Interview with Mr. J. Bessemoulin



Mr. J. Bessemoulin

Mr. J. Bessemoulin

At the foot of the Pyrenees, some fifteen kilometres as the crow flies from the Spanish border, there is a village called Montastruc de Salies. Through this village flows the River Arbas which has its source up in the mountains and discharges into a tributary of the River Garonne. It is quite a short river, not more than 20 kilometres, but varies very much in volume, being high during the spring snowmelt period. Maize and wheat used to be grown in the region, and for this reason water-mills were built along the river, one or two kilometres apart. However, as intensive and efficient methods of growing these crops developed in the plains during the past century, the farmers up there abandoned agriculture and changed to the more profitable activity of stockbreeding. There being no more grain to grind, many of the water-mills were turned into sawmills. Today, even the sawmills are disappearing.

One of the few remaining ones in the valley was called the Moulin de Besse (moulin means mill) but unfortunately it was burnt down. Some twelve years ago Mr. and Mrs. Bessemoulin heard about the existence of the shell of another water-mill in the neighbourhood. They visited the site, were enchanted by the surroundings and the crystal clear water, and decided to buy it. There were of course several specific reasons which prompted the Bessemoulins to take this decision. To begin with, Mrs. Bessemoulin is a native of Toulouse, the nearby city known for its good food, and in particular its foie gras. Furthermore, Mr. Bessemoulin is a fisherman and has done a lot of mountaineering, and it would be hard to find a place which offered better possibilities for these pastimes.

The house is in two united parts, the old mill itself and the adjoining outbuildings. Altogether there are some ten to twelve rooms. The living room with its thick stone walls has an area of about 80 m2 with a huge fireplace in the middle, around which steps lead up to the first floor where the bedrooms are located. The river which used to turn the millwheel runs under the living room, and the sound of the flowing water is very soothing. Of course the house is fully modernized and has come to be known locally as Chateau Bessemoulin. In their 4000 m2 of land, the Bessemoulins have a kitchen garden where they grow vegetables for their own use. There is a well-equipped workshop where Mr. Bessemoulin can make diverse objects, including pieces of furniture. The Editor was particularly interested to see that facsimile equipment had been installed for providing meteorological analyses and forecast maps, and that instruments were exposed outside for taking meteorological observations. Asked if many of their friends visited the house, Mr. Bessemoulin replied that they would like to see more of them. Most people find it a long way to travel from Paris.

Jean Bessemoulin was bom in 1913 at Garches, he attended university in Paris where he obtained a degree in geophysics, covering the subjects of mathematics and physics, with specialization in astronomy. In 1933 he worked at the Observatory in Meudon. He was attracted to the study of the relationship between sunspots and terrestrial magnetism and sun-Earth relationships in general. In 1934 Bessemoulin was called up for military service. After taking a six-month training course in meteorology and passing an examination, he remained a meteorologist throughout his military service. Then a further three months training enabled him to go to Paris to work as chief of the plotting team for Mr. Andre Viaut, who at that time was head of the forecasting division. This, plus the fact that in 1935 there was an economic crisis in Europe, led Bessemoulin to put aside his interest in astronomy and to continue to build a career in meteorology. He soon developed an interest in fluid dynamics and fluid mechanics. In July 1936, he was sent to the National Gliding Centre in the Massif Central to work as an aerologist, and while he was there he learnt to fly gliders. In 1937 he took charge of the meteorological station at Nancy, and at the outbreak of war in 1939 he was called up and became head of the Army's Meteorological Station No. 3, still in the region of Nancy. Following the occupation of Paris by the Germans, Bessemoulin moved first to Lyons, then to near Perpignan, and finally to the Toulouse region. In October 1940 he opened a new regional meteorological station near Clermont-Ferrand and at the beginning of 1942 he was ordered to Marseilles as regional director. At the end of that year the Germans invaded southern France, and Bessemoulin was sent back to Paris under the order of the Germans to work as assistant to Professor Mezin (who for a long time was president of the former IMO and WMO Commission for Bibliography and Publications).

