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“The Angel of Diên Biên Phu”: portrait of a military nurse in Indochinese hell

“France welcomes the heroine of Diên Biên Phu”: thus title “Paris Match”, June 5, 1954, to honor Geneviève de Galard. Coming from a long line of knights who participated in the Crusades (one of her ancestors was one of Joan of Arc’s companions), the 28-year-old nurse made herself famous – unwittingly – by simply exercising her work in Indochinese hell.

This documentary highlights his rigorous education with the Dominican sisters, which gives him a keen sense of duty. Integrated into the body of the air couriers – like her, around thirty of them pick up the wounded on the battlefields and ensure their transport to a hospital – she takes part in medical evacuations by plane. In May 1953, at the heart of the war opposing the French forces to those of the Viêt-Minh, she continued to provide care. ” Thank you for coming ” is the ritual phrase shouted by the nurses as the plane door closes.

“I did what I thought I had to do …”

Stuck in Diên Bien Phu after her plane broke down, she will be for 57 days the only woman – she believes, because she will not learn until much later of the presence of Vietnamese prostitutes in the military brothel – in the camp entrenched among 15,000 soldiers. Responsible for serious injuries, she disinfects wounds, remakes dressings, comforts the wounded under enemy fire. In April 1954, she was named first class of honor of the Foreign Legion at the same time as Colonel Bigeard. A month later, the camp falls. Her notoriety – which she does not suspect – makes her a cumbersome prisoner.

Released on May 24, assaulted by the press, Geneviève de Galard, model of heroism, is put forward to hide the French fiasco. Nicknamed “Angel of Dien Bien Phu” by the Americans, acclaimed by 250,000 people, she was decorated with the “Medal of Freedom” by General Eisenhower. It then pursues its primary mission by integrating the Invalides hospital and returning to anonymity. “I have lived through difficult and exhilarating times, she remembers. I got to know this fraternity, which really helped us a lot. I did what I thought I had to do… ”

Sunday February 28 at 10:35 pm on France 5. Documentary by Claire L’Hoër and Laurent Bergers (2021). 52 min. (Available in replay on

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