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Léon Gautier: Last French D-Day fighter dies aged 100

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Léon GautierIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
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Léon Gautier took part in the D-Day landings during World War Two

The last surviving member of a French commando unit that took part in the Normandy landings during World War Two has died at the age of 100.

Léon Gautier served with the Fusiliers Marins Commando – the only unit of Free French troops to go ashore during D-Day on 6 June 1944.

Mr Gautier later called war a “misery” that “ends with widows and orphans”.

French President Emmanuel Macron described Mr Gautier and his comrades as “heroes of the Liberation”.

“We will not forget him,” Mr Macron wrote on Twitter.

Regional Mayor Romain Bail described Mr Gautier as “a local hero whom everybody knew” and who was “an ardent defender of freedom”.

Mr Gautier was born in Rennes, in France’s north-western Brittany region, and enlisted in the French navy as a teenager soon after World War Two began, as he was too young to enter the army.

He escaped to Britain in 1940 before Adolf Hitler’s forces swept through much of western Europe, including France.

In London, Mr Gautier joined the Free France movement, which maintained a government-in-exile and military that coordinated with the Allies against Nazi Germany.

He fought in Congo, Syria and Lebanon, before joining a unit of marine riflemen known as the Kieffer commandos, which trained in the Scottish Highlands.

During the Battle for Normandy, more than half of his unit of 177 Free French were killed.

The D-Day landings by the Allied forces of the US, UK and Canada began an attack that lasted for 11 months. It eventually led to the defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of occupied Europe.

French WWII veteran of the Commando Kieffer, Leon Gautier (C) poses with new members of the Commando Marine Navy special forces after a ceremony in tribute to the 177 French members of the 'Commando Kieffer' Fusiliers Marins commando unit, who participated in the Normandy landings,IMAGE SOURCE,EPA
Image caption,

Mr Gautier posed with current members of France’s Commando Marine at a D-Day memorial event last month

Later in life, Mr Gautier settled in the Normandy port town of Ouistreham, and became a campaigner for peace.

“Not all that long ago… I would think perhaps I killed a young lad,” he said in an interview with Reuters news agency in 2019, when he was 96 years old.

“Perhaps I orphaned children, perhaps I widowed a woman or made a mother cry… I didn’t want to do that. I’m not a bad man.”

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