While in Marseilles, Bessemoulin had established contacts with the French Resistance, and continued these activities in Paris. He was designated assistant to one of the main leaders of the Resistance who was later killed. After the liberation of Paris, Bessemoulin was asked to assist Viaut and other colleagues in setting up the French National Meteorological Service again. In due course he was appointed chief of forecasting services, a position he held for more than 15 years. From 1961 to 1964 Bessemoulin served as Deputy Director of La Meteorologie nationale, and in 1964 he succeeded Viaut as the Director. He retired in December 1976.

Bessemoulin was involved in numerous WMO activities. As well as participating in sessions of the Organization's constituent bodies, he was chairman or member of various working groups. He was a member of the Executive Committee for 13 years, and Second Vice-President of WMO from 1971 to 1975.

Bessemoulin is the author of a great number of scientific and technical papers. One of his early works is a book entitled Manuel de meteorologie du vol a voile which he wrote in collaboration with Andre Viaut. He received the following awards and distinctions: Officier de la Legion d'honneur; Croix de guerre 1939-1945 avec palmes; Medaille de la Resistance avec rosette; Medaille de l'Aeronautique (1955); Chevalier des Palmes academiques (1958); Medaille d'honneur de l'Aeronautique (1970); Commandeur de la Legion d'honneur.

This interview took place on 13 and 14 July 1981. We are very grateful to Mr. Bessemoulin for having agreed to collaborate in this series. The Editor also greatly appreciated the warm hospitality extended to him during his two-day visit to Chateau Bessemoulin.

H.T. — Mr. Bessemoulin, perhaps you would start by saying a few words about your parents and events of your childhood.

J.B. — Both my parents came from the region of Bourges (central France) and both were from farming families. My father was one of 12 children, and so had to leave the farm to find a job in Paris. I was born on 18 March 1913 at Garches, on the western outskirts of Paris. My parents were both hospital workers there. When the First World War broke out I was sent to my grandparents on the farm, and stayed there for five years. Then I was reunited with my parents in Garches, and attended the local primary school. In those days, parents had to pay for further education and this would have been an impossible burden for mine. So it was fortunate that I succeeded in getting a scholarship which permitted me to go on to the lycée (high school) at Versailles, and subsequently to university in Paris. I studied mathematics and general physics, and obtained a diploma for advanced studies in astronomy and a degree in geophysics. The course did not comprise very much meteorology, but I became interested in the flows of fluids, especially that of air and water around the Earth.

H.T. — What was the French university system like in those days?

J.B. — The universities provided advanced academic education, but did not focus on the career which a student would subsequently embark upon. Of course the-e were far fewer university students then, and the problem of a career was nothing like as acute as it is today. The majority of graduates themselves became teachers. Nowadays, universities prepare students in a far more practical way for an active career in their chosen field.

H.T. — Your initial choice was astronomy. How did you start in this field?

J.B. — I was taken on as a trainee astronomer at Meudon Observatory which has always been well known for its studies of the sun, although we did other work as well. I became assistant to the director of the observatory, Mr. Azambuja, and helped him in taking daily monochromatic photographs of the sun and doing other work on sunspots and faculae. This led me to want to investigate relationships between sunspots and terrestrial magnetism, and so I rebuilt the large magnetometer at Meudon to detect magnetic disturbances and anomalies.

H.T. — What was it that led you to turn from astronomy to meteorology?

J.B. — After a year at Meudon, the time had come for me to do my military service. I found out that I could apply for the military meteorological service; I would have to attend evening classes given by meteorologists, and if I passed an examination after the first six months I should probably be able to remain in meteorology throughout my period of national service. And that is what happened. I followed an intensive course on codes, plotting and taking down meteorological messages by radio in Morse code. Then I was sent to Paris to work with Andre Viaut, who was head of the forecasting division and I spent the rest of my military service there. In 1935, when I came to be demobilized, the severe economic recession then prevailing made me realize that there was almost certainly a better future in meteorology than in astronomy, and anyway I had come to enjoy the work. It happened that two posts were advertised just then in the Meteorological Service. Selection was by competition, and although there were many other candidates I was offered one of the posts. The other successful candidate was J.-R. Rivet who, as you know, was later to serve as Deputy Secretary-General of WMO from 1952 until 1970.

H.T. — What were the possibilities of studying meteorology in the universities or in the National Meteorological Service?

