his condemnation by the High Court of Justice, Philippe Pétain,
Marshal of France, is successively imprisoned from 1945 to 1951 in
two prisons : the Fort of Portalet in the Pyrenees and the Pierre-Levée
citadel in the center of the island of l’Île d’Yeu,
in Vendée. He is the oldest prisoner in the world and, as of
March 1949, he no longer has a name: he is from now on « the
condemned man in the Citadel », terms employed in official communications
by the doctors.
Marshal remains at the Fort de Portalet from August 15 to November
16, 1945; there, he is subjected to a regime of moral torture in no
way comparable to the treatment that was accorded General Gamelin
during the war, or George Mandel, Paul Reynaud, or Leon Blum. The
prisoner occupies cell n° 5 (that of George Mandel). It is without
question during his stay at the Fort de Portalet that the Marshal
suffered most morally. Shortly before his transfer to l’Île
d’Yeu, his lawyers Jacques Isorni and Jean Lemaire, on a visit,
announce to the Marshal their intention to pass by Lourdes before
returning to Paris; Pétain says to them: « Ah! You go
to Lourdes? Then, mention me with the Lady of Lourdes. »
On another day, in a moment of depression, the Marshal, looking at
the bars of his cell, says to Isorni : « Fortunately they are
there, they protect me from myself », and to his jailer: «
Had there been no bars on the window, I would have thrown myself into
the Gave ».
November 16, 1945, Marshal Pétain leaves the Fort of Portalet
for l’Île d’Yeu passing by Pau and Bordeaux ; at
La Pallice, he embarks on an escort ship « Admiral Mouchez »
ordered by Commander Destremau who receives him with the respect due
a Marshal of France ! Honours to the Navy!
The arrival at Port-Joinville (l’Île d’Yeu) is effected
by bad weather and disembarkation takes place under difficult conditions.
The Marshal heads immediately to the Pierre-Levée Citadel where
he will remain for 2,052 days (until June 29, 1951). He is installed
in the two rooms which had been reserved to him and which one reached
via an abrupt staircase of about thirty steps. The authorities nevertheless
took care to furnish the windows with bars !
Marshal's wife settles at l’Île d’Yeu two months
after the arrival of her husband : she is a boarder in a second-story
annex at the travellers’ hotel held by Gontran Nolleau, before
going down to the ground floor towards the end of her stay. Every
day from the moment she receives authorization to remain on l’Île
d’Yeu, the Marshal's wife makes her way on foot from her hotel
to the Citadel to visit the Marshal, before a car provided by a fund-raising
effort provides her with the transportation.
first of the Marshal’s « jailers » at the l’Île
d’Yeu is Joseph Simon ; he had previously held this post at
the Fort of Montrouge (April, 1945) and at the Fort de Portalet. The
second, from October, 1949, was Charles Boulay.
Marshal Pétain has two chaplains on l’Île d’Yeu:
the Pastor-Dean, Father Pontoreau, and, from September 1949 on, Father
André Bailly. The first jailer passes judgement on the prisoner
: « His was grand and noble soul : a force of character, kindness,
patience, such are the virtues that I saw in this man that fate made
it possible for me to know » ; Pointing out the floating tricolour
flag on top of the Fort’s mast, the Marshal one day said to
the second jailer, : « If I did not have it to support me, I
do not know what I would become ». He will administer extreme
unction to the Marshal on April 8, 1951. For his ninetieth anniversary
on April 24, 1946, Pétain’s lawyers visit him for the
first time. He confides to them : « You do not know how much
I suffer ! I suffer terribly, even when I do not say anything, and
especially when I seem to be laughing. But I suffer without feeling
sorry for myself. I will not ever complain. » By letter of June
27, 1946, the Marshal’s lawyers protest before George Bidault,
President of the Provisional Government, against the treatment he
suffers at the Fort of l’Île d’Yeu : Bidault asks
his Cabinet Director to respond that « the rights of the prisoner
are perfectly respected ».
At the end of the year 1946a deep loneliness which weighs upon the
Marshal in spite of the visit, the New Year's Day, of his lawyers
who bring him numerous letters of good wishes, including one from
General Weygand which particularly touches him.
