Magazine article The Spectator

One of Vichy's Vilest

Magazine article The Spectator

One of Vichy's Vilest

Article excerpt

BAD FAITH : A FORGOTTEN HISTORY OF FAMILY AND FATHERLAND by Carmen Callil Cape, £20, pp. 614, ISBN 0224078100 . £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

This is a ghastly story, powerfully well told. Lives of criminals form an accepted part of biography; within it, lives of con men are more difficult, because conmen cover and confuse their tracks so carefully. Carmen Callil triumphs over innumerable difficulties to make clear the career of Louis Darquier, one of the villains of the Vichy regime in France.

His father was a notable at Cahors, doctor, mayor, radical deputy, with a devoutly Catholic wife of superior lineage who bore him three sons; Louis, born in 1897, was the second.

He survived the war as an artillery subaltern, and then went to the bad: a tremendous womaniser, a heavy drinker, a sponger and a cad. Wherever he went, he left a trail of debts. He chanced upon a Tasmanian actress, who fell for him and married him, without bothering to divorce her previous husband; they had a daughter, born in England, whom they at once abandoned to a nanny. Nanny Lightfoot brought up Anne Darquier in rural poverty at Great Tew, on a nominal wage of a pound a week, seldom paid at all. Anne Darquier eventually became a leading psychiatrist, and treated the young Carmen Callil, who grew fond of her, got no answer when calling one morning for treatment, and discovered that her healer had just died (possibly by suicide). Only at Anne's funeral did she discover the full name Louis Darquier had adopted -- Darquier de Pellepoix, which she saw a year or two later, in a television film, as the name of a man shaking hands with Reinhard Heydrich. Her curiosity led her to years of research, from which this book results.

Louis Darquier invented a title for himself, as le Baron Darquier de Pellepoix; his supposed wife's family, wealthy Tasmanian grain-growers, imagined their relative had married into the French aristocracy, and remained unwilling to hear a word against him.

He drifted from job to job, among the detritus of the extreme French Right.

This led him to be in the vanguard of the right-wing mob, fighting with the police on the Place de la Concorde as they tried to storm the parliament building on 6 February 1934. …

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