J.B. — As I said a moment ago, the university course in geophysics did include meteorology, but only the bare bones. In fact the only real course was at the Ecole nationale de la Meteorologie, the meteorological training college run by the French Meteorological Service. Here instruction was by professional meteorologists and specialists actually practising in their respective domains. Staff were recruited to the Meteorological Service at three levels: meteorological technicians (chart plotters, telecommunication handlers or assistant observers), meteorologists (senior observers, aviation forecasters or climatologists—who needed to have successfully completed their secondary education with perhaps one year at a university), and principal meteorologists (forecasters at headquarters, chiefs of regional centres—who had university degrees). All had to pass a competitive entrance examination. When Rivet and I were recruited as principal meteorologists, we followed a one-year course at the training college. In those days there must have been about 20 principal meteorologists in the Service. Nowadays newly-appointed graduates study for three years, which seems a little excessive to me. Two years are devoted to theoretical meteorology and one to practical work. Of course, I must admit that in my day the fields of computer programming, electronic data processing and the like did not exist.

H.T. — Are there any university chairs of meteorology in France today?

J.B. — The most advanced teaching of meteorology is still provided by the Meteorological Service's training college, but there are chairs of meteorology at the universities of Lyons, Paris, Clermont-Ferrand and Toulouse. At Lyons I believe the course is to some extent restricted to the geographical aspects—climatology and large-scale meteorology. At Marseilles there is not a chair of meteorology as such, but they are strong in fluid mechanics, turbulence especially.

H.T. — So you would have emerged from the training college in 1936. Where were you sent to then?

J.B. — I was sent to the National Gliding Centre at the Banne d'Ordanche at an altitude of 1500 m on the north-western fringe of the Massif Central. From there we could see the Puy de Dome about 25 km to the north-east. I arrived with very little knowledge about the upper air. Each day an aircraft took off from the airfield at Clermont-Ferrand and made soundings as it ascended to the level of the summit of the Puy de Dome. Then it flew at constant altitude to the Banne d'Ordanche, and all along the route there were a number of small meteorological stations which made observations as the aircraft passed over. At the Banne d'Ordanche the aircraft performed another vertical sounding. The recordings were thrown out to us in a metal cylinder before the aircraft returned to Clermont-Ferrand. We also tried using kites to obtain some upper-air information, but because of the turbulence this method was not often successful. Later we placed a small Jaumotte meteorograph attached to a parachute in the nose of a rocket which was fired to a height of 1500 m (i.e. 3000 m above sea-level). The meteorograph provided a continuous record of pressure and temperature—and was followed during its descent by two theodolites on a baseline of 1100 m. This permitted its altitude at a given moment to be calculated accurately, and also indicated where to look for it when it reached the ground. With the data we could glean from these various sources, we continued to draw daily horizontal and vertical cross-sections of the atmosphere. This helped us greatly in understanding atmospheric instability and what are nowadays known as boundary-layer processes, and we did manage to make some useful forecasts for glider pilots.

H.T. — I believe you yourself became a glider pilot?



'Chateau Bessemoulin' near the foot of the  Pyrenees where the interview took place
(Photo: H. Taba)

J.B. — Most of the glider pilots had already learnt to fly aeroplanes, but I had never had the opportunity. So for me the very first time in the air was solo in a sailplane, because there were no two-seater gliders. It was quite an experience. So I learnt alone, by making flights of increasing duration and range. When I first arrived I had questioned the experienced glider pilots closely, and gradually came to understand how the sailplane could remain in the air for hours on end using only the air currents. Of course, I was not the only meteorologist there. There was Baldit, who was well known for his work on airflow at the Earth's surface; there was Guiraud, and Gilbert.

There was Eyraud, who was a licensed pilot of aeroplanes and gliders, and he flew the Meteorological Service's motorglider which was very useful to us in our investigations.

H.T. — Did you stay up at Banne d'Ordanche all winter?

J.B. — No. The centre closed in October as the first falls of snow occurred, and I was sent back to Paris where I had to write a report on the meteorological conditions at the Banne d'Ordanche during the 1936 season. That took me up to the end of the year, and at the beginning of 1937 I was sent to take charge of the regional meteorological centre at Nancy. As you know, France is roughly in the form of a hexagon, and was divided into six meteorological regions. Nancy was responsible for the north-eastern region. In general there were forecasters only at the national centre in Paris and at the regional centres. There were small meteorological stations in the region, mostly on airfields, and aeronautical forecasts had to be obtained by telephone from the regional centre. When I started at Nancy I was capable of doing the work of any member of the staff—observer, forecaster, chart-plotter, radio operator, and so on. This would be impossible these days since each field has become so specialized and highly developed.

H.T. — So you relied on radio for receiving your meteorological data?

J.B. — To start with, yes. But during 1937 we received a teleprinter which was a great help, and also a small facsimile receiver which provided us with charts drawn up at Paris. Once or twice per day there was a chart covering the Atlantic, because the French Meteorological Service maintained a weather ship, and one of its tasks was to collect observations by radio from merchant ships and to retransmit these in the form of bulletins. You can imagine how enormously helpful it was to have these analyses over the Atlantic, however sketchy they may have been.

H.T. — I understand that you remained at Nancy even after the outbreak of war?

J.B. — That is so. I was drafted into the army and given charge of its Meteorological Station No. 3 which was at Nancy. But whereas in peace-time the staff had numbered about 25, a few weeks later we had become 120 because we had greatly increased responsibilities in providing meteorological information for all the new military airfields being opened up in the region, and for artillery and other units near the frontier with Germany. Moreover, we now formed a self-contained unit, with our own cooks, quartermaster, paymaster and so on. We stayed at Nancy even after the Germans had overrun the Netherlands and Belgium and entered Paris on 14 June 1940, but then we moved down to Lyons. This was the first of several successive moves with the original intention of crossing the Mediterranean to North Africa. However, that plan did not materialize, and the unit was demobilized near Toulouse. I was ordered to go to set up a new regional meteorological centre at Clermont-Ferrand in October 1940 (the south of France was still unoccupied by the Germans and the regional meteorological centres at Lyons, Marseilles and Toulouse still existed). Because of all the refugees it was difficult to find premises there, but eventually I succeeded and we installed ourselves and effectively re-created there the pre-war centre at Nancy with the original equipment and civilian staff.

H.T. — Were you able to remain for long in Clermont-Ferrand?

J.B. — I was there for rather more than a year. I was married in November 1941 in a small town called Chamaliere, near Clermont-Ferrand. Later this town had as its mayor the future President of the Republic, Mr. Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Then six weeks later I was asked to go to take over the job of regional director at Marseilles (Marignane airport) from Andre Perlat who had been sent to take charge of the Meteorological Service in Tunisia. At that time Marignane was very busy, since aircraft (and this includes flying boats) going to North Africa or Corsica all left from there. The Germans too used the airfield for flights to Spain. Also there was still the famous Aeropostale, the regular night-time airmail flights to the North African coast and beyond started by Jean Mermoz. Whilst I was in Marseilles I followed a university course on fluid mechanics. At the end of 1942 the Germans occupied the south of France, and I was sent back to Paris to work at the central office of the Meteorological Service, and so I could not take the final examination. We were then of course under the orders of the Vichy Government, which was manipulated by the Germans. I was designated assistant chief of the Scientific Service; the chief was Maurice Mezin who had been our instructor at the meteorological training college. We had little work to do, and in any case no motivation to work for the Germans. I was able to do quite a lot of work on my own in the field of statistics and astronomy which was very useful to me.

H.T. — Among your awards is the médaille de la Résistance avec rosette. How much can you tell us about your activities in the French Resistance?

J. B. — It is a period one does not like to talk about very much. Whilst I was in Marseilles I made contact with the Resistance, and on my return to Paris I became assistant to one of the principal leaders of the movement. Unfortunately this man was killed by a burst of machine-gun fire by the Gestapo at the end of 1943. However, we maintained our activities right up to the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944.

H.T. — After the liberation you were appointed assistant chief of the Technical Service. What did your work consist of then?

