Gaullist Minister Wrote Popular Anthem

Agence France-Presse
Thursday, April 16, 2009

Maurice Druon, 90, a French writer who was one of the last links to Gen. Charles de Gaulle's London-based government in exile, died April 14, it was reported from Paris. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Druon, a former Gaullist minister and lifelong Anglophile, was best known as the author of "Le Chant des Partisans," or "The Partisans' Song," France's most popular patriotic anthem after "La Marseillaise." He wrote the song with his uncle, writer Joseph Kessel, in 1943 after joining De Gaulle in London as a young cavalry officer.

A sampling of the lyrics: "Friend, do you hear the black flight of the crows on the plains? Friend, do you hear the deaf cries of a country in chains? Partisans, workers, peasants! It is the alarm!"

The song, which was dropped from allied aircraft during World War II, passed secretly through occupied France, sung at Resistance meetings and in Nazi prison cells, was common knowledge by the time France was liberated in 1944.

The anthem is sung on national holidays. Artists who have recorded it include Yves Montand and Johnny Hallyday.

Born in Paris to a Russian father, Mr. Druon courted controversy in later years through his friendship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who professed admiration for a man who lived the "life of a legend."

The conservative newspaper Le Figaro devoted a two-page spread to the "lord of literature," and the liberal Liberation painted him as an "old reactionary" redeemed by his youthful exploits.

The French writer was one of the last links with De Gaulle's government of exiled fugitives from the Vichy administration.

Taken on as aide-de-camp to a Free French general, Mr. Druon became one of a hand-picked group of journalists who broadcast to occupied France from the BBC in London.

After the war, he built a rich career as a writer of historical novels, including "Les Rois Maudits," or "The Accursed Kings," and won France's top literary prize, the Goncourt, in 1948. He served as culture minister in the 1970s and as head of the prestigious Academie Francaise.

Mr. Druon remained a lifelong defender of all things British, in 1972 taking charge of the government campaign to persuade the French to let Britain into the European Economic Community.

As head of the Academie Francaise, the sacred custodian of the French language, he approved the passage of scores of English words -- such as "tweed" and the golf term "birdie" -- into French.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse in 2004, he recalled his debt of gratitude to Britain, which made him an honorary Knight of the British Empire.

"I lived the life of Londoners -- and thence comes my immense gratitude and my deep attachment with the British people. I do not think there has ever been a people in the world who displayed a heroism as discreet, as mundane and as universal," he said.

"It affected everyone from the Queen Mother to my chauffeur, who in the middle of an air raid would still stop at the traffic lights! One day my secretary came and said, 'I'm sorry I am late. My house was bombed last night.' It was business as usual amid the rubble!"

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