Although he was among the first to join de Gaulle in June 1940, Pierre Denis (1883-1951) is one of the least well known of de Gaulle's supporters. At the age of 57, Denis was too old to take part in combat, and instead took the responsibility of organizing the finances of Free France. In 1941 he was instrumental in creating the Caisse centrale de la France libre, the forerunner of today's French Development Agency.?In selecting him for the task, de Gaulle made best use of the skills of a man who was 'out of the ordinary'.
'Normalien' professor of history and geography, in 1906 Pierre Denis received a two-year 'round the world' scholarship, becoming passionate about South America. A promising geographer, he had only just taken his post at the University of Strasbourg in 1919 when he resigned to work at the General Secretariat of the League of Nations in Geneva. His encounter with Jean Monnet then determined his entire career, first in diplomatic service and later in business.
But the French defeat of 1940 was a source of dispute with his friend because, without denying internationalist ideas, Pierre Denis placed all his confidence in General de Gaulle.?The whole life of Denis, this man in the shadows, took place under the rule of discretion.
Fascinating in his modesty, his desire to serve and his love of work, he worked tirelessly to reduce tensions within Free France and to smooth Franco-British and Franco-American disputes.
His biography helps us understand the points of convergence between de Gaulle and Monnet, often two opposing great men, and also illuminates some of the diplomatic, economic and intellectual history of the twentieth century.