Obituary: Lt-Col Paul Riviere

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PAUL RIVIERE was one of the critical figures in French resistance to Nazi occupation. He ran, from the French end, secret air landings in southern France in 1942 to 1944.

Born in 1912, he was a schoolmaster as his father had been; and so was made a sergeant instructor at the cavalry cadet's school at Saumur, of which staff and students together held out for three days against the otherwise headlong-victorious German army in June 1940.

Riviere evaded capture and went back to his home in Burgundy, where he joined Henri Frenay's early resistance movement Combat. After serving an apprenticeship delivering clandestine newspapers, he graduated to receiving a parachute drop in June 1942. The Vichy police then caught up with him and put him in prison at Lyons for four months on the charge of distributing anti- government propaganda. He was let out just before the Germans occupied Vichy's hitherto "free" two-fifths of France; and went straight back to helping receive the Lysander aircraft in which Frenay returned to France.

He was himself brought over to England for training by Hudson in May 1943 and at once made friends with Hugh Verity who commanded the Lysander flight of 161 Squadron (and has described its work vividly in We Landed by Moonlight, first published in 1978 and still in print). He was also much taken by Genevieve Fassin, who helped lay out the lights for that Hudson; they later married.

He parachuted back into France in July to replace Bruno Larat, who had organised his flight out, as head of the Service d'Atterrissages et Parachutages, the Free French organisation that co-operated with the RAF and with SOE in arranging parachute drops and secret pick-ups by light aircraft all over southern France (Larat had fallen into enemy hands).

He personally received at least one Hudson a month for several months thereafter: no easy task. For each operation he had to find a suitable field, clear it with the Air Ministry by secret wireless, find reliable friends to help him light it when a coded message on the BBC's French service told him the aircraft was coming, collect and hide the departing passengers, and have a safe hiding place for any arrivals.

His passengers included a future president of France, Vincent Auriol; General de Lattre de Tassigny; and several past and future ministers of the third and fourth Republics, as well as such heroes of resistance as Richard Heslop and Victor Gerson. His wife supported him through all the perils, and was quite capable of managing a secret air landing by herself if such chance made her husband unavailable.

All this was done in the teeth of 15 separate Vichy French police forces, as well as the Abwehr and the Gestapo; none of whom ever got hold of Riviere again. Occasionally, indeed, he found the French police helpful. Once he was almost run over by a Hudson that landed across wind and lost his pipe and spectacles; a gendarme searching the field next morning found them and unobtrusively handed them back.

On the night of 8/9 February 1944 a Hudson received by Riviere stuck in the mud at the edge of its field in Burgundy. Manpower could not shift it. The mayor of the nearby village arrived and mobilised a pair of oxen and a carthorse. They got the Hudson clear and it took off, safely carrying with it an RAF evader and two eminent resisters on the run, the Aubracs with their little boy. Madame Aubrac went into labour on the journey and had her baby later that day.

He was brought out to England again by Hudson in May 1944. More passengers had been carried secretly between France and England by his agency than by any other. As his official rank was still sergeant, he was fobbed off with a military medal; an OBE was added later when de Gaulle made him a Lieutenant-Colonel.

In that rank he served successively in Indo-China, Germany and Japan, where he was military attache from 1956-59. He then had the horrible posting of chief security officer in Algeria from which he was glad to retire to politics in 1962. He was deputy for the Loire department for 16 years and retired happily to live at Montagny, of which he was mayor.Paul Claude Marie Riviere, army officer and wartime resister: born Montagny, France 22 November 1912; married 1943 Genevieve Fassin (deceased; three sons, one daughter); died Lyons, France 16 December 1998.