Hélie de Saint Marc

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Hélie de Saint Marc
Birth name Hélie Denoix de Saint Marc
Born (1922-02-11)11 February 1922
Bordeaux, France
Died 26 August 2013(2013-08-26) (aged 91)
La Garde-Adhémar, France
Allegiance France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1946-1961


(Equivalent, Major)
Commands held 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment
Battles/wars World War II
First Indochina War
Suez Crisis
Algerian War
Algiers putsch of 1961

Hélie Denoix de Saint Marc or Hélie de Saint Marc,[1][2] (11 February 1922 in – 26 August 2013)[3] was a senior member of the French resistance and a senior active officer of the French Army, having served in the French Foreign Legion, in particular at the heart and corps of the French Parachute Brigades; today known as the 11th Parachute Brigade. Commandant by interim of the 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (disbanded in 1961), he leads his regiment towards the Generals' Putsch in April 1961.


Resistance et deportation[edit]

Hélie de Saint Marc entered the French resistance (network resistance of Jade-Amicol) in February 1941, at the age of 19 after assisting in Bordeaux at the arrival of the Army and French Authorities when the country was fully engaged in its events. He was stopped on the 14th of July 1943 at the Spanish borders and following a denunciation; he was deported to German Concentration Camp at Buchenwald.

Sent to the Satellite Camp of Langenstein-Zwieberge where mortality rates surpasses 90%; he went under the care and protection of a Latvian miner who actually saved his life. The Latvian miner shares with Hélie, food which they steal and focus on the basics of the job at hand to which they were both assigned to. Later, When the camp was liberated by American Forces;Hélie de Saint Marc was found unconscious in the barracks of the dead. Hélie had lost his memory and even forgot his own name. He was found amongst 30 living survivors only out of the 1000 deported to that camp.

At the end of World War II, at the age of 23, Hélie pursues his education at Saint-Cyr Military Academy.

First Indochina War[edit]

Hélie de Saint Marc deployed to French Indochina in 1948 with the French Foreign Legion; at the disposition of the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment. He lived just like the Vietnamese partisans; learning their language and talking for long hours with Viêt-minh prisoners; trying to understand their motivation and their ways of conducting battle.

Stationed at Talung, at the borders of China, amongst the minority people of Tho; he faced the loss of the post at the border taken by the Communist Chinese Party. In China, troops of Mao Zedong recently defeated the Nationalist Party; mainly Tchang Kai-check and were soon to dominate their Vietnamese neighbors. The war was about to take a major turn. The French Army suffered heavy losses. After 18 months, Hélie de Saint Marc and the French military were evacuated, with almost none of the partisans, and none of the villagers. "There is an order, you don't make an omelet without breaking eggs"; officials replied to Hélie when he questioned them about the fate of the villagers.

Hélie's unit was obliged to give "coups de crosse" ("crosse" refers the rifle butt). His unit rifle-butted the fingers of villagers and partisans trying to climb aboard the departing trucks. In his words "We abandoned them". Those that survived and managed to join the departing French troops talked about the massacre of those that aided the French. He called his memory of rifle butting the fingers of his allies his "yellow wound" and remained very disturbed about the abandonment of Vietnamese partisans following the orders of High Command.

Hélie returned a second time to Indochina in 1951 with the 2nd Foreign Parachute Battalion, known today as the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment shortly after the disaster of Battle of Route Coloniale 4 (RC4) in October 1950, which almost annihilated the 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment. He commanded the 2 CIPLE Battalion (2nd Company of Vietnamese Parachute of the French Foreign Legion). During this deployment, he served with Rémy Raffalli, Commander of the Parachute Battalion, adjudant Bonnin and General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, the acting civilian and military chief of Indochina.

Algerian War and the Generals' Putsch[edit]

Recruited by General Challe,Hélie de Saint Marc served during the Algerian War; notably alongside General Massu. In April 1961, he participated with the 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment which he commanded by interim to the Generals' Putsch; directed by General Challe in Algeria. The operation failed and within a couple of days Hélie de Saint Marc decided to constitute himself as a prisoner taking full responsibility of the actions of the men at his disposition. He also made it clear not to question the integrity of the men under his command while assuming single handedly the outcomes with other senior planners.

