Bernard Druène (1896-1991)
Bernard Druène was a prominent French military historian. Born in Luz-Saint-Sauveur, France in 1896, he enlisted in the French Army shortly before his twentieth birthday. While preparing for the entrance exam of the prestigious École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr (Special Military School of Saint-Cyr), the First World War broke out. He immediately enlisted in the 12th Infantry Regiment of Tarbes, and was sent to the front in April 1915. He was injured in Douamont in 1916 during the battle of Verdun, and once recovered was sent to Serbia on active duty, where he was stationed at the time of the armistice.
In the following years he travelled to Russia and Syria, before returning to France in 1920 and finally enrolling in Saint-Cyr. After graduation, Druène joined the Foreign Legion and was posted to Algeria, then Morocco. He continued to rise through the ranks until the 1930s, when his passion for history took him to the Historical Service of the French Army.
After war was declared in France against the Third Reich, he rejoined active duty. In 1940 he was stationed in Dunkirk and was successfully evacuated to England. He soon travelled back to France to rejoin the front, and was there captured by German forces and sent to Oflag IV (short for Offizier-Lager, one of many camps for officer POWs) in Dresden.
Following the end of hostilities, Druène joined the effort to investigate and restitute works of art and other cultural objects looted from France by the Nazis. As Chief of the Historical Section in the French Army Ministry, he was well-placed to succeed Monuments Man Col. Michel François as Chief of the Commission de Récupération artistique (French Commission for Art Recovery) for Baden-Baden.
In 1947 Druène took part in the so-called “Blanc Mission”; along with Col. Blanc and the collectors Robert-Charles Jean and Jean Brunon, the men travelled to Berlin to find and bring back the contents of the French Army Museum (in the Hôtel National des Invalides).
In March of the same year, Druène worked alongside Monuments Woman Capt. Edith A. Standen to investigate a sixteenth-century bronze cannon discovered at Neues Schloss in Stuttgart, Germany. Because of the cannon’s immense weight, it was too heavy to be transported to a repository for safekeeping during the war. Instead, it was buried in the castle’s garden. As a renowned expert on French military arms and armor, Druène was called in to identify the cannon. Upon closer inspection, he determined the cannon to be the so-called “Württembergishe Schlange” (the Snake of Württemberg, for the emblem that adorns it) cast in Vienna in 1593 and brought to France by Napoleon. Druène’s joy to have found the treasured cannon was such that Standen later wrote, “We went at once to inspect it; if I had been a man, I think he [Druène] would have kissed me on both cheeks.”
Druène retired from active duty in 1949, and soon became the administrator of the French Army Museum. He was also the author of many books and scholarly articles on French military history, including The French in Berlin through Eight Centuries (1949) and Napoleon and His Opponents (1965).
He died in his hometown of Luz-Saint-Sauveur, France in 1991.
The Foundation is very interested in learning more about Druène’s life, as well as his military service as a Monuments Man. If you have any information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.