Obituary: General Maurice Chevance-Bertin

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Maurice Chevance-Bertin was one of the most distinguished leaders of the French Resistance. He was also one of the most interesting, because he was personally involved in some of the deepest controversies concerning the essential nature of the movement.

He was an officer in the colonial army when, after the defeat of 1940, he was recruited by Captain Henry Frenay for his embryo resistance movement in southern France. As one of the very first members of this organisation who became second in command to Frenay, Chevance-Bertin was probably the very first to learn the contents of his leader's "Manifesto".

The details of this declaration have caused considerable debate amongst historians. Frenay was certainly a Petainist who believed that it was the hero of Verdun who would ultimately save France and who did not respond to de Gaulle. But did he accept Petain's National Revolution and collaboration with the Germans? Chevance-Bertin played his part in saving Frenay from the bitterest criticisms; he searched his memory (sometimes with the assistance of his wife) and he went to the archives.

Chevance-Bertin was an important witness in deciding when it was that Frenay accepted de Gaulle as his leader. It was right at the beginning of January, in 1942, and he was with Frenay when they met Jean Moulin in Agnes Bidault's house in Marseilles. Moulin had come straight from de Gaulle in London. Suggestions that Frenay had been converted to Gaullism much earlier are thus contradicted, and the evidence of the persistence of loyalty to Petain amongst army officers who were in the resistance is confirmed.

Further evidence of the complexities of Vichy supporters came when Chevance- Bertin was arrested by the French police in Lyons in 1942 and the names of other members of the Resistance were discovered amongst his papers. This could have been a devastating blow but Chevance-Bertin and his companions were soon released by the intervention of a Colonel Rollin, who was working closely with Admiral Darlan and who, probably with British support, was seeking an understanding with certain resistance groups.

But more tragically, the man who had been Chevance-Bertin's chief assistant, Jean Multon, was arrested by the Gestapo at the beginning of 1943 and accepted to work with them. It was certainly through him that Jean Moulin, then the head of the National Council for the Resistance, was betrayed to the Germans, tortured and killed. But Chevance-Bertin, with typical independence, differed from Frenay and others, in believing that a certain resistance fighter called Hardy had also been involved in telling the Germans about the fatal meeting on 21 June 1943 when Moulin was captured.

Chevance-Bertin worked closely with the National Council of Resistance, and in April 1944, when he went to London and to Algiers, he was made the officer commanding in the south and south-west of France, in charge of the amalgamation of resistance fighters and army units. This was a difficult task. One example was the violent disagreement between a resistance leader, Colonel Schneider, and General de Lattre de Tassigny, in which the intervention of General Chevance-Bertin (as he then had become) was successful. He led a large army to liberate the coast of Vendee in 1944.

Maurice Chevance (he took the name of Bertin when he was in the Resistance) was born in 1910 in the Oise. He was always involved in African affairs and after the war he became deputy for Guinea. He was a member of the Democratic and Socialist party which had emerged from the Resistance and which was led by Rene Pleven and Francois Mitterrand, but in 1958 he was in favour of the return of de Gaulle to power. He had considerable interests in Africa and he created the review Climats, which was concerned with overseas affairs.

Maurice Chevance-Bertin, soldier, wartime resistance leader and politician: born Nanteuil-le-Hardoin (Oise) 6 March 1910; author of Vingt-mille Heures d'Angoisse 1990; married (five children); died Paris 17 June 1996.