Obituary: Pierre Fourcaud

PIERRE FOURCAUD was one of the earliest Frenchmen to rally to General de Gaulle in the summer of 1940, and one of the best.

He was born in St Petersburg, a subject of the last Tsar; his father was French, his mother Russian. His half-Slav ancestry betrayed itself not only in his faith, but also in his manners: he had enormous personal charm, yet could switch rapidly from kindness to severity.

He fought brilliantly in the French army in 1919 and again in 1940; and when France collapsed, he made his own way to London and volunteered instantly to go back to France as a secret agent. He maintained that the wide acquaintances he had made in the business world between the wars would be bound to provide useful intelligence.

Captain Dewavrin, later famous as Colonel Passy, the head of de Gaulle's Secret Services, took him at his word. Fourcaud set out in August, via Lisbon, and was at work in Marseilles by September, recruiting French socialists and radicals who would report what was going on.

All de Gaulle's early supporters were denounced at the time as far right- wingers; an accusation that did not in the least apply either to Passy or to Fourcaud. Fourcaud had had friends among the French inter-war intelligence chiefs; that did not make him a right-winger. Instead it gave him a few ideas about how his circuit, codenamed "Brutus", might work.

He went to Vichy, where he met among others Colonel Loustanau-Lacau, who was also busy setting up a quite different intelligence circuit, and was indeed a long way to the right in politics; he, who had met many brave men, said, long afterwards, that Fourcaud was outstanding even among them.

Fourcaud was back in London before the turn of the year and set off at once on his next mission, on 13 January 1941. He travelled again through Lisbon; charged both with continuing his intelligence work and (to Passy's annoyance) with an extra political mission as well, given to him directly by de Gaulle, of forming anti- Petainist groups in any Petainist circles he could find. But he held, quite properly, that it was a mistake to mix an intelligence mission with a political one.

It was perhaps fortunate that Fourcaud expended most of his vast strength of personality on keeping "Brutus" going. By March he had established tenuous wireless contact with London through a cumbrous set called "Romeo", and set up sub-circuits in Toulouse and Montpellier as well. He also got involved with some SOE agents who had blown up a power station near Bordeaux and needed help in crossing into Spain.

Politics were his undoing. On 25 August he went to call on Admiral Laborde, giving his own real name and rank (then Captain) as he did so, to ask the admiral for help in the Gaullist cause. He was shown the door, his name was reported to Vichy, and four days later he was arrested.

Colonel Paillole, the head of Vichy counter-espionage, already playing a double game, tried to keep him out of mischief. Lesser policemen who had arrested one of the SOE party and dug Fourcaud's name out of him tried to make trouble for him.

He fell ill and was moved to a prison hospital at Clermont-Ferrand, from where in August 1942 he managed to escape into Switzerland. From there he was brought out, via the French Riviera, in inconceivable discomfort; he travelled to Gibraltar with 89 companions in a 20-ton felucca and so back to de Gaulle's headquarters at Carlton Gardens. There he spent a useful year on de Gaulle's staff helping to articulate the national uprising for which the Gaullist hoped. In January 1944 he went back to France, as "Sphere", to lead the "Union" mission.

They travelled in plain clothes but took uniforms with them to impress the guerrilla leaders whom they met. Their object was to co-ordinate the activities of various maquis bands east of the River Rhone, particularly in the Vercors. The disaster that followed there was not Fourcaud's fault; well before it took place he had obeyed orders and withdrawn (again through Iberia) to London.

In the closing agonies of the Third Reich he went forward into Germany with his friend (Sir) Robin Brook to try and discover what had happened to F.E.E. Yeo-Thomas ("The White Rabbit"), an Anglo-Gaullist hero who had fallen into the Gestapo's hands. His fluent Russian saw them through several Red Army controls before they reached Buchenwald, from which Yeo- Thomas had escaped already.

After the war he went back to business but never forgot his Resistance friends - he came to London at the age of 93 to attend the funeral of one of his companions on "Union". He kept clear of professional politics, but was always ready to defend the reputation of the Resistance against revisionists - many of them ignorant of the facts of war and occupation - who sought to prove that it had all been a mistake.

Pierre Fourcaud, soldier and intelligence officer: born St Petersburg 27 March 1898; died Paris 2 May 1998.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...