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Charles de Gaulle

Published on November 30, 2007

Charles André Marie Joseph de Gaulle was born in Lille on November 22, 1890. His father, a professor of literature and history, "a hardworking man imbued with a feeling for the dignity of France," communicated his love of country to his five children.

Entering St. Cyr Military Academy at the age of eighteen, Charles de Gaulle graduated high in his class in 1912 as a second lieutenant in the 33rd Infantry Regiment

War broke out in 1914 qnd Lieutenant de Gaulle distinguished himself in the earliest battles. He was twice wounded before being promoted to captain in September 1915. After being taken prisoner, he made five attempts at escape, but was recaptured each time. He was finally sent to a reprisal camp, where he stayed until the end of the war.

Liberated by the Armistice of November 11, 1918, he accompanied General Weygand on a mission to Poland and was subsequently posted to St. Cyr Military Academy to teach military history. On April 6, 1921 he married Mademoiselle Yvonne Vendroux.

On leaving the War College in 1924, he was assigned to the staff of the Army of the Rhine and later attached to the Supreme War Council. He began to become known in military circles for his theories on the reorganization of the army. Between the two World Wars, he also published a number of books and articles on the subject, particularly Vers l’Armée de Métier (The Army of the Future), in which he announced the birth of a new type of mechanized military force.

Between 1929 and 1931, he was promoted successively to major and lieutenant-colonel and was posted to the staff of the Levant Forces in Beirut, where he acquired a knowledge of the Moslem countries that was to be of great value to him. Promoted to colonel in 1937, he took command of a tank regiment stationed at Metz.

War broke out again in 1939, and Colonel de Gaulle was given command of the Fourth Armored Division five days after the invasion of Belgium and Holland and repulsed a German attack at Laon on May 17. Following this action, he was promoted to the rank of acting brigadier general. At the age of 49, he was the youngest general in the French Army.

On June 6, he was urgently summoned to Paris to take up the post of Under Secretary of State for National Defense and War in the Cabinet of Paul Reynaud. In this capacity, he made several trips to Great Britain to confer with Sir Winston Churchill. But defeat was already in the making. The Reynaud Government, which had been transferred to Bordeaux, resigned.

On June 17, 1940, General de Gaulle flew to London and the following day, on the BBC, launched his "Appeal of June 18": "France has lost a battle, but France has not lost the war". One by one the French Overseas Territories rallied to General de Gaulle and, in December 1940, he created the Free French Movement.

In June 1942, the heroic resistance of the First Brigade of the Free French Forces at Bir Hakeim reminded the world that France was still fighting. After the liberation of North Africa in the first few months of 1943, he set up at Algiers, on June 3, a Committee of National Liberation which, one year later, became the "Provisional Government of the French Republic," assisted by a Provisional Consultative Assembly. In France, resistance movements were organized under the National Resistance Council, which gave its support to General de Gaulle. Lastly, at the Brazzaville Conference in 1944, de Gaulle laid the foundations of the future Community.

On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy, and on June 14 General de Gaulle made a triumphar entry into Bayeux. This was a prelude to the reception he was to be given on Autust 25 by Paris, liberated by the Resistance with the help of General Leclerc’s Second Armored Division. The constituent Assembly elected in November 1944 confirmed him as head of the Provisional Government and unanimously voted him full powers to form a Government.

During this period, General de Gaulle made two official visits to the United States (July 1944 and August 1945). He also went to Moscow in December 1944 and signed a pact of alliance and mutual assistance with Stalin.

Under General de Gaulle’s direction, while municipal, departmental and legislative elections were being held, numerous economic and social reforms were carried out. However, unable to secure from the various political parties the unity of action he had to have to carry out his program, General de Gaulle refused to remain responsible for government. He retired to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, wrote his war memoirs and formed the "Rassemblement du Peuple Français" or Rally of the French People, remaining constantly in touch with representatives of French public opinion.

Events in Algeria in 1958 and the confusion in the ranks of the administration created a movement of public opinion which led to General de Gaulle’s return to power. In strict observance of the "regular procedure for the constitution of a republican Government," General de Gaulle was called upon by President René Coty to form the last Government of the Fourth Republic and was invested by the National Assembly on June 1 by a large majority.