As Hélie de Saint Marc was explaining a the High Military Tribunal on June 5, 1961; his decision to challenge the illegal was essentially motivated by his will not to abandon the harkis, recruited by the French Army to battle against the NLF; not to mention his total unwillingness to relive his difficult experience in Indochina. He agreed to support the April 1961 "Generals' Putsch" against President Charles de Gaulle. The putschists saw de Gaulle's acceptance of Algerian independence as a betrayal of France and a betrayal of the local population both indigenous and French colonial. The officers in revolt had seen exactly this behaviour in Indochina and felt that it had to stop. As the putsch failed for lack of political support; Hélie de Saint-Marc was condemned to 10 years of criminal reclusion which can go from 10–30 years or life. He spent 5 years in the prison at Tulle before being graced with a pardon on December 25, 1966; Christmas Day.

During that time; legionnaires from the French Foreign Legion acquired their parade song "Non, je ne regrette rien", a 1960 Edith Piaf song that NCOs, Corporals and Legionnaires song while leaving their barracks for re-deployment following the Algiers putsch of 1961. The song has been a part of LE heritage since then.[4] The 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment remained the only foreign parachute regiment in the French Army.

The 1960's till present today[edit]

Following his pardon, he settled in Lyon with the help of Andre Laroche, the president of the deportation Federation and started a civilian career in the metal industry. Up until 1988, he became Director of personnel in a metal company.

By 1978, he was rehabilitated in his civil and military rights.

In 1988, one his grand nephews, Laurent Beccaria, wrote his biography which turned to be a success. Accordingly, he decided to write his own autobiography which he published in 1995 under the title of "Les champs de braises. Mémoires" and which was crowned by the Prize Femina categories "Essay" in 1996. Following 10 years, Hélie de Saint-Marc spent his time travelling to the United States, Germany and France and conducted numerous conferences. In 1998 and 2000, German translation and versions appeared for Champs de braises (Asche und Glut) and the Sentinelles du soir (Die Wächter des Abends) at the Atlantis editions.

In 2002, he published with August von Kageneck- a German Officer of his generation- his fourth book entitled Notre Histoire (1922-1945) ("Our History: 1922-1945"); a story that portrayed the souvenirs of that period; portraying their respective childhood and their vision of World War II.

At 89 years of age; Hélie de Saint Marc was finally recognized and awarded the Grand-Croix de la Légion d'honneur, on 28 November 2011, by French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.[5]

Hélie de Saint Marc died on the 26 of August 2013.[6] He is buried at la Garde-Adhémar (Drôme).






  1. ^ Le Journal officiel du 26 novembre 2011 écrit « Denoix de Saint Marc (Marie, Joseph, Elie) »
  2. ^ BNF, Notice autorité, créée le 18 juillet 1990, mise à jour le 28 juin 2005
  3. ^ « Hélie de Saint Marc est mort », Le Figaro, le 26 août 2013
  4. ^ While the officers were interned, they sang a variant of the song using lyrics relevant to their situation, which was recorded and is now available on Youtube. Video on YouTube
  5. ^ « Sarkozy décore un ancien officier putschiste », L'Express, 28 novembre 2011.
  6. ^ Infis Bordeaux
  7. ^ Traduction allemande des Sentinelles du soir.
  8. ^ Traduction allemande des Champs de braises. Mémoires.


  • "Servir ?" documentary realised by Georges Mourier in 2006 for his collection "Le Choix des Hommes". Editions "A l'Image Près". 2009. réf:3770002154021.
  • La Guerre d'Algérie 1954-1962, avec Patrick Buisson, préface de Michel Déon (avec DVD), Albin Michel, 2009 (ISBN 222618175X)

Asche und Glut. Erinnerungen. Résistance und KZ Buchenwald. Fallschirmjäger der Fremdenlegion. Indochina- und Algerienkrieg. *Putsch gegen de Gaulle, Edition Atlantis, 1998, 2003, ISBN 3-932711-50-5, German traduction of Champs de braises. Mémoires (www.editionatlantis.de)

  • Die Wächter des Abends, Edition Atlantis, 2000, ISBN 3-932711-51-3, traduction allemande des Sentinelles du soir (www.editionatlantis.de)

External links[edit]