France mourns loss of heroic WW2 Résistance fighter Pierre Simonet

"Companion of the Liberation" Pierre Simonet
"Companion of the Liberation" Pierre Simonet AFP - HANDOUT

Pierre Simonet, one of three remaining fighters in the French resistance to the Nazi occupation of World War II, has died aged 99. President Macron's office hailed a "hero" who was just 17 when he joined the fight to free France.


Pierre Simonet died on Thursday at the age of 99. He was one of just over a thousand resistance fighters decorated by Charles de Gaulle, who rallied the defeated French forces from London after Germany's 1940 invasion of the country.

"The president honours the life of this man driven by the love of liberty who, transcending risks and borders, was always guided by his immense love of France," the Elysee said in a statement released shortly after midnight.

His death comes just a few months the loss of another war hero Edgard Tupet-Thome. There are now just two men - Daniel Bouyjou-Cordier and Hubert Germain - who still link France to one of the most remarkable chapters in France's history.

Companion of the Liberation

Simonet was born in 1921 in Hanoi, Vietnam and arrived with his family in France when he was five.

He rejoined De Gaulle and asked to be a pilot despite not having a licence. He was asked to use his skills in mathematics to help form artillery battalions for the Free French Forces (FFL).

But he eventually did take to the skies, becoming a spotter during Operation Dragoon that debarked for the Italy campaign in 1944, in which French forces made up the bulk of the Allied force.

He was also part of the Expeditionary Force whose mission was to rally French West Africa (AOF) to Free France in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

By the end of the war, "he had chalked up 250 flight hours and 137 missions, earning him five distinctions and his designation as a Companion of the Liberation on December 27, 1945," the presidency said.

Pierre Simonet at the inauguration of French president François Hollande on 15 May 2012 at the Elysée Palace, Paris
Pierre Simonet at the inauguration of French president François Hollande on 15 May 2012 at the Elysée Palace, Paris © Wikimedia Commons by Cyclotron - Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 3.0

Rebels from the first hour

In June 1945, as a huge crowd gathered for a victory parade on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, Simonet had an idea to mark the occasion that would earn him a cherished place in aviation history.

After flying over the famed avenue in his Piper Cub, Simonet asked his fellow flyers: "How about we go underneath the Eiffel Tower?"

Wisely not asking his superiors for permission, Simonet and the others carried off the feat to the astonishment of onlookers.

"For us, rebels from the first hour, we had to do something out of the ordinary," he said in a 2015 interview.

Simonet went on to have a long career in international public service, including roles at the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

(with AFP)





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