Elderly former members of the Free French will join President Nicolas Sarkozy in London on Friday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s radio appeal to his countrymen to resist Nazi occupation.
The British authorities are rolling out the red carpet for a huge French delegation headed by Sarkozy and his wife Carla, with Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron due to take part in a series of solemn events in the British capital, Reuters reports.
Cameron, then in opposition, told Sarkozy during a meeting in March that, if he won Britain’s May election, he would wish to celebrate De Gaulle’s appeal appropriately as a mark of friendship between London and Paris, Reuters reports. Cameron, whose Conservative Party has a history of tense relations with Britain’s European Union partners, took office on May 11 at the head of a coalition government with the smaller Liberal Democrats.
He has been keen to dispel fears that he would be an obstructive force in Europe and his first foreign trip as prime minister was to Paris, then Berlin.
For Sarkozy, struggling at home with poor poll ratings, the celebration is an opportunity to take a break from problems such as pensions reform and bask in the aura of De Gaulle, the dominant figure in France’s 20th century history. Sarkozy’s UMP, the mainstream centre-right French political party, traces its roots to De Gaulle during his time as president between 1958 and 1969.
De Gaulle’s radio appeal, broadcast by the BBC on June 18, 1940 (pictured), was the founding act of the French Resistance to Nazi occupation during World War Two, although few people heard it at the time and no recording of it has survived. However, the full text is preserved on a bronze plaque set into the ground near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier below the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Horrified by the collapse of the French army as German forces swept through France and by the defeatist attitude of the government, De Gaulle left for London, determined to continue the struggle.
In his radio appeal, he argued that, even though mainland France was mostly under German occupation, French soldiers could continue the war using the country’s colonies as a base or by joining forces with the British.
“This war is not limited to the unhappy territory of our country. This war has not been decided by the Battle of France. This war is a world war,” De Gaulle said, hailing Britain’s forces and predicting that US industry would tip the balance. “Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not be extinguished and it will not be extinguished,” he said. Although the message was aimed mainly at the military, it came to take on a wider meaning and was seen as the inspiration behind clandestine resistance movements inside France.