (French, St. Léger).

In the beginning of the 19th century, the exhaustion of the boxwood resources prompted the craftsmen of Oyonnax to use horn instead. Horn had to be heated, flattened, cut and shaped into curves, which boosted the development of specific skills. At the end of the 19th century, a few innovative craftsmen brought back from the Paris International Fair to Oyonnax a new material invented in 1870 by the Hyatt brothers. The material was the first plastic, celluloid, to which the local craftsmen adapted once again their traditional skills. The factory "L'Oyonnaxienne" was established in 1889 to produce celluloid combs.
The small, family workshops that thrived in Oyonnax and in the neighbouring villages in the beginning of the 20th century were a source of innovation. New products were manufactured, while new processes, such as injection pressing (1934), were invented. The production was diversified to all kinds of plastic items: optical frames, toys, domestic goods, outdoors furniture, and industrial packaging.
The industrial basin of Oyonnax in known as "Plastics Vallée", a named coined on the model of the Silicon Valley. Now the biggest concentration of plastic industries in Europe, the valley groups more than 650 companies employing more than 15,000 workers.

Upper Bugey was a stronghold of the anti-German Resistance during the Second World War (memorial website). The uneven topography and the proximity with Switzerland allowed the establishment of several maquis. In 1943, the collaborationist French State forbid the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the armistice of 11 November 1918. Colonel Henri Romans- Petit, the leader of the local maquis, decided to set up a feat that would improve the image of the maquis, which were presented by the French State as bands of irregular mercenaries and terrorists. With the clandestine support of several civilians and members of the local administration, 150 members of the local maquis organized on 11 November 1943 a march in the streets of Oyonnax.
The column marched along the main street of Oyonnax behind the (forbidden) French flag; they eventually reached the war memorial, where they sung the (forbidden) Marseillaise and placed a spray of flowers shaped like a Cross of Lorraine, inscribed with the writing "Les vainqueurs de demain à ceux de 14-18" (The future winners to those of 14-18).
On 31 December in Lyon, 25,000 copies of a faked issue of the collaborationist newspaper Le nouvelliste were substituted to the official copies validated by censorship. The newspaper reported in detail the Oyonnax march, provided news on the real situation on the Italian front and on air raids in Germany, and announced that Marshal Pétain had re-established the French Republic.
The Oyonnax feat dramatically changed the national and international image of the resistance movements. They were eventually perceived as organized groups supervized by officers and able to speed up the German defeat. In London, Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie related the march to Winston Churchill and urged him to increase support to the resistance movements; Churchill eventually decided to supply the resistance movements with ammunition, which dramatically increased their contribution to the liberation of France.

Ivan Sache, 30 May 2014

Flag of Oyonnax

The flag of Oyonnax (photo) is white with the municipal logo.

Oyonnax once used a white flag charged with the greater municipal arms in the middle (observation at the Town Hall by Pascal Vagnat, May 2007).
The arms of Oyonnax are "Per pale or and sable a fir countercoloured a chief or three combs or. The shield surmounted by a mural crown or and supported by two ewes proper. Beneath the shield a scroll argent inscribed with 'IMPROBO FABRUM LABORE ASCENDIT' . The Medal of the Resistance and the Cross of War appended to the shield."
The firs and the combs highlight the resources of the town, also recalled by the town's motto, in Latin, "It raised thanks to the unrelenting work of its craftsmen". The ewes recall the etymology of the name of the town,"the Ewes' Island".
The Medal of the Resistance was granted to the town of Oyonnax on 16 June 1947. While some 64,000 medals were granted, mostly to individuals), only 18 towns were granted the medal.
The Cross of War, with silver-gilt star, was granted to the town of Oyonnax by Decision No. 78, adopted on 11 November 1948 by the French Government. The illustrated grant does not explicitly mention the Oyonnax march, which is, however, represented by a photo of the event placed in the diploma's upper left corner (photo).

Ivan Sache & Olivier Touzeau, 14 February 2019