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Anniversary of de Gaulle’s ‘Appel’ a timely contribution to French memory wars - expert comment by Dr David Lees

Today (18 June) is the anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's 'Appel' speech in 1940, which rallied support for the French Resistance. Here Dr David Lees of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures discusses how much it contributed to the personal myth of de Gaulle.

Dr Lees said: "Today marks the 80th anniversary of the famous ‘appeal’ of General Charles de Gaulle from London in 1940. De Gaulle, then a relatively unknown military figure who had only just entered the cabinet as under-Secretary of State for War, sought to rally the French people to continue the fight against the Nazis despite the efforts of Marshal Philippe Pétain to sue for an Armistice.

"Very few people heard de Gaulle’s first ‘Appel’ on the 18 June, broadcast on the French Service of the BBC. More people heard the second broadcast of the speech on the 22 June. The speech fell on deaf ears for many in France. There had been little enthusiasm about the prospect of another war with Germany in 1939; the opportunity to end hostilities was greeted with huge relief by the French at large. Few wanted to continue the fight.

"Yet by the time France was liberated, de Gaulle had become the recognised head of the French Resistance and leader of ‘Free France.’ De Gaulle’s status as the hero of France in its hour of need was reinforced when he returned to power again in 1958 at the height of the Algerian War of Independence to found the current French Fifth Republic.

"The myth surrounding de Gaulle—copies of his appeal can be found in parks and on street corners in the most unlikely of French towns even today—lives on. De Gaulle eventually accepted independence for many of France’s former colonies. But much like many of his contemporaries (not least Churchill), he had previously wanted to reassert the importance of the French Empire following the Second World War. No one has suggested tearing down statues of de Gaulle. Yet he remains a complex figure, whose early appeal to resist the Nazis in 1940 went onto overshadow any other aspect of his politics. The fact that his speech is commemorated on the 18 June—when few actually heard it in the first place—rather than on the 22 June, tells us much about de Gaulle’s development of his own personal myth. When many are rightly questioning the way we commemorate our past, it is clear that many in France, including President Emmanuel Macron who today meets Prince Charles and Boris Johnson to remember de Gaulle’s appeal, continue to perpetuate much of the myth, rather than the reality, of de Gaulle. Macron’s recent announcement that the French Republic will not remove any trace of its history—in a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement—will have done little to calm those who point to de Gaulle’s varied and often controversial past."

18 June 2020


Peter Thorley
Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics)


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