J.B. — General de Gaulle was anxious that the French Meteorological Service should be reanimated as quickly as possible so as to be able to support the Allies as they continued their advance. Andre Viaut had been appointed director and I was his assistant, and our task was therefore to re-establish the Service. Now we were highly motivated once again, and we worked extremely hard, setting up new regional centres and stations and rehabilitating old ones, providing refresher courses for staff, forming new forecasters, reorganizing the telecommunications system, and so on. Viaut and I went several times to London for reasons of co-ordination with the Allies' meteorological services, and I had the opportunity of visiting the Central Forecasting Office of the United Kingdom Meteorological Office which was tucked away in the hills of southern England at Dunstable. I made the acquaintance of many British and some American meteorologists who later visited us in Paris. Because of the new status of meteorology, principal meteorologists were given the title Ingenieur en chef de la Meteorologie at the end of 1945. Within La Meteorologie nationale, there were two major departments; one was for France and its dependencies in North Africa—Le Service meteorologique de la Métropole et d'Afrique du nord (SMMA), and the other for the Meteorological Services of all the French dominions overseas. Since our specific task had been virtually completed by the end of 1945, and since I felt I was still too young to confine myself to organizational and administrative tasks, I asked Viaut whether I could not do something more on the scientific side. He agreed, and put me in charge of the SMMA Forecasting Division, a post which I held for many years.

H.T. — These would be years when the tools and techniques of meteorology started to undergo rapid developments. How was this manifested in your particular sphere?

J.B. — We already had quite a large number of observations from the North Atlantic, including radiosonde ascents from weather ships and meteorological reconnaissance flights on most days. It was at last possible to make quite detailed analyses over the ocean which was of enormous help to us in the forecasting office. It was the technological progress in data acquisition and better training of forecasters rather than advances in the science of meteorology which permitted us to improve our forecasting service. When we first heard about experiments in the USA using computers to simulate atmospheric processes numerically, I had long discussions on this subject with my deputy, Robert Pone. Pone was very keen to start work on this in France, and so I put the case to Andre Viaut who was soon convinced of the potential benefit to the Service of embarking on numerical weather analysis and prediction systems. He obtained funds to construct a huge computer—it contained 30 000 valves—which, as you can imagine, was plagued by innumerable bugs and breakdowns in the early days. However we trained a team of our own technicians who could attend to maintenance and carry out minor repairs. They became remarkably adept at spotting the source of trouble. In this way we managed to run a barotropic model with quite good results. But then we came up against the problem of interpreting the 500-hPa patterns; forecasters were simply not accustomed to these, and did not know what to infer from them. Although we contrived to produce synoptic upper-air charts for delineating air mass boundaries, it was only when we acquired a more sophisticated computer and ran multi-level models that we really felt we were progressing. In due course, after investing in two more smaller computers, we had mechanized the greater part of the data-handling process from observation to archival.

H.T. — Whilst you remained chief of the Forecasting Division, I see that in 1956 you became Deputy Director of the SMMA.

  Mr et Mrs Bessemoulin
Mr. and Mrs. Bessemoulin in conversation with the President of WMO, Dr. A. Nyberg, at a reception during the Fifth World Meteorological Congress in 1967

J.B. — Being made Deputy Director of the SMMA inevitably meant that I had to devote part of my time to administrative matters, but there was still plenty to do in the Forecasting Division. At that time we began to develop and ramify our services for the users of weather forecasts, and to decentralize the forecasting function. A client generally had much more confidence in a forecast given by someone local, and a very valuable forecaster-user interaction is possible. Five years later, as Viaut was approaching retirement age and wanted me to take over from him, he asked me to be Deputy Director of La Meteorologie nationale so as to familiarize myself with the duties. Of course I had already had some experience of this kind of administrative work, but during the intervening years practices had changed and the number of staff had greatly increased. Thus it was that I left the SMMA in 1961 and subsequently succeeded Viaut as Director of La Meteorologie nationale in 1964. I had worked in close collaboration with him for 30 years.

H.T. — When you became Director of the French Meteorological Service, the war had been over for almost 20 years. What had been the main changes during that post-war period?

J.B. — There had been changes in all fields of meteorology. In instrumentation we now had the meteorological radar, so important for local forecasting. The electronic computers opened up a whole new world in the realm of forecasting. Then there were the satellites which gave a quasi-global, quasi-synoptic view of weather systems and also provided a valuable supplementary means of telecommunication. Actually, we had been a little afraid that the satellite photographs might bring about a need to revise our current theories about synoptic meteorology, but in fact they only confirmed the postulations of the Bergen school of meteorologists and the French concepts of 'cloud systems'. It is true to say also that the World Meteorological Organization had already done much useful work in co-ordinating the observational systems throughout the world.

