Obituary: Maurice Montel

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The Independent Online
18 June 1940 is regarded as a great date in French history. It was then that General de Gaulle broadcast from London that Free France would continue to fight against Germany. 10 July 1940 is regarded as a shameful date in French history. It was then that the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, meeting together as a National Assembly in Vichy, voted full powers to Marshal Petain. This marked the beginning of the Vichy state, the so-called National Revolution, and co- operation with the Germans.

But there was a bright side to 10 July. In an atmosphere of panic and passion, when pacifism was the only ideology present and when fear of the Germans and hatred of the English were the dominant feelings, there were 80 members of the Assembly who had the courage to vote against the proposed law which was presented by Pierre Laval with the reported support of Marshal Petain. Maurice Montel was the last of that distinguished group of patriots.

One had to be courageous to vote against Laval's law. Enormous trouble had been taken to round up as many senators and deputies as possible, and both the German occupying forces and General Franco's government had helped many of them to get to Vichy in time. It had been decided that those who abstained from voting would have their names published. The casino at Vichy, where the Assembly met, was heavily guarded and once proceedings had begun, no one could leave. No proper debate was held and one deputy who rose to speak was literally forced to sit down.

Above all, Laval had prepared the meeting with his cus-tomary skill. He had been lavish with promises and many were led to believe that they, or their families, would be rewarded with posts. Others had to be content with the assurance that Petain appreciated their qualities and valued their co-operation.

Montel was singled out for particular attention, and it appears that if he had accepted to vote for the proposal he would have been offered a ministerial post. This was probably because he and Laval knew each other, both coming from the region of Clermont- Ferrand. But more particularly because Montel was a member of a small political group which called itself "la gauche independante" and which had aspirations of independence from the old political groupings. Leval was right to be apprehensive about this group since of the 11 deputies who were elected in 1936, six voted against the motion, whilst of the 152 socialist deputies only 29 voted against (including, of course, Leon Blum, who Montel knew well). After the war the 80 senators and deputies formed a group which met every 10 July. Montel became their president.

In the war from 1939 to 1940 Montel served in the army and won the Croix de Guerre. After 10 July he worked in insurance before joining the Resistance and was decorated for his work there. With the Liberation he was re-elected deputy in the Cantal where he had been elected, at Saint-Flour, in 1936. However, after a short time he preferred to abandon politics and go into business. This son of peasants was very successful, becoming a director of several insurance companies.

Maurice Montel, politician and businessman: born Espaly-St-Marcel, Haute- Loire 10 June 1900; died Ruynes-en-Margeride, Clermont-Ferrand 14 May 1996.