The last member of an elite group of decorated French Resistance fighters who helped liberate France from Nazi control during the Second World War, has died aged 101.
Born in Paris in 1920, Hubert Germain walked out of his entry exam for France’s Naval Academy to join the resistance in June 1940, just after the French state surrendered to the Nazis.
He turned in a blank exam, telling the shocked examiner: ‘I am going to war’, and days later, he was on a boat to London to join General Charles de Gaulle’s Free France Force.
‘Rising from his examination table, he preferred to hand in a blank paper rather than give a blank cheque to the France that had gone to bed, that had given in to resignation and renunciation,’ President Emmanuel Macron‘s office said, adding that Germain ’embodied a century of freedom.’
Germain, himself the son of a decorated general, later recalled his first meeting with de Gaulle, a moment he said he would never forget.
‘He stopped for a second, looked at me and said: “I am going to need you.”
Hubert Germain left France shortly after the country surrendered to the Nazis in June 1940. He fled to London where he joined General Charles de Gaulle’s Free France Force
Pictured: Germain (back, centre) with General Charles de Gaulle (left) in Tunisia in 1943
‘When at the age of 18 you get that amid a general disaster, it is something that moves you deeply.’
Wounded in Italy during the war, Germain fought as a member of the France Free Force and the Foreign Legion in key north African battles at Bir-Hakeim in Libya, El Alamein in Egypt and in the fierce battles in Tunisia with the Afrika Korps led by German general Erwin Rommel.
He also fought in what is now Syria and took part in the so-called ‘southern D-Day’ Allied landings on the shores of Provence in August 1944, setting foot on home soil for the first time in four years.
He fell into the sand and ‘cried like a baby’, he later recalled. ‘I had returned to my country.’
Germain then helped liberate the key southern port of Toulon, the Rhone Valley and Lyon in central France, before slugging it out with the retreating Germans in the Vosges mountains and Alsace in the east. He was in the southern Alps when Germany surrendered.
French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured right with Germain in June 2020) said Germain ’embodied a century of freedom’
Germain (left) with Captain Paul Arnault, also a Companion of the Liberation, in South El Alamein in 1942
Germain fought as a member of the France Free Force and the Foreign Legion in key north African battles at Bir-Hakeim in Libya, El Alamein in Egypt and in the fierce battles in Tunisia with the Afrika Korps led by German general Erwin Rommel
Germain was decorated by de Gaulle with the esteemed Order of the Liberation – an honour given to only 1,038 people celebrated as Companions of the Liberation, considered France’s highest bravery honour.
Germain was their last surviving member, according to the Museum of the Order of the Liberation.
‘With the departure of the last representative of this knighthood of the 20th century, a page of our history is turning,’ defence minister Florence Parly said.
Several members of the French Resistance still survive, though their numbers are dwindling. Germain died in Paris on Tuesday, the cause of his death has not been reported.
After the war Germain was named aide de camp to General Pierre Koenig, the commander of the French forces occupying Germany, before being demobilised in 1946.
He soon moved into politics and was the Gaullist mayor of Saint-Cheron, a town south of Paris, between 1953 and 1965.
In 1962, he became an MP and served as deputy for Paris’ 14th arrondissement from from then until 1967, then again from 1968 until 1972, and for a third time in 1973.
Germain later became France’s Minister for Post and Telecommunications under Pierre Messmer’s government.
After the war, Germain (pictured left in 1972) moved into politics and was the Gaullist mayor of Saint-Cheron, a town south of Paris, before becoming an MP in 1962 and serving as post and telecommunications minister from 1972 to 1974
He also took part in war commemorations until he was at least 99, a towering figure standing at six foot three inches and decked out in his uniform weighed down with medals.
He made his last public appearance in June in a wheelchair alongside Macron at a ceremony to mark the moment many consider the resistance to the Nazi occupation began – with de Gaulle’s radio broadcast from London on June 18, 1940.
In November 2020, Germain was made an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire.
Germain was born in Paris’ 16th arrondissement on August 6 1920. His father, Maxime Germain, was a general in France’s colonial army, who served in Syria and what was then Indochina.
Germain’s father became a Chevalier of France’s Legion of Honour in 1921 and served under Philippe Petain during the latter’s time as Minister of War.
Petain became the head of the Vichy state which collaborated with the Nazis after France surrendered.
During this period, Germain’s father was sent to what was then French Somalia to prevent the colony from backing De Gaulle.
He was suspected of having a lukewarm attitude to collaboration with the Nazis and was retired in 1942, just one year after being named inspector of colonial troops.
In May 1944, he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Germany, returning to France one year later. He died in 1953.
A memorial ceremony for Germain will be held at the Invalides monument in Paris in the coming days, according to Macron’s office.
Germain will be buried alongside other members of the elite order at the Mont-Valerien memorial site west of Paris on November 11, when France celebrates Armistice Day.
What was the French Resistance in WWII?
Resistance in France began as soon as Nazis invaded in May 1940. At first, the French people acted alone and helped Allied soldiers and prisoners escape from the Germans. They would also hide Jewish people to save them.
They would write and print leaflets criticising the Nazis and distribute them secretly.
On 18 June 1940, Charles de Gaulle addressed the people of France from London and called on them to continue their fight against the Germans.
Four days later, on 22 June, when France surrendered to Germany, the French people reacted by organising groups which were collectively called the French Resistance.
The resistance movement in France developed to provide the Allies with intelligence, attack the Germans when possible and to assist in the escape of Allied airmen.
By the end of 1942, de Gaulle became the head of the Comité Français de Libération Nationale which led all resistance movements in France. This greater organisation meant the French Resistance became more effective in its efforts in 1943.
The resistance movement greatly increased their attacks on the French rail system, which drastically affected the German army’s ability to move equipment.
By 1944, it is estimated that there were 100,000 members of the French Resistance in France and there were 60 intelligence cells whose task was to collect intelligence rather than carry out acts of sabotage.
In the lead up to D-Day, the intelligence the French Resistance gathered was vital. In May 1944 alone, they had sent 3,000 written reports to the Allies and 700 wireless reports.
The brave members of the Resistance faced torture by the SS, with many ending up either dead or in a concentration camp.