H.T. — You have participated in many WMO activities; you were chairman of several working groups, vice-president of Regional Association VI, member of the Executive Committee for some 13 years and Second Vice-President of the Organization from 1971 to 1975. Now that you have been able to stand back for five years, how do you view the effectiveness of WMO?

  meeting room
  Mr. Bessemoulin was chairman of the Committee on Technical Questions set up at Fifth Congress. On his right are Dr. K. Langlo and Dr. G. G. Tarakanov of the WMO Secretariat

J.B. — I think I already said that Andre Viaut made me take part in international meetings at a very early stage. We were always convinced that since weather systems observe no national frontiers, international co-operation was absolutely essential in getting to understand atmospheric processes. When WMO succeeded the IMO, we were very pleased to see the Secretariat being built up in a sound manner so as to serve the diverse activities of Meteorological Services. The IMO had been more a sort of academic forum for the directors, and was not strong enough to have a real impact on the Services. For one thing, subjects for discussion in IMO were not always prepared sufficiently, and this resulted in a lot of time being wasted. Nowadays WMO presents a thorough analysis of topics to be discussed, and delegates can confer beforehand with colleagues in their Service and usually arrive with a clear-cut position.

This shortens the time needed for discussion and generally makes it easier to reach a consensus.

H.T. — What do you regard as having been WMO's principal achievements during your association with the Organization?

J.B. — For me, the crowning achievement was the launching of the World Weather Watch which has so effectively co-ordinated Members' operational activities as to have produced something approaching a global weather service. Then, of course, the Global Atmospheric Research Programme with its Global Weather Experiment and various regional experiments has contributed a vast amount of material to push back the frontiers of our perception of atmospheric processes, and, incidentally, provided valuable guidance in further improving World Weather Watch systems. Education and training is highly important, especially for Meteorological Services of developing countries, and away back in the early days of WMO I had the pleasure of taking part in working groups which established syllabuses for training the different levels of meteorologists. This was extremely difficult because different countries had different standards, and our recommendations I believe had a fundamental importance in setting out universally comparable classes of meteorologist. As regards the incorporation of hydrology as an entity in WMO's activities, I have to confess that I was not at first in favour. Meteorological Services have to concern themselves with the moisture budget of the atmosphere, and, ipso facto, with precipitation and evaporation, and I did not see the need for WMO to absorb other fields of human activity just because they had some connexion with meteorology. However, I was made a member of a working group under the chairmanship of Dr. Alf Nyberg, then President of the Organization, to study the question of extending WMO to cover hydrology, and in the light of the discussions I came to agree with the majority. In fact, I do not believe any profound changes have resulted in the relationship between meteorology and hydrology in France, but there has been an expansion of hydrometeorological activities in La Meteorologie nationale so that on the whole the net result is positive.

H.T. — You have made a number of scientific and technical contributions to meteorology. One which attracted considerable attention was the work you did with Robert Pone on determining the transatlantic air routes which would permit the fastest crossing. What exactly did this work involve?

J.B. — Once we had the means to draw up reasonably accurate charts of the upper-air circulation over the North Atlantic and predict its evolution, it occurred to me that we might attempt to determine the route which would be the most favourable for air crossings as used to be done in the days of sailing ships. You will remember that the east-to-west passage was far down towards the Equator and the west-to-east passage further north in order to benefit from the prevailing winds around the Azores anticyclone. In each case the crossing was quicker even though the number of kilometres covered was substantially greater. Of course we had no computers at the time I am speaking about. To illustrate the method we found to be the most efficient, consider a non-stop flight from Paris to New York. Starting at time 'zero' at Paris we imagined numbers of aircraft radiating in different directions, and plotted the positions they would be in, taking account of the wind field, after one hour, two hours, and so on. This gave hourly isochrones, and the first to reach the destination gave the minimum flying time possible under the given circulation pattern, but not the actual route. To find that, we had to reconstruct backwards from New York. The work only took about twenty minutes and was much appreciated by the airline operators. However, with the increasing traffic over the North Atlantic it became necessary to establish rigid flight corridors, so that our procedure no longer serves a useful purpose.

H.T. — You have an impressive list of decorations. Can you say something about the circumstances leading to them?