Between August 21 and September 1, he made a trip to the French speciaking countries of Africa ant to Madagascar in order to propose to the overseas peoples a new type of association with Metropolitan France: the Community. The draft Constitution submitted to the French people by the Premier for approval obtained 80% of the votes cast in Metropolitan France. The legislative elections of November 1958 signaled the Gaullists’ rise to power in Parliament. On December 21, General de Gaulle was elected President of the Republic and of the Community by 78.5% of the votes cast.

On May 18, 1960, a Constitutional amendment was adopted whereby any member State of the Community coud become independent by concluding an agreement to that effect, without ceasing to belong to the Community. In this way 11 African States and Madagascar became completely independent, while maintaining close relations with France.

Finally, on March 8, 1962, the agreement signed at Evian proclaimed the independence of Algeria. These agreements marked the last stage of decolonization. General de Gaulle’s Algerian policy, submitted to a referendum on April 8, 1962, was approved by 90.7% of the voters.

On the domestic front, General de Gaulle anxious that the country’s political stability should survive him, proposed that the President of the Republic be elected by universal suffrage and submitted the proposal to a popular referendum on October 18, 1962. It was approved by 61.7% of the votes cast. The referendum was followed on November 18 and 25 by legislative elections which gave the parties loyal to General de Gaulle a majority in Parliament.

On the expiration of his first seven-year term in 1965, General de Gaulle decided to run in the Presidential elections which, for the first time, were held on the basis of direct universal suffrage. In the run-off, on December 19, 1965, he obtained 55.1% of the votes cast and, on December 28, 1965, The Constitutional Council proclaimed him President of the Republic for a second seven-year term (1966-1973). The March 1967 legislative elections confirmed the Gaullist majority in Parliament, although it reduced its number.

In May 1968 student riots and a series of strikes disturbed French political life for several weeks. General de Gaulle overcame that crisis when he decided to dissove the National Assembly and won a stunning victory in the June 1968 legislative elections. The Gaullist majority in the Parliament was strengthened.

On April 29, 1969 General de Gaulle submitted a bill on regionalization and the reform of the Senate to the French people for referendum. When the bill was defeated General de Gaulle decided to cease exercising his functions that very day.

He retired to his home in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises where he began to write his Mémoires d’Espoir; only one volume had been published at the time of his death. General de Gaulle died at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises on November 9, 1970.


French Editions

- La Discorde Chez l’Ennemi (1924)
- Histoire des Troupes du Levant (1931) Written by Major de Gaulle and Major Yvon, with Staff Colonel de Mierry collaborating in the preparation of the final text.
- Le Fil de l’Epée (1932)
- Vers l’Armée de Métier (1934)
- La France et son Armée (1938)
- Trois Etudes (1945) (Rôle Historique des Places Fortes; Mobilisation Economique à l’Etranger; Comment Faire une Armée de Métier) followed by the Memorandum of January 26, 1940.

Mémoires de Guerre
- Volume I - L’Appel 1940-1942 (1954)
- Volume II - L’Unité, 1942-1944 (1956)
- Volume III - Le Salut, 1944-1946 (1959)

Mémoires d’Espoir
- Volume I - Le Penouveau 1958-1962 (1970)

Discours et Messages
- Volume I - Pendant la Guerre 1940-1946 (1970)
- Volume II - Dans l’attente 1946-1958 (1970)
- Volume III - Avec le Penoureau 1958-1962 (1970)
- Volume IV - Pour l’Effort 1962-1965 (1970)
- Volume V - Vers le Terme 1966-1969

English Translations

- The Edge of the Sword (Le Fil de l’Epée). Tr. by Gerard Hopkins. Faber, London, 1960 Criterion Books, New York, 1960
- The Army of the Future. (Vers l’Armée de Métier). Hutchinson, London-Melbourne, 1940. Lippincott, New York, 1940
- France and Her Army. (La France et son Armée). Tr. by F.L. Dash. Hutchinson London, 1945. Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1945
- War Memoirs: Call to Honor, 1940-1942 (L’Appel). Tr. by Jonathan Griffin. Collins, London, 1955 (2 volumes). Viking Press, New York, 1955.
- War Memoirs: Unity, 1942-1944. (L’Unité). Tr. by Richard Howard (narrative) and Joyce Murchie and Hamish Erskine (documents). Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1959 (2 volumes). Simon and Schuster, New York, 1959 (2 volumes).
- War Memoirs: Salvation, 1944-1946. (Le Salut). Tr. by Richard Howard (narrative) and Joyce Murchie and Hamish Erskine (documents). Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1960 (2 volumes). Simon and Schuster, New York, 1960 (2 volumes).