Gurdjieff International Review
Bernard Courtenay Mayers was the Chairman of the Gurdjieff Society of London from 1988 until 2011. For members of the Society, as well as for many others around the world, he was an inspiration, guide, mentor, companion and friend. He was much loved and respected, like an elder brother. He was, if one dare to use a word to which Gurdjieff gave great weight, an honourable man. Having met and worked with Gurdjieff in Paris in the late 1940s, he devoted his life to the practice of his Teaching. He led by example, and was rigorous in maintaining the integrity of Gurdjieff’s legacy.
ernard, or Bryan as he was originally christened, was born in 1916 in Victoria, British Columbia, which was then part of the British Empire. His father was a well-respected barrister and partner in a law firm that still exists in Vancouver, and he later became a judge. His mother was a beautiful young woman whose family came from Kent. He was their only child.
At the age of four his mother brought him to Toulouse in France and left him with a foster mother. His parents wanted him to be a scientist and decided that he would receive the best education in the French school system, followed by university in America. So Bernard grew up in the care of a French war widow and her family, whom he described as good, simple people. They never allowed him to do practical work or to play sports, but nevertheless he developed a love of walking in the mountains of the Pyrénées where he spent his childhood summers. From 1930 they lived in Paris where he attended the Lycée Charlemagne, and in 1933, when his father died, Bernard chose to study medicine at the Faculté de Médecine in Paris. During this time he met people who would have a great influence on his life, in particular some Benedictine monks. Bernard went to their monastery, Abbaye de la Pierrequi-Vire, several times and he never forgot the guidance he received there.
By the time Paris was invaded in 1940, he had qualified as ‘lnterne des Hôpitaux de Paris’ and had been posted to a military hospital. Under the Occupation he resumed his work as a registrar and soon became involved in the activities of the French Resistance, notably the ‘Comète’ network who were rescuing Allied aviators, hiding them and passing them back to Britain via the Pyrénées. Eventually the network was betrayed. Bernard was warned that his name was on a Gestapo blacklist, and he left France in 1943, escaping on foot over the mountains to Spain. When he finally reached England, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, under the assumed name of Captain Montague at the insistence of British Intelligence in case of capture. In June 1944, he was back in France with his regiment, the 2nd Battalion of the East Yorkshire, during the fierce fighting of the Normandy Landings.
He rarely talked about his experience of the war. He told of one incident, however, which occurred when his regiment had reached Holland. One morning he set off in search of some of the men who had gone missing, and found that they had strayed over enemy lines and been taken prisoner. He too was captured by the Germans—but they didn’t know what to make of this French-speaking English officer. They held on to his jeep driver, but Bernard was made to walk back to his lines, across a minefield, holding a white flag. He said this was the most terrifying moment of his life.
For the latter part of the war he was posted to the Middle East, which he found fascinating. He spent time in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. In 1945 Field Marshal Montgomery decorated him with the Military Cross, and in 1946 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the Americans.
Back in London, Bernard left the army and continued his medical studies at the Westminster Hospital in order to qualify to practice in England. Having been introduced by friends to Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, he went to live at Coombe Springs and developed his interest in the Work. In August 1948 he was taken to meet Mr. Gurdjieff in Paris, and spent as much time with him as possible until his death in October 1949. Having been accepted by Mr. Gurdjieff as a friend of Dr. Conge, Bernard was included in the trips with him to Vichy and to Lascaux. In Paris he joined Mme. de Salzmann’s groups, as well as those of Henri Tracol. Mme. de Salzmann introduced him to Dr. Salmanoff (formerly Lenin’s physician) who had a very important influence on his further approach to medicine.
In 1951 he met Annette. They married in 1953, then moved to London and had three children: Zita, Michel and Georgina. His dual French and English qualifications attracted a large number of the French-speaking residents of London.
In 1985 the French Embassy awarded Bernard the Légion d’Honneur for his services to the French community. Concurrently, he became increasingly involved in the Work of the Gurdjieff Society and was elected Chairman of the Council in 1988. Bernard visited many groups in Europe, the USA and South America.
He died at home in London on January 1, 2012 and was buried, as he had wished, in Vers-sur-Méouge in the south of France. □
First published in The Gurdjieff Society: Report of the Council to Members, (London) April 2011 – March 2012, and is reprinted here with their kind permission.
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Featured: Spring 2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (2)
Revision: August 20, 2020