One of France’s last remaining French resistance heroes Daniel Cordier, has died aged 100.
One of only two remaining Compagnons de la Libération, an honour awarded by France’s exiled wartime leader, Charles de Gaulle, to those who risked their lives to liberate France from Nazi occupation, Emmanuel Macron said there would be a national ceremony to honour his memory.
“When France was in danger, he and his compagnons took every risk so that France remained France. We owe them our freedom and our honour,” Macron wrote in a tweet.
Cordier was secretary to the French resistance leader, Jean Moulin, who was killed by the Gestapo in 1943.
Born into a wealthy family in Bordeaux, Cordier admitted he was a monarchist and in his own words “fiercely antisemitic” before the war when he was a member of the ultra-nationalist Action Française.
After the German invasion in 1940, Cordier was appalled as he listened to the radio address by Marshal Philippe Pétain, leader of the collaborationist Vichy government, calling on the French army to surrender, a decision he considered a disgraceful betrayal.
“I raced upstairs and flung myself on my bed and I sobbed. But then it must have been half an hour later, I suddenly drew myself up, and I said to myself: ‘But no, this is ridiculous. He (Pétain) is just a stupid old fool! We have to do something,” he later recalled.
He and 16 friends immediately set off aboard a ship from Bayonne to join De Gaulle in London, landing in Falmouth seven days later. Cordier underwent military training in the UK and then transferred to the secret intelligence service of the Free French, learning sabotage, radio transmission and parachuting.
He was parachuted into France in 1942, aged 22, with the codename Bip W, and ordered to make contact in Lyon with a man known only as “Rex”. The man he made contact with was, in fact, Moulin, who had organised and unified the Conseil National de la Résistance (National Resistance Council).
For a year he was Moulin’s right-hand man, drafting his correspondence and liaising with other resistance leaders. Moulin died after he was arrested by the Gestapo in July 1943, having been betrayed to the Nazis and tortured. He died onboard a train to Germany.
Cordier continued to rally and organise resistance fighters while dodging the Germans himself, finally fleeing over the Pyrenees where he was arrested and interned before being transferred to London in May 1944.
After the war, Cordier opened a gallery in Paris – described by newspapers at the time as the “most original” in the French capital for its promotion of previously little-known contemporary artists.
He also wrote a bestselling and award-winning novel, Alias Caracalla, based on his wartime experiences with Moulin. His death leaves only one surviving member of the 1,038 Companions of the Liberation, Hubert Germain, who is also 100 years old.
In 2018, Cordier was awarded the Grand Croix of the Légion d’honneur, the highest decoration of the French state. As he decorated him, Macron told Cordier: “To be face to face with you is to find oneself immediately and compellingly face to face with history.”
Cordier, who was living in Cannes on the French Riviera at the time of his death, told Le Monde in 2018: “I’m an old but very, very happy old man,” and described his experience as not one life but “successive lives that were so different from one another”.