Thursday, 29 June 2006

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (June 29, 1900 – July 31, 1944)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French writer and aviator. One of his most famous works is Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) .

Count Antoine Marie Roger de Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyon into an old family of provincial nobility, the third of five children of Count Jean de Saint-Exupéry, an insurance broker who died when his famous son was three, and his wife, Marie de Foscolombe.

After failing his final exams at a preparatory school, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture. In 1921, he began his military service in the 2nd Regiment of Chasseurs, and was sent to Strasbourg for training as a pilot. The next year, he obtained his license and was offered a transfer to the air force. But his fiancée's family objected, so he settled in Paris and took an office job. His engagement was ultimately broken off, however, and he worked at several jobs over the next few years without success. He later became engaged to the future novelist Louise Leveque de Vilmorin.

By 1926, he was flying again. He became one of the pioneers of international postal flight in the days when aircraft had few instruments and pilots flew by instinct. Later he complained that those who flew the more advanced aircraft were more like accountants than pilots. He worked on the Aéropostale between Toulouse and Dakar. His first tale L'Aviateur (The Aviator) was published in the magazine Le Navire d'argent. In 1928, he published his first book, Courrier-Sud (Southern Mail), and flew the Casablanca/Dakar route. He became the director of Cape Juby airfield in Río de Oro, Western Sahara. In 1929, Saint-Exupéry moved to South America, where he was appointed director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company.

First flight cover: carried and signed by Saint-Exupéry on first official Comodoro Rivadavia - Trelew airmail flight. Addressed to P(aul) Vachet, operations manager of the Argentine company before Saint-Exupéry. October 31, 1929.

In 1931, at Grasse, Saint-Exupéry married Consuelo Suncin Sandoval Zeceña of Gómez, a twice-widowed writer and Salvadorian artist. Theirs was a stormy union as Saint-Exupéry travelled frequently and indulged in numerous affairs.

Saint-Exupéry kept writing and flying until the beginning of World War II. During the war, he initially flew in the French GC II/33 reconnaissance squadron. He then escaped to New York City, and lived in Quebec City for a time in 1942. After his time in North America, Saint-Exupéry returned to Europe to fly with the Free French and fight with the Allies in a squadron based in the Mediterranean. Then aged 44, he flew his last mission to collect data on German troop movements in the Rhone River Valley. He took off the night of July 31, 1944, and was never seen again. A lady reported having seen a plane crash around noon of August 1 near the Bay of Carqueiranne. A body wearing a French uniform was found several days later and was buried in Carqueiranne that September.

In 1998, a fisherman found what was reported to be Saint-Exupéry's silver chain bracelet in the ocean to the east of the island of Riou, south of Marseille. At first it was thought a hoax, but it was later positively identified. It was engraved with the names of his wife and his publishers, Reynal & Hitchcock, and was hooked to a piece of fabric from his pilot's suit.

On April 7, 2004, investigators from the French Underwater Archaeological Department confirmed that the twisted wreckage of a Lockheed F-5 photo-reconnaissance aircraft (a version of the P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft), found on the seabed off the coast of Marseille in 2000 and extracted in October 2003, was Saint-Exupéry's. The discovery is akin to solving the mystery of where Amelia Earhart's plane went down in the Pacific Ocean in 1937. However, the cause of the crash remains a mystery. Today it is regarded as very improbable that Saint-Exupéry was shot down by a German pilot (in spite of the bragging of a German airman who later claimed so). The German aerial combat records of July 31, 1944 do not list any shooting down in the Mediterranean that day. Besides, the wreckage of Saint-Exupéry's F-5 did not show any traces of shooting or aerial combat, therefore it is regarded as most probable that the crash was caused by a technical failure.


A fuller account of his life can be read here:


Until the euro was introduced in 2002, his image and his drawing of The Little Prince appeared on France's 50-franc note.