Col Daniel Divry

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The Independent Online

Daniel Divry, soldier and businessman: born Saint Quentin, France 7 May 1912; died Nanterre, France 16 September 2001.

Daniel Divry was a distinguished and much-decorated soldier who, on leaving the French army in 1961, embarked on a successful business career.

He was two years old when the First World War broke out and remembered nothing of what happened until 1916, when he was living with his mother and grandmother in German-occupied territory. They were in the village of L'Arbre-de-Guise, which had some 30 inhabitants, lying six kilometres to the north of Cateau (where the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis had been signed between France and Spain in 1559, confirming French possession of Toul, Metz and Verdun).

He remembered how the Germans established themselves in his grandmother's house and that at some point she disappeared. He was told what had happened to her and how she had been awarded the Legion of Honour after her death, but as he grew up he forgot her story. He only had her photograph to remind him of her and of the Légion d'honneur.

Divry was educated in Paris and took a degree at Sciences-Politiques before taking up the law as his profession. In 1939 he was called up and served with a tank regiment. He took part in the Norwegian campaign and distinguished himself in a battle against the Germans at Ankenes, before being evacuated to England in June 1940.

It was then that he had to decide whether he would stay in England, in response to the appeal of General de Gaulle, or whether he would return to France. Many of his companions decided to abandon England, having little expectation that English resistance to the Germans would be lasting. Some thought that the honour of the French army would be lost if they became a mere foreign contingent on British soil, comparable to the Poles of the Dutch. One senior officer who Divry consulted said that he refused to serve under the orders of a two-star general.

In spite of these arguments Divry decided to join the Free French and he afterwards claimed that it was the thought of his grandmother that helped him make up his mind. He felt that this was what she wanted him to do.

In September he sailed with the Free French expedition to Dakar, and when that failed he was landed at Douala in the French Cameroons, which had declared its support for Free France. From there the forces of de Gaulle engaged in conflict for the first time, fighting against the soldiers of Vichy.

From then onwards Divry was engaged in almost continuous fighting. He fought against Vichy forces in Syria and Lebanon and, when the commander of the Free French tanks, Jean Volvey, was wounded before Damascus in June 1941, it was Divry who took over their command. With the rank of Captain, he was attached to the British Eighth Army in Egypt, and later took part in the battle of El Alamein, where his tanks fought successfully against the Germans. In March 1943 he fought, again under the command of General Montgomery, at the battle of Medenine, in southern Tunisia.

As second in command of the 501st regiment of tanks, in the army of General Leclerc, he was moved to northern England, to prepare for the Allied landings in France. But in June 1944 he was transferred to the intelligence unit, and landed secretly in Normandy, along with the Americans. His job was to make contact with the Resistance and to prepare the French population for the arrival of Gaullist troops. His mission was considered important, and when General Leclerc was giving out coded numbers to refer to the leaders of his force, he gave No 1 to Divry because he was already in France, No 2 to de Gaulle and No 3 to himself.

The date of 20 July 1944 was the last day when General Leclerc's forces were in Yorkshire as they moved south for their landing in France (29 July). It was then that they received a long communication from Divry describing the state of the French now that the Germans had been thrown out of their towns and villages. They had suffered four years of misery, lies, hunger, pain, despair and egoism. France needed air that was pure, they needed enthusiasm and youth. Everyone who read this letter was deeply moved.

Divry joined Leclerc's division in August 1944 and took part in the battle of France, particularly distinguishing himself in engagements with strong German forces in Alsace, notably at Bouxwiller and Grussenheim. He took part in the final fighting of the war in the Bavarian Alps. He was one of the French soldiers who had the satisfaction of visiting Hitler's eagle's nest at Berchtesgaden.

After the Second World War he fought in Indo-China, and then from 1947 he entered the counter- espionage service. From 1955 to 1958 he served as military attaché in Israel. After postings in Paris, he left the army, perhaps disappointed that he had not been promoted beyond the rank of lieutenant-colonel. But the electronics industry gave him prosperity and success.

He had been made Companion of the Liberation, the highest Gaullist honour, and had many French and allied military decorations, as well as the Legion d'honneur and the Order of Merit.

Douglas Johnson