Robert de la Rochefoucauld was born on September 16, 1923.
This descendant of one of the oldest French noble families refused to concede defeat before the German troops. Actually, as early as 16 he was expressing outstanding Gaullist convictions which he had the opportunity to put into practice in 1942, when he decided to go London through Spain, accompanied by two English aviators shot in France airspace.
After a rather turbulent journey, he was caught by the Spanish police and detained in the Miranda camp for two months, but finally entered the United Kingdom, where he was enlisted by the Special Operation Executive (SOE), created in 1940 under the authority of Sir Winston Churchill, and whose motto was “And now, set Europe ablaze!”. Their mission was to secretly support the resistance movements which were emerging in the countries under Nazi German occupation.
Robert de la Rochefoucauld joined the British service with reluctance, as he would have preferred to join the Free French Forces (FFL). But it was said that General de Gaulle actually encouraged him to join the SOE, telling him that even if it means signing a pact with the devil to save France, he should not hesitate («Même allié avec le diable, c’est pour la France, allez-y»).
After 6 months of intensive training, Robert de la Rochefoucauld was dropped in the Morvan where, with the local maquis movement, he carried out several acts of sabotage, including the one that aimed at bombing a power generation plant near Avallon.
Captured several times by the Gestapo and sentenced to death, but he always succeeded to escape, in at times incredible conditions. In 1944, after having travelled to London in a submarine, he was once more dropped, this time at Gironde, where he succeeded to bomb a gunpowder mill.
He was once again captured and thrown into prison but he escaped from Fort du Hâ, Bordeaux, after breaking the neck of his guard, putting on his uniform and shooting two German soldiers. All in all, he spent barely a few hours behind bars…
Robert de la Rochefoucauld subsequently finished the war within the Charly network. Thanks to his experience in secret operations, he continued his career in the special services - training commandos for battle in Indochina. In 1956, he was in charge of airdrops in the Sinai. Upon retiring from the military, he got involved in several civilian businesses (transportation, logging in Africa, banana farming...)
Earl Robert de La Rochefoucauld died on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, at the age of 88. He was Knight of the Legion of Honour, holder of the World War II Cross and the Resistance Medal. He was one of the last Frenchmen to have been awarded the prestigious British Distinguished Service Order (DSO) decoration.