Born in Paris in 1920, Hubert Germain travelled much of the world as a child, following his father who was stationed as a soldier in the Middle East and Hanoi. He returned to Paris as a teenager to study and had been preparing to join the French navy when war broke out in 1939.
By the time Germain was sitting his final exam at naval college, France had capitulated to Germany. Rather than graduate and serve in a navy effectively taking orders from the Nazis, he handed in a blank exam paper – much to the bemusement of the college instructors.
At around this time, Germain heard the call from Charles de Gaulle, broadcasting over the radio from London, for the French to fight on. He boarded a cargo ship to Britain with hundreds of Polish soldiers who had managed to escape westward.
Germain was sent to Syria in 1941 to take part in the fight between French Vichy forces and the Free French Gaullists – the battle was personal as his father was a senior general in the Vichy regime. During the fighting, casualties from both sides were sent to the same field hospital in Damascus and often attempted to kill each other in the wards.
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After a successful campaign in Syria, Germain saw fighting in Cairo and Libya where he was among the French troops who held off a German offensive at the Battle of Bir Hakeim for two whole weeks despite being outnumbered 10 to one. The French forces were eventually forced to flee after running out of ammunition and water.
With the tide of the war turning in favour of the allies, Germain was sent northwards to Italy where he was wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino in a particularly bloody advance. “As the Italians said, the poppies were redder than usual,” he recounted in later years. His bravery during the fighting won Germain an Order of the Liberation medal.
He was not out of action for long and soon landed with the Free French in the southern city of Toulon. The atmosphere as the city was reconquered was jubilant – although Germain was disappointed to see that many of his fellow countrymen refused to join the soldiers as they pressed further towards Paris. “I fought for France, not the French,” he said after the war.
Germain eventually reconciled with his father after the war and went on to have three children with his wife, Simone Millon. He pursued a career in politics serving as the mayor of Saint-Chéron from 1953-1965, as an MP intermittently from the late 1950s to the 1970s, and as a government minister from 1972-74. During his time as Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, he was instrumental in equipping France with the most modern telephone system in Europe.
Germain came out as a freemason after retiring from politics created the first Grand Lodge in France. He quickly rose to the rank of grand master.
When Germain died last month, aged 101, France lost the of its last Compagnons de la Libération – those 1,138 men and decorated for their role in resisting Nazism. President Macron will honour his legacy with a speech at the Arc de Triomphe tomorrow morning and again at a special burial in Mont-Valérien – a site where many members of the French resistance were cruelly executed by the Nazis.
“With his brothers in arms, he defended our freedom,” said Emmanuel Macron at an even surely after Germain’s passing. “On this day, the thousand-year-old spirit of the French resistance goes with you.”