February 10, 1947, Jacques Isorni and Jean Lemaire are received by
the President of the Republic, Vincent Auriol. They ask him to take
the necessary administrative steps likely to improve the condition
of prisoner Pétain. He addresses these to André Marie,
Minister of Justice, who refuses to receive them. With a memorandum
dated February 20, they renew their request, to which André
Marie responds on February 27, « that he decided to continue
to apply to Philippe Pétain, without any bullying as without
any favours, the regime that is specified for all detainees by the
May 25, 1872 decree ». On April 10, 1947, the French Academy
intervened before Paul Ramadier, President of the Council, in favour
of the Marshal : a waste of time and effort. On July 10, 1947, the
Marshal receives members of the Parliamentary Investigation Commission
relative to the events in France from 1933 to 1945 ; according to
Isorni « the Marshal shows a marvellous dignity, simplicity,
and spirit of repartee ( examples : « What do you think of Paul
Reynaud ? All in all, he’s a small man ; What do you think of
Albert Lebrun? : nothing » ). Taking leave of the Marshal, the
commissioners cannot dissimulate their « feelings ». At
year’s end, the first physical and mental failures besiege the
March 1948, under the impulsion of the attorneys, a « Committee
for the Release of the Marshal » in which, among others, appears
the names of Cardinal Liénart, André Chaumeix, Henry
Bordeaux, Jerome and Jean Tharaud, Admiral Lacaze of the French Academy,
the wife of Marshal Joffre, Generals George, Serrigny, and Lafont.
Whereupon the Minister of Interior and the Police Prefect prohibit
all Committee activity. The Marshal, by letter of April 23, addresses
himself to the Minister of Justice : « In my cell, I learned
the creation of a committee which proposes to ask for my release.
I thank those who took this initiative but, conscious of the services
rendered to my country, I did not ask anything and will not ask anything.
It is towards those who obeyed me and who are today imprisoned that
go my initial thoughts. It is their freedom which is important to
me and important to France. For my part, I made the sacrifice of my
person and I my only thoughts go to the union of the French people
». By year’s end there is a significant aggravation and
decline in the Marshal’s health.
1949 on, the fortress of Pierre-Levée becomes a prison-infirmary.
During the year 1949, several facts point to the troubles caused by
the inhuman regime suffered by the Marshal, of which two are significant
: the first, during a dinner in which the Archduke Otto de Habsbourg
manifests to Jacques Isorni the respectful admiration in which he
holds the Marshal ; the second, when General de Gaulle declared to
a journalist, during a press conference held on March 29 at the Palais
d’Orsay : « Today, there is an old man in a fort; an old
man of which I myself and many others recognize that he rendered great
services to France ; we do not forget him and we should not forget
him ». In July, the President of the Council, Henri Queuille,
intervenes with the Minister of Justice so that the Marshal's wife
be authorized to share the Marshal’s captivity. It is also in
July that the direction of the Fort changes hands ; Charles Boulay
replaces Joseph Simon.
March 1950, the authorities -- very far-sighted (!) have a coffin
delivered to the Citadel ! This very month, before French and foreign
journalists, General de Gaulle declares, perhaps suddenly overcome
by remorse ? : « It is an disgrace to leave in prison a man
who will be 95 years old ; We should make it such that we do not have
this responsibility on our shoulders ». This same year, under
the pressure of public opinion, the Minister of Justice transfers
the Marshal to a bunker arranged on the ground floor of the Citadel.
At the same time, Jacques Isorni and Jean Lemaire lay a wreath of
flowers carrying the inscription « To the soldiers of Verdun
and their Chief, Marshal Pétain » at the Verdun Memorial.
And at the cathedral in Paris, Monsignor Feltin, archbishop, prays
for the Marshal, which causes the precipitated exit of the Prefect.
On May 16, René Mayer, Minister of Justice, officially receives
the Marshal’s attorneys who present him with a Request in Revision
(of the Trial) transmitted to the High Court of Justice at the end
of June. On June 25, appears an official doctors’ statement
: « the decline of his general physical condition is more obvious
each day ».
