Hubert Germain: France's last Hero of the Resistance

Paris (AFP) –


Hubert Germain, the last of France's officially designated Heroes of the Resistance, has died aged 101.

He was the only surviving member of the 1,038-strong Order of the Liberation -- France's highest bravery order -- handpicked by the country's wartime hero, General Charles De Gaulle.

Germain made his last public appearance in June in a wheelchair alongside President Emmanuel 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.

The son of a general in France's colonial army, he walked out of an entrance exam at France's Naval College shortly after France fell to the Germans in the summer of 1940.

"I am going to war," he told the shocked examiner.

Standing 1.90 metres tall (six foot three inches), he boarded a ship carrying Polish soldiers to England, where he arrived on June 24, 1940.

His shock at the collaborationist General Philippe Petain's call to lay down arms prompted him to take a decision many at the time thought rash and foolhardy.

He said he would never forget his first meeting with de Gaulle.

"He stopped for a second, looked at me and said: 'I am going to need you.'

"When at the age of 18 you get that amid a general disaster, it is something that moves you deeply."

- 'Cried like a baby' -

As a member of the French Free Forces and the Foreign Legion, he fought 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 then participated in the decisive French-led landing on the country's Mediterranean beaches 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."

He 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.

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, before becoming an MP in 1962 and serving as post and telecommunications minister from 1972 to 1974.

Germain will be buried alongside other members of the elite order at Mont Valerien, the military fortress west of Paris where more than 1,000 Resistance fighters and hostages were executed by the Nazis.