French Freedom Papers

Charles De Gaulle

Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle (1890-1970), born in Lille on November 22nd, 1890, was a renowned French military officer and statesman, known for his role in the Liberation of France from the Nazis, as well as his time as President of the Fifth Republic. 

De Gaulle was raised catholic as the third of five children born to Henri and Jeanne de Gaulle. During his education at the Collège Stanislaus in Paris, de Gaulle developed a great pride in his religion and his country, following the patriotic fervor of the time. In 1908, de Gaulle enlisted in a French military academy, and by 1911 he was a lieutenant in the French army. In the first World War, de Gaulle, stationed in the 33rd regiment, faced a trial by fire. He was injured three times and imprisoned in a German POW camp from 1916 until the armistice agreement in 1919. 

Between the first and second World Wars, de Gaulle continued to serve in the military, rising through the ranks and gaining clout as a talented, if difficult to manage, leader. He also taught at the École Militaire, where he developed a military theory based around tank and quick maneuvering, quite contrary to the French style of defensive trench warfare. His theories, published in the book "Vers l'Armée de Métier" (Towards a Professional Army) were met with indifference in France. They did, however, prove to be prophetic.

At the outbreak of World War 2, de Gaulle was made a temporary commander in the fight against the advancing German military. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General for his attack on a German division at Montcornet, one of the few military successes for the French during the German invasion. After the swift German victory, de Gaulle, as a minister of the French Government, opposed surrender. Once Marshal Phillippe Pétain assumed power as the Premier of the Vichy Regime, de Gaulle and several other officers fled to Britain, where he delivered his now-famous "Appelle du 18 Juin" (Appeal of June 18th) where he called on the French people to resist the German occupation and the Vichy Regime. As a result of this rousing call to arms, de Gaulle was recognized as the Chief of the Free French by Winston Churchill

During World War 2, de Gaulle was the primary organizer of international Free French operations, operating mainly on the French war front and Northern Africa.

De Gaulle was a defiant, proud, sometimes opinionated figure with a knack not just for military action but also foresight. His opinions on the natural technological advancement of the military were, again, prophetic. However, de Gaulle also possessed a keen sense of the moment, demonstrated in, among other things, the "Appel" and his famous march into the Champs-Elysées after the defeat of the German side at D-Day. Despite his reputation today as the liberator of France, de Gaulle was in fact not well-liked at the time. His opponents (Franklin Roosevelt among them) on the Allied side saw him as opportunistic, difficult, and dangerous, and they were not entirely without justification for this. However, de Gaulle still largely maintained the support of the French people, which not only kept him in power during the war but also aided his political career after the war.

Though this does not play into the content of the letters, de Gaulle also served as the President of the Fifth Republic from 1959 until his resignation in 1969. His time as President, though controversial, is often viewed with indulgence by many French citizens today, and his time as President continues to shape French politics. De Gaulle died in 1970 at 79 years old, two weeks shy of 80, of a ruptured blood vessel. In a statement that embodies the French attitude toward de Gaulle as a savior and a leader, Georges Pompidou, the following President, announced after his death "Le général de Gaulle est mort; la France est veuve." ("General de Gaulle is dead. France is a widow.")
Letters sent by Charles de Gaulle:

De Gaulle to Brooke: 6/16/1942
De Gaulle to Eden: 7/18/1942

De Gaulle to Eden: 8/5/1942

References:, La Fondation Charles de Gaulle,, 
          Accessed 10 October 2016

Go to Historical Figures

Contents of this tag: