The following piece was translated and adapted from the Wikipedia entry in French on Bernard Destremau, which can be viewed here:
Origins and family
The Destremau family has its origins in the former province of Gascony in south-western France. Family members later left their province of origin to live in places such as Paris and Versailles, and then in Provins, Lure, Toulon and the Hautes-Pyrénées. The family of Bernard Destremau’s mother, the Malinets, owned an olive farm in Sfax in south-east Tunisia.
Bernard Destremau was born in Paris in February 1917. He was the fourth and last child of General Félix Alexis Destremau (1868-1945), a career soldier in the French Army, and Renée Clémentine Jeanne Destremau (née Malinet; 1880-1953). Bernard’s siblings were Yvonne Marie Henriette Destremau (1902-83); Colonel Jean Antoine Destremau (1904-48); and Robert Henri Maxime Destremau (1907-2004).
Jean Destremau would study at the École Militaire Spéciale, a military academy located in Saint-Cyr in Brittany and later serve in the French Army during World War Two and the First Indochina War (1946-54). He was killed in action in February 1948 in Cao Laong in Vietnam at the age of 43. He had reached the rank of colonel and received awards such as the Croix de Guerre/War Cross as well as being made a Commander of the Legion of Honour like his father before him.
Bernard Destremau spent his childhood living in the town of Colmar in north-east France, in Lyon (where his father was a military commander) and in Paris.
Studies and early tennis career
Bernard Destremau was gifted at tennis from an early age and first played the sport with his family at the Tennis Parc de Lyon, before joining the Racing Club de France in Paris in 1930. In the years 1931-36, he rose in the French rankings, winning the French junior championship in 1934 and 1935. He became one of France’s top-ranked players in 1935 at the age of 18, and French no. 1 in December 1936 at the age of 19.
In 1936, Destremau was also chosen to represent France in the Davis Cup for the first time. In this respect, he took part in ties against China, the Netherlands and Yugoslavia. As a player, he would finish with an overall Davis Cup record of 26-16 (25-14 in singles and 1-2 in doubles).
In 1937, Destremau won the University World Championships at tennis. He also reached the semi-finals of the International French Championships in Paris, where he lost to the eventual champion, the German Henner Henkel. The following year Destremau reached the quarter-finals of the same event in Paris and notably won the men’s double title with his compatriot Yvon Petra. In the final they beat the world’s top-ranked pair, the Americans Don Budge and Gene Mako, 3-6 6-3, 9-7, 6-1.
World War Two
In 1939, Bernard Destremau graduated from the École des hautes études commerciales, a prestigious international business school located in Paris. When World War Two broke out in September 1939, he was in the United States, where he had been taking part in the American Tennis Championships. He returned to France, where he joined the armoured cavalry, first as a student officer in Rambouillet (together with Maurice Druon and Gabriel Kaspereit) then as an officer cadet. Familiar with the cavalry’s mechanised equipment, he commanded a motorcycle platoon during several liaison and protection missions.
Demobilized in Montaubanin 1940, Destremau enrolled in the
École libre des sciences politiques/Paris Institute of Political Studies; he would graduate from the general section in 1942. At the same time he pursued his sporting career, and in 1941 and 1942 he won the men’s singles title at the Tournoi de France at Stade Roland Garros in Paris; this tournament was the unofficial replacement for the French International Championships during World War Two.
Bernard Destreamu subsequently spent some time in Tunisia and also took part in a North African tennis tour with Jean Borotra. Destremau was also authorized to play a number of matches in Spain and Portugal before returning to the occupied zone.
In February 1943, after unsuccessfully infiltrating two networks, Destremau was smuggled into Spain via the Basque Country, crossing the Bidassoa via the “Réseau Margot” network, organized and led by Marguerite “Margot” de Gramont, the future Mme de Gunzburg. Destremau was caught and placed under house arrest in Madrid before escaping to Morocco and then to Algeria, where he joined a tank regiment, the 5th African Cavalry Regiment, which had been reconstituted after losses suffered in the Tunisian campaign. He was summoned to testify in Algiers at the trial of Pierre Pucheu whom he had met in Madrid and with whom he had had long discussions.
