On Friday, 18, June 2010, Général Marcel Bigeard died. He was and shall forever remainone of
He was a senior Non-Commissioned Officer during the Battle of France seventy years ago this year. Captured by the Germans, he escaped and then fought with the Free French.
And here is where
Then-Commandant (Major) Marcel Bigeard was one of the French soldiers who lived through the learning experience in Indochina (today’s
When he returned from captivity, he and many of his comrades decided to practice the lessons of this Viet Minh tutorial against the Communist Terrorist FLN, who had just massacred francophones in Sétif.
And it worked. Bigeard lead a storied unit (the 3ième Régiment des Parachutistes Coloniaux) of Général Jacques Massu’s 10ième Division Parachutiste during the Battle of Algiers, during which the 3è RPC, the Foreign Legion’s 1ier Régiment Étranger de Parachutiste and other Regiments of the 10 ième DP fought FLN bombmakers. By using what Bigeard and his fellow officers (including Bigeard’s fellow Indochina POW, the 1ier REP’s famed Colonel Pierre Jeanpierre, a Mathausen survivor who gave his life for France the following year in the Bled) had been inadvertently taught by their Vietminh captors, the French thoroughly smashed the FLN network in the city, which saw no further organised action by the terrorists for the duration of the war.
Sometime after the Battle of Algiers, Air Force General Maurice Challe took over as C-in-C of
Bigeard, unlike Generals Challe and Jouhaud, took no part in the anti-deGaulle resistance within the Army. He kept his cards close to his chest and soldiered on, rising to the rank of General before Giscard d’Estaing anointed him Secretary of State for Defence in the 1970’s.
The lessons of Indochina as applied in
But the legacy of Bigeard lives on in other ways. The French author and former soldier Jean Lartéguy immortalized Bigeard as “Colonel Pierre-Noël Raspéguy” in his romans à clefs, Les Centurions and Les Prétoriens . The former film was bastardised into a Hollywood Western set in Indochina and
Général Bigeard was also and shall ever remain a hero of mine. As a youth of French ancestry growing up in America before Al Gore invented the intar-web, I had learned French in high school, but, besides that, I had very little else to teach me how to be French. My mother is French-Canadian, but she was too busy with the abundant chores of survival to teach me anything but the rudiments. So, I turned to books, most particularly Dr. Fall’s books, MI-5 Officer Alastair Horne’s classics Verdun: The Price of Glory and A Savage War of Peace (not to be confused with neoconservative shill Max Boot’s interventionist apologia Savage Wars of Peace.) There was also Renoir’s classic film, La Grande Illusion (which was banned by both the Nazis and deGaulle, so you just know it has to be good) to be sure, but it was A Savage War of Peace about
Needless to say, when I moved back, it was a big shock to discover that the only thing the average French-Canadian has in common with Marcel Bigeard is aspects of a written language. The majority of these Franco-Saxons could and can do an ad lib doctoral thesis defence about the lives and misadventures of Madonna and Marilyn Manson, but mention to them the names “Jacques Massu” or “Maurice Challe” and all you get is a blank stare. Then again, the Franco-Saxons are hardly distinct from anyone else in
Little wonder, then, that we have the wars we have.
Rest in Peace, mon général. You are, at least, spared further exposure to this reiteration of late-era