Paul Reynaud

Paul Reynaud

Paul Reynaud was born in Barcelonnette, France, on 15th October, 1878. He studied law at the Sorbonne and became a highly successful lawyer. A small man with tremendous energy he was nicknamed "Micky Mouse" by his friends.

Reynaud entered the Chamber of Deputies in 1914. Politically independent, he developed a reputation as a brilliant debater and held several cabinet posts in the 1930s.

An opponent of appeasement, Reynaud became a strong supporter of the military ideas of Charles De Gaulle. When Edouard Daladier was ousted in March, 1940, Reynaud became the country's new prime minister. A week later he met Neville Chamberlain in London and the men signed a joint declaration that that the two countries would not sign a separate peace with Adolf Hitler.

When the German Army invaded France in May 1940, Reynaud responded by appointed Charles De Gaulle to replace Edouard Daladier as minister of war.

Reynaud escaped to Vichy France but Henri-Philippe Petain ordered his arrest. Along with Leon Blum, Edouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud he was tried in February, 1942, for betraying his country. He was eventually handed over to the Germans who held him prisoner until 1945.

Reynaud was reelected to the Camber of Deputies in 1946. Three years later the 71-year-old Reynaud remarried and went on to father three children. Paul Reynaud died on 21st September, 1966.

Primary Sources

(1) Anthony Eden, Memoirs: The Reckoning (1965)

Paul Reynaud received us, firm and courteous despite the strain. We soon got down to discussion across the dining-room table; Petain, Reynaud, Weygand facing Churchill, Dill and me, with interpreters. General Georges joined us later. We talked for almost three hours, the discussion hardly advancing matters. The speakers were polite and correct, but although at that time the Maginot Line had not been attacked, it was soon evident that our French hosts had no hope.

Early in our talks, Weygand described the military situation, explaining how he had attempted to block a number of gaps in the line. He believed he had succeeded and, for the moment, the line held, but he had no more reserves. Somebody asked what would happen if another breach were made. 'No further military action will then be possible,' Weygand replied. Reynaud at once intervened sharply: 'That would be a political decision, Monsieur Ie General.' Weygand bowed and said: 'Certainly.' Georges told us that the French had altogether only some one hundred and ninety-five fighter aircraft left on the northern front.

Despite all the difficulties, our dinner, though simple, was admirably cooked and served. Reynaud presided, with Churchill on his right, Weygand sat opposite and I on his right. As we were taking our places, a tall and somewhat angular figure in uniform walked by on my side of the table. This was General Charles de Gaulle, Under-Secretary for Defence, whom I had met only once before. Weygand invited him pleasantly to take a place on his left. De Gaulle replied, curtly as I thought, that he had instructions to sit next to the British Prime Minister. Weygand flushed up, but made no comment, and so the meal began.

I had Marshal Petain on my other side. Conversation was not easy. His refrain was the destruction of France and the daily devastation of her cities, of which he mentioned several by name. I was sympathetic, but added that there were even worse fates than the destruction of cities. Petain rejoined that it was all very well for Britain to say that, we did not have the war in our country. When I said that we might have, I received an incredulous grunt in reply.

With General Weygand my talk was perfectly friendly and consisted mainly of a discussion about our available forces in Britain and what we were doing to speed their training. I had little cheer to give him. Weygand was something of an enigma. He had a famous reputation, crowned by his victory with Pilsudski over the Bolshevik forces in 1920. I had met him on several occasions, most recently early that year in the Middle East, and always found him friendly, quick and receptive, a modest man carrying his fame without affectation or conceit. He worked well with General Wavell, for the two men understood each other. I was glad when I heard that he had been called back to France to take over the supreme command. He achieved little, but probably no man could. At this stage, though always correct and courteous, he gave the impression of resigned fatalism. He was certainly not a man to fight the last desperate comer.

(2) Anthony Eden, letter to Winston Churchill (12th June, 1940)

I have been thinking over our experiences of the last twenty-four hours and I am more than ever convinced that the chances of Reynaud's survival and of France staying in the war are to a large extent dependent upon the attitude of the United States. If Roosevelt could go a stage further and break off relations with Germany, even without declaring war, if such an action be possible, he would perhaps give our hard-pressed French friends just that spice of encouragement they need.

I do not know whether it is possible for you to telegraph personally to Roosevelt in this sense. But your relations with him are so good, and he is so heart and soul with us, that may be the risk could be taken. It is, perhaps, only fair to Roosevelt to give him the true picture as we see it, and I believe that picture to be that only a further step by United States can keep France in the war, though even that may not suffice.

(3) Winston Churchill, Their Finest Hour (1949)

About half-past seven in the morning of the 15th (May 1940) I was woken up with the news that Paul Reynaud was on the telephone at my bedside. He spoke in English, and evidently under stress. "We have been defeated." As I did not immediately respond he said again: "We are beaten; we have lost the battle." I said: "Surely it can't have happened so soon?" But he replied: "The front is broken near Sedan."