IT WAS OFTEN said that, when General de Gaulle returned to power in 1958, most people knew that he would bring an end to the war in Algeria and give some sort of independence to that country. But whilst this might have been recognised by those who had direct dealings with him, it was not understood by those who were actually doing the fighting. One such was Pierre Sergent, at the time a captain in the elite parachutist regiment of the Foreign Legion.
Sergent had fought in the Resistance. He had voluntarily worn the yellow star that the Jews had been forced to wear and he had narrowly escaped being killed by the Germans in Sologne. After the war he trained at St Cyr and fought in Indo-China, where he was both wounded and decorated. Intensely patriotic, he feared that another French government would betray France in Algeria as one of its predecessors had in Indo-China. Therefore, in 1960, he supported the settlers and activists who opposed de Gaulle on the barricades in Algiers, and he became heavily involved in the plotting which led to the putsch of the generals in April 1961.
He had been sent back to France, to Chartres, in the preceding December, but he feigned illness and pretended that he was reporting to the military hospital of Val-de-Grace in Paris. When the authorities looked for him there, they could not find him. Along with a handful of other officers he had organised a secret flight to Algeria and he arrived there two nights before General Challes and his associates declared their rebellion. He led the parachutists in the occupation of many buildings and in trying to establish insurgent control of Algiers.
Once this putsch had failed, it was Sergent who stayed loyal to the movement and in June 1961 he made his way back to Paris, where he became the leader of the Secret Army within France. He and his associates sought to overthrow (if only by assassination) de Gaulle and to maintain French presence in Algeria. He had a formidable task and everyone had said that he had the ability and courage to carry it out successfully. But the movement was split into too many rival sections. He was eventually forced to take refuge in Switzerland and in Belgium and he was condemned to death in his absence. In July 1968, some say as a consequence of de Gaulle's having asked the army for its support against the worker and student revolts of that year, he benefited from a general amnesty.
Sergent returned to France, where he wrote books about the army and about his own career. In 1974 he entered politics, campaigned for Giscard d'Estaing and, after flirting with other parties, he joined Le Pen's National Front (he had known Le Pen in Algeria). From 1986 to 1988 he was a National Front deputy. He remained a member of its council and in March this year he was elected as a regional councillor of Languedoc-Roussillon. But he had always been opposed to the nostalgia and sympathy for Vichy which is sometimes visible within the National Front.