France mourns Resistance songsmith Maurice Druon

France mourns Resistance songsmith Maurice Druon

17th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Tributes have poured in following the death of the French writer Maurice Druon, one of the last links to General Charles de Gaulle's London-based government in exile.

PARIS - A former Gaullist minister and lifelong Anglophile, Druon, who died aged 90 at his home Tuesday, was best known as the author of the Song of the Partisans -- France's most popular patriotic anthem after the Marseillaise.

He wrote the song with his uncle, the writer Joseph Kessel, in 1943 after joining De Gaulle in London as a young cavalry officer.

"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!" run the song lyrics.

Dropped from allied aircraft, passed on secretly through occupied France, sung at Resistance meetings and in Nazi prison cells, the song was common knowledge by the time France was liberated in 1944.

The anthem is sung on national holidays, and among the artists who have recorded it are Yves Montand and Johnny Hallyday.

President Nicolas Sarkozy led tributes to "a great writer, a great Resistance fighter, a great politician and a great soul," while Prime Minister Francois Fillon paid his respects to "a man of action and intelligence."

Born in Paris to a Russian father, 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."

While the right-wing Le Figaro devoted a two-page spread to the "lord of literature," the left-wing Liberation painted him as an "old reactionary" who was 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 government.

Taken on as aide-de-camp to a Free French general, 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, winning France's top literary prize the Goncourt in 1948, serving as culture minister in the 1970s and as head of the prestigious Academie Francaise.

Druon remained a life-long 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 -- from the golf term "birdie" to "tweed" -- into French.

In an interview with AFP 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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