Appointed second lieutenant of a platoon of five light tanks (the American M2 tank), Destremau’s unit did not see action in Italy. However, he participated in Operation Dragoon, the name given to the allied landing in Provence in August 1944, led by General Jean de Lattre and his platoon. This was one of the first platoons to land and was engaged in fighting around La Farlède, La Valette-du-Var and Toulon under the orders of Captain Hubert de Seguins-Pazzi and Commander Alain Grout de Beaufort. Destremau’s unit suffered heavy losses, but the Allies continued to advance towards Burgundy, Alsace and Germany.
Wounded three times, including once in the back by a sniper’s bullet, Destremau was successfully treated and received the Legion of Honor from the hands of General de Lattre in Dijon in 1944. Involved in reconnaissance missions, Destremau’s platoon continued to suffer losses in Doubs, Alsace and the Black Forest. His German campaign ended in Constance, on the Swiss border. His unit received the “Rhine and Danube” award, while Destremau himself was awarded the Croix de Guerre/War Cross, with five citations.
Return to tennis after World War Two
Demobilized in November 1945, Bernard Destremau quickly took up the racket again to take part in some Davis Cup matches, other international meetings and national championships. Slender in build (1.89 m in height and weighing 75 kg), he played the classic “flat” game, was aggressive and a good tactician. Although he didn’t play much after the war, he usually wonhis matches in the end due to his energy and his fighting spirit.
Bernard Destremau had victories over foreign champions such as Franjo Punčec, Henner Henkel, Bunny Austin, Bobby Riggs, Budge Patty, John Bromwich, Adrian Quist, József Asbóth, Tony Trabert and Ken Rosewall. Destremau won the men’s singles title at the French National Championships in 1951 and 1953, and was ranked number 1 in France a total of six times during his career. He had a close association with the Racing Club de France, and was its vice-president for many years. He was also captain of the French Davis Cup team in 1954 and 1955, and president of the International Lawn Tennis Club of France (ILTCF).
On 23 June 1954, in Paris, Bernard Destremau married Diane Marie Alice de Pracomtal (1920-2016). They had three children together, two sons, Gilles Marie Armand Destremau and Christian Marie Alain Destremau, and one daughter, Yolaine Marie Aliette Destremau.
Diplomatic and political career
In 1945, Bernard Destremau was admitted to the Corps of Secretaries of Foreign Affairs and began a diplomatic career, which took him successively to Belgium, Cairo during the Suez crisis, New York, South Africa, Brussels and Argentina, where he was French Ambassador in Buenos Aires from 1978 to 1981. On 29 December 1978, in a note he sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, Destremau referred to “detention camps not officially registered”.
In 1967, Destremau officially entered politics and stood in the legislative elections in Versailles as a member of the Independent Republicans. This constituency had not been popular with leaders on the right because André Mignot, a centrist mayor, was well-established there. However, Bernard Destremau was elected in 1967, then re-elected in 1968 and 1973, and again in the by-elections of 1976. A dyed-in-the-wool European, he was a member of the European Parliament and alsorepresented France in the Western European Union.
Close to Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, President of France from 1974 to 1981, Destremau was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the first Chirac government, which was in power from 1974 to 1976. Destremau regained his seat as a deputy in 1976, but lost it to Étienne Pintewas in 1978.
After retiring from political life, Destremau devoted himself to writing historical and autobiographical works. The former included books on the French military commander Maxime Weygand, General Jean de Lattreand and the Quai d’Orsay, location of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Destremau’s autobiographical works included Le cinquième set/The Fifth Set and À chacun sa guerre/To Each His War.
Very eclectic, Destremau also wrote about wine (Bacchus, est-il Français?/Is Bacchus French) as well as numerous articles on politics, diplomacy, defence and sport. In 1995, he was elected a member of the Institute at the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences in the chair of Pierre-Olivier Lapie. In 2000, he created a prize in his name which each year is awarded to a top athlete who successfully pursues a course of higher education.
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