On December 29, 1950, in one of his last moments lucidity, the Marshal
declared to his lawyers who came to visit him : « We have lived
some painful hours and days ; between us, they matter ; we do not
know what tomorrow will bring, but we are forever tied to each other
; you know today the degree of my affection for you ; I have confidence
in you, and I see on your faces that I was not mistaken ; I entrusted
a mission to you; it is necessary to go all the way. »
the beginning of the year, the Marshal’s health has kept worsening.
However, on 24 April, surrounded by his family and his attorneys,
the Marshal celebrates his 95th anniversary.
Shortly before then, the President of the Council, Henri Queuille,
made known to Pétain’s attorneys his decision to have
the Marshal buried in his uniform of Marshal of France: « It
is a joy, an immense joy for me » says the Marshal's wife in
learning the news.
On June 8, the President of the Republic, ruling in the Higher Council
of the Magistracy, decrees that : « perpetual detention pronounced
against Philippe Pétain in a fortified enclosure, is commuted
to residence in a hospital or any other place of this nature. »
to the above mentioned decree, the Marshal is transported on June
29 to a house located at Port-Joinville itself ; it was chosen by
his attorneys and belongs to the attorney Luco, former General Counsellor
for Vendée. The Marshal’s new residence is located opposite
the villa « Les Simounelles » where Pétain resided
during a visit which he made in 1921 ! The transfer of the Marshal
from the Citadel to the Luco house is carried out under the responsibility
of the Doctor-in-Chief Tabet, who cannot keep from declaring to his
colleague and Doctor-Captain : «France is dishonoured to have
treated this old man in this fashion ». A wooden plaque is affixed
on the right of the entryway to the Luco house carrying the inscription
: « Nantes Military Hospital, Île d’Yeu Annex ».
From July 8 on, the Marshal’s health gently declines ; he enters
anguish on the 18th ; it will last five days.
July 23, at 9:22 a.m., Marshal Pétain stops living ; the Doctor-Captain
announces to the Marshal's wife the death of her husband by pronouncing
these few words: « Madam, the Marshal of France is no more ».
The Marshal is clothed with his uniform carrying only one decoration,
the Military Medal. The dignity of Marshal of France will be inscribed
on all official certificates.
Marshal's wife receives, that very same day, several thousands of
messages of condolences including from Marshal Joffre’s wife
and General Juin.
On July 24, the War Veterans, who had been refused the possibility
of paying their respect before the Marshal’s remains, organize
a vigil in front of the mortuary: voices rise in silence of the night,
« Saints of France, pray for our elderly Chief ! Marshal, please
forgive France ! »
Many demonstrations of fidelity to the Marshal take place throughout
France, in particular in the capital where Parisian gather under the
Arch of Triumph at l’Étoile, in front of the tomb of
the unknown Soldier when they lay flowers in the form of an immense
funeral service in memory of the Marshal takes place on July 25, at
the church of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Port : the coffin, covered with the
tricoloured flag, is placed in front of the altar. On one side is
Marshal's wife, on the in full dress uniform are Generals Weygand
and Héring as well as Admiral Fernet ; the ecclesiastical authorities
are represented by Mgr Chappoulie, Bishop of Angers ; Mgr Rodhain,
Chaplain-in-Chief of the prisons ; and Mgr Cazeaux, Bishop of Luçon
who speaks and arrives at his conclusion: « We will pray that
God forgives the sins and crowns the merits of this long and tragic
existence, and we will even pray, for I am sure that he wants it so,
for what were his lifelong dream and the wish : The unity of the French
people and the salvation of the Homeland. »
After the funeral ceremony, the procession makes its way to the marine
cemetery of l’Île d’Yeu : behind the coffin, a war
veteran carries, on a black cushion, the Marshal’s kepi and
the Military Medal ; further back, Pierre de Hérain, son-in-law
of the Marshal, Generals Weygand and Héring, Admiral Fernet,
the Marshal’s attorneys, Jacques Isorni and Jean Lemaire, and
many notable personalities. The coffin is lowered into the pit covered
with a white slab carrying the inscription in bronze letters : «
Philippe Pétain, Marshal of France ». The tomb is facing
the continent ; it is surmounted by a cross similar to those in our
military cemeteries. The famous soldier rests temporarily on l’Île
d’Yeu while awaiting his rehabilitation and return, in the midst
of his « Poilus », where his place is reserved at the
Ossuary at Douaumont.