J.B. — The Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 avec palmes and the Medaille de la Resistance arose from my part in the French Resistance during the war, which I have already mentioned. I always say that it is those who died who deserve the decorations, but the lucky survivors who wear them. From the French Air Ministry I received the Medaille de I'Aeronautique in 1955 and the Medaille d'honneur de I'Aeronautique in 1970 for my contributions to aeronautical meteorology; I was made Chevalier des Palmes acade-miques in 1958 in recognition of my work in training both military and civil staff in aeronautical meteorology. I do not need to tell you that in the space of 10 to 15 years, with cruising altitudes going up from about 2000 m in 1939 to 8000 m in the 1950s, the scope of meteorological training, for our own staff as well as for aircrews, underwent a considerable evolution.

H.T. — You were also Officer and became Commander of the Legion d'honneur. Can you tell me something about the history of this order?

J.B. — The order Legion d'honneur was created by the Emperor Napoleon I. It is for outstanding service to the country, either as a civilian or as a member of the armed forces. There are three grades: knight, officer and commander, and above that two special high-ranking awards, the Grand Officier and the Grand Croix. The President of the Republic is automatically Grand Croix de la Legion d'honneur. Later, General de Gaulle created a new order for distinguished services to the nation, I'Ordre du merite national, which has led to fewer Legion d'honneur awards being conferred. Incidentally, the order is not restricted to French nationals. For example, as you reported in the WMO Bulletin 30 (1) p. 16, Dr. R. M. White of the USA is Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur.

H.T. — Many of my colleagues at WMO, when they knew I was going to meet you, asked me to question you about your favourite recreation — fishing.

J.B. — One of the main reasons which led me to decide to buy this mill is that it is on a trout stream. There are only trout here; for other kinds of fish one must go down to the Garonne. But for me the great joy is that I can fish for trout without going more than a kilometre from home. I am afraid I can no longer go in the water up to my waist because I soon get cramp from the cold, and fishing from the bank is more restrictive. Anyway, my sons have caught this passion for trout-fishing, and are now much more adept and successful at it than I am. If any of your WMO colleagues who are enthusiastic trout-fishermen wish to try their arm here, they will be most welcome provided we have room for them.

H.T. — You are here for six months of the year, and you spend the winter in Paris. How do you fill in your time there?

J.B. — I often reflect on scientific problems in meteorology. For two years I have followed a course at the university on the original language of this area, called the Langue d'Oc or Occitan (the region is in fact called Languedoc). It is a corrupted form of Latin still spoken by farmers among themselves. I cannot yet speak it fluently, but I can read it easily, and the local place-names now have a new and picturesque meaning for me. For example, Escanecrabe. 'Crabe' has nothing to do with the marine crustacean; it comes from the Latin word 'capra' which means 'goat'. Then escanar means 'to suffocate' or 'to be strangled'. Thus Escanecrabe is the 'place of the strangled goat'.

H.T. — It seems you have the reputation of being something of a gourmet. Is this a particularly good region from the point of view of gastronomy?

J.B. — I am not sure that the reputation is really merited. Anyway, I have been on a strict diet for several months now, and no longer can sample all the specialities of this area such as the foie gras and the cassoulet. Until about a century ago the local people here in the mountains were very poor and lived and ate modestly—their staple diet was boiled maize, which can hardly be considered a gourmet's dish. No, this is not the best gastronomical area in France. I would hesitate to say which is; certainly the Perigord a bit further to the north comes very high on the list. Nevertheless, our foie gras is justly famed. But, as I have just said, I have to be extremely cautious nowadays about what I eat.

H.T. — Drawing from your own experience, what advice would you give to a young person thinking of choosing meteorology as a career?

J.B. — My eldest son, who has a doctorate in science, is now working in La Meteo-rologie nationale, so you see I did not advise him against it. Personally, I am very glad that I chose meteorology. It enabled me to get to know many interesting people in France and elsewhere; and not only meteorologists, since even at the national level meteorology interacts with many other fields of human activity. It was wonderful for me to be able to meet so many eminent people from different countries at WMO meetings. Sometimes I rather regret not having stuck resolutely to a truly scientific career, not becoming engrossed in the day-to-day routine tasks of a Meteorological Service. I have always been attracted to tough problems, and in my day weather forecasting certainly packed enough of those. Yes, for me, meteorology has fulfilled everything I have hoped for. So my assertion is that meteorology is a highly interesting and thoroughly worthwhile career for a young person to embark upon.


back to top







  Latest issue [pdf]

About the Bulletin

Copyright | Privacy policy | Disclaimer | Guidelines |