André Poncelet, EDHEC 1940, doyen of our alumni tell us about EDHEC through his memories

Published on 16/12/2020
Share with :
 


100 greeting cards for André's 100th birthday!

Let's thank André for his testimony and wish him a very beautiful 100th year! We invite you to send him a greeting card with a little handwritten note. We trust the EDHEC community so that André receives many from all countries! These cards will be presented to André through his family. In order to respect health measures and gather all responses together, please send your card to:

EDHEC Alumni
To Véronique Donaghy, "André Poncelet cards"
24 avenue Gustave Delory, 59057 ROUBAIX CEDEX 1

 

 

André Poncelet was born on 24 March 1921 in Lille. After attending the Jesuit college Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, in Rue Négrier, André completed his secondary education in Marcq-en-Barœul before joining the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord (EDHEC) in October 1938 at the age of 17.

André is the doyen of our 46,000 alumni and will be celebrating his 100th birthday in March 2021. He agreed to share this fond chapter of his life with us so he could, as he put it, convey the history of EDHEC through his memories. A history that already reflected the values and spirit of the EDHEC student body.

Tell us about EDHEC in 1938.

We were proud to be incorporated into the Catholic University as part of the school which back then we used to call HEC Nord. Our premises were located in the Albert Legrand building and we would all come together at the “restau U” and at the chapel.

At the Catholic University, everything was big. You would enter the classrooms through the great gallery which led onto Boulevard Vauban. Ceremonies were held in the great hall, or Aula Maxima. Midweek masses were celebrated in the big chapel for those who wished to attend.

What were your classmates like?

The pupils were mostly boys from families that ran industry and the economy at the time (Scalbert François, Dewavrin, Verley, Vienne, Desurmont, Dalle and Masurel), destined at some point to take over the reins of the family business, which was the case for me at Maison Poncelet-Laloy. You must remember that back then the Lille region was the cradle of French industry!

In class we were dressed in a suit and tie, and on excursions we would don the traditional faluche, a dark blue velvet beret with a red and green band, red for the law and green for the humanities. The faluche was peppered with emblems, stars indicating seniority, the caduceus of Mercury, the owl of Athena, the heraldry of the city, region and associations. Without trying to be political, we used to mockingly carry Chamberlain’s umbrella. (NDLR: Arthur Chamberlain, British Prime Minister, often carried an umbrella in his hand. A photo of the signing of the 1938 Munich agreement shows him carrying one of his iconic umbrellas.)

Photo de la promo en 1938, source : famille de monsieur Poncelet

What were the teachings and values conveyed by EDHEC?

The subjects taught were mathematics, law, commerce, political economy (“éco-po”), accounting, English and German. We had a remarkable faculty, led by Mister Delcroix.

We were trained to be good professionals and future bosses with respect for the church’s social values.

What we called the “corpo” held us together in student solidarity, all the more so as my second year took place under German occupation. For the corpo elections, we voted for François Scalbert, whose slogan was particularly memorable: “What Albert the Great did, the great Scalbert will do again”. I feel that the same student solidarity is very much alive in EDHEC today, something I’m very glad to see.

What impact did the war have on your student life and your time at EDHEC?

I joined EDHEC in October 1938. At that time, things were very tense even though the war had been avoided thanks to Chamberlain and Daladier. The situation remained fragile. “Noises of war” reached us from the Spanish Civil War, and Austria had already been annexed. The climate was oppressive. EDHEC was one of the schools that allowed its students to do the higher military preparation (PMS). (NDLR: the PMS was preparatory training for young students aspiring to become officers.) We were motivated to defend the homeland; around 40 out of the 50 students in my class had decided to do the PMS.

We completed the first year without difficulty, but on 1 September 1939, it was announced that the war with Germany had begun. Despite that, the academic year resumed as normal, classes were held and we sat our end-of-year exams. Only the older students were mobilised.

We were united by a certain resistance against the Germans. I remember marching as far as the Grand’ Place with my classmates, with faluches on our heads, to react to Mussolini’s claim over Nice and Savoy. In response, our claim was for Venice to be handed over to France, the joke being that many French people had been conceived there during their parents’ honeymoon!

But in May 1940 the Germans attacked and we no longer had any choice (they were in Brussels, just 50 km from Lille): all students were advised to flee to avoid being taken prisoner.

Photo de la Préparation Militaire Supérieure, source : famille de monsieur Poncelet

Tell us about your life during the war.

A classmate from the Résistance gave me a new name as a resistance fighter: André Soufflot, after the name of the street where the publisher of our law books had its offices. As a Christian activist, like many of my classmates, I belonged to the JIC (independent Catholic youth). Indeed it was through that movement that I met my wife, Marie-Jeanne Gaudin, one of the national leaders of the JICF. We were present at Saint-Maurice church to listen to Cardinal Lienart’s homily in response to the STO measures, surrounded by German soldiers, weapons in hand, as the mass ended. (NDLR: the STO, or compulsory work service, was established by the Vichy regime in 1942-1943 to requisition hundreds of thousands of French workers and transfer them to Germany against their will.)

One way to escape working in Germany was to get a job at one of the mines in northern France. And so, when I left HECN, my first job was as a pitman at a depth of 523 metres, in the Courrières coalmine.

Eventually, because I had done my PMS, I was called up in 1945 to join the first Rhine and Danube army and go to combat in Germany under the orders of Marshall de Lattre de Tassigny.

What did you do after the war?

After the war, I pursued my military training as a reserve officer with the rank of Lieutenant. I (finally!) married Marie-Jeanne at Saint Étienne church in Lille on 9 October 1946, and we went on to have 5 children.

As for my professional career, after my experience in the mines, I took over my father’s business with my cousin and my brother at Maison Poncelet-Laloy, trading coal and later heating oil. The company became Nord Chauffe in 1970.

I served as Sales Director for the business but I was also a member of the DCN (group of sales directors in the Nord department).

At the same time I was also a board member at ASSOCHAR, which had been founded by my grandfather Oscar, a wholesale coal trader, and a volunteer trustee at Crédit Immobilier de Lille.

 

I also received a few decorations:

The army awarded me the Cross for voluntary military service.

The Holy See awarded me the Chevalric Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great.

How do you feel as these memories well up to the surface?

My close bonds with my old classmates from EDHEC stayed with me my whole life. At the age of 99, it’s emotional for me to recall these memories during this interview. Nowadays, both the school and the world have changed, so it makes me very happy to be able to share these memories with all of its students.

This interview was made possible by André Poncelet’s family, who recorded his testimonial and transcribed it in his own words. An emotional journey through time for all the members of that great family, but also for the entire community of EDHEC alumni.

#proudlyEDHEC

     

André Poncelet's student card, source: Monsieur Poncelet's family

Career change? Moving house?