Obituary: Pierre Comiti

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The Independent Online
The profession of bodyguard is dangerous, but it is fascinating. The guards live in an enforced intimacy with those whom they are guarding; they see and hear much that is unknown to other mortals. As bodyguard to the French president General Charles de Gaulle for many years, Paul Comiti was an outstanding member of the profession and innumerable journeys with de Gaulle, official visits and walkabouts, assassination attempts and rumours of violence meant that he had a vast experience.

The fact that Comiti had at one time worked for the Messageries de la Presse meant that he got on well with journalists and was ready to talk to them. He was a great source of anecdotes. Sitting in the front of the presidential car, next to the driver, he could hear de Gaulle's conversation. He found it particularly amusing when, on dramatic occasions or en route for some ceremony, the General would be discussing literature, reminiscing or encouraging a companion to gossip, when, to the world outside, the most serious conversations were taking place.

Comiti knew certain moments of achievement that went far beyond the ordinary duties of a bodyguard. In July 1967, when de Gaulle visited Canada, the episode in Montreal was carefully planned. The mayor of Montreal had arranged that de Gaulle should make a short speech to invited guests inside the town hall. When de Gaulle said that he wished to speak to the crowd outside the mayor explained that this was impossible because, unfortunately, no microphone was available. At this point Comiti took the General by the arm and led him on to the balcony where he had assisted in the mysterious installation of a microphone. De Gaulle's "Vive le Quebec Libre" speech followed.

In May 1968, when students were filling the streets of Paris with excited demonstrations, many Gaullists feared that power was slipping away from them. Therefore a counter-demonstration was planned. The headquarters of those who were organising this movement was the Service d'Action Civique, known as the SAC, a secret police which worked with the regular police. It was founded in 1960 and its president was Paul Comiti.

Working with Charles Pasqua (later the interior minister in 1993), a vast organisation was set up and the counter-demonstration planned for 30 May. The General was persuaded to bring forward a broadcast planned for 8pm to 4.30pm. It was with this knowledge, that the President was in a fighting mood, that more than half a million marched from the Place de le Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. De Gaulle, they shouted, was not alone. In Paris, as in Montreal, Comiti played a vital role in a successful operation.

By birth a Corsican, Comiti entered the Resistance in 1940 and was imprisoned by the Vichy authorities in Beyrouth. He escaped and, disguised as a monk, made his way to join the Free French. He served on warships, but at the Liberation ill-health made him leave the navy.

When de Gaulle founded his political party, the Rassemblement du Peuple Francais (Rally of the French People), in 1947, he had difficulty in preventing his meetings from being broken up by Communists and others. He therefore called on former members of the Resistance to help him and Comiti joined up with Pierre Debizet in September 1947 as second-in-command of these redoubtable strong-arm men, "les gorilles" as they were called.

It was natural that when de Gaulle became president in 1959 he should call on Comiti to be his chief bodyguard. After his death Comiti served with Georges Pompidou and assisted Valery Giscard d'Estaing on his visits abroad. But his loyalty was always to General de Gaulle, for whom, he said, he had been ready to die.

Paul Comiti, bodyguard: born Sotta, Corsica 30 November 1921; died Paris 5 March 1997.