Obituary: Pierre Culioli

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The Independent Online
Pierre Culioli, wartime resister and escape organiser: born Brest 1914, married 1938 Ginette Dutems (died 1940); died near Blois 8 August 1994.

PIERRE CULIOLI, a French resister to Nazism, was the son and the grandson of officers and became a regular French infantry lieutenant himself. As such, he fought in the disastrous summer campaign of 1940, and was taken prisoner. His wife, the mayor's daughter at Mer, on the Loire near Blois - whom he had married two years earlier - was killed by a chance German bomb that June. He was soon repatriated, on medical grounds; and devoted himself thenceforward to anti-Nazi activity in the middle Loire Valley.

Culioli was a small, slight wiry man with a nervous manner, horn- rimmed spectacles, and a toothbrush moustache (grown in derision of Hitler's); he also had gifts of leadership and some luck in his friendships. He fell in, and then out, with Raymond Flower, SOE's first organiser in his neighbourhood; and came to run a sub-section of the vast 'Prosper' connection, that reached from the Belgian border to the Atlantic coast.

His group settled in the Sologne, where it was known as the 'Reseau Adolphe'. It received several drops of arms and explosives parachuted by the RAF; and several agents too. Culioli settled down in a woodland cottage near Romorantin with Yvonne Rudellat ('Jacqueline'), who had come from the reception desk of a small hotel in Ebury Street to work in France as a secret courier. They ran an efficient small circuit, preparing for a major Allied landing in 1943: which, they were not to know, was a logistic impossibility.

In mid-June 1943 they received a pair of Canadian SOE officers, and all four of them set off on 21 June, in a car driven by Culioli, to catch a train to Paris. In the town of Dhuizon they were stopped at a control; which passed Culioli and Jacqueline but retained the Canadians. A sudden alarm was raised; Culioli drove off, with his companion, and crashed the car into a wall, intending to kill them both. Both survived, to be sent to concentration camps. Jacqueline died in Belsen just after it was liberated. Culioli survived Buchenwald, just; only to be plunged into a major judicial sensation in 1947- 49.

A private enemy accused him of having betrayed the whole 'Prosper' network - which had been rolled up immediately after his arrest. This was on the strength of some information Culioli had indeed given to the Germans, which had revealed about half the warlike stores parachuted to him. Of the rest of the stores his Reseau successors made good use during the confused fighting in August 1944 when the Germans pulled out of France. From this charge Culioli was, at his second trial, triumphantly acquitted.

He never fully recovered from his spell in Buchenwald, or from the torrents of publicity that raged round him. The Abbe Guillaume's book La Sologne au temps de l'heroisme et de la trahison (1950) cleared his reputation locally, and he survived again; preparing himself to meet the death that took another 44 years to conquer his proud spirit.

(Photograph omitted)