A “De Gaulle Year” overseas
“De Gaulle Year” celebrated three Charles de Gaulle anniversaries: the 130th anniversary of his birth, the 80th anniversary of his call to resist and the 50th anniversary of his death. 2020 thus saw a whole host of events that paid tribute to the iconic figure of the General. Among them were a series of ceremonies commemorating the founding event of the Resistance and recalling de Gaulle’s international renown. Here we offer a brief overview.
London was the setting for the first event to commemorate the Call to Arms of 18 June 1940, at which President Emmanuel Macron awarded the Légion d’Honneur to the city that gave asylum to the leader of Free France, as well as to the population that never ceased showing its support for the Resistance. In addition to the ceremony, a remembrance project was undertaken by students of the Lycée Charles de Gaulle in London. With support from the Defence Attaché’s Office at the French Embassy, these young people made history videos explaining the Call to Arms, which they shared on social media.
Still in Europe, a ceremony was held in Poland. On 18 June 2020, the French ambassador, accompanied by the defence attaché, visited the statue of General de Gaulle in Warsaw, erected in 2005. He laid a wreath to commemorate the Call to Resist issued 80 years ago by the General on BBC radio. Many years earlier, between 1919 and 1921, the young Captain de Gaulle went on two trips to Poland as part of the French military mission, aimed at helping the nascent republic to restructure its army. On this subject, the Ministry of the Armed Forces Directorate for Heritage, Remembrance and Archives supported the publication of a Franco-Polish book. Titled Frères d’armes – Le soutien militaire de la France à la Pologne – 1917-1924 (Brothers in arms – France’s military support for Poland, 1917-1924), this photobook co-edited by M. Potocki and Colonel Guelton was produced to mark the centenary of the Battle of Warsaw in 1920. The General returned to Warsaw in 1967 as President of the Fifth Republic.
Photo credit: French Embassy in Warsaw
In Russia, the French ambassador and the defence attaché gathered before the statue of General de Gaulle outside the Hotel Cosmos, in Moscow.
They then returned to the municipal district of Lefortovo for a solemn ceremony at the Normandie-Niemen monument. After de Gaulle’s Call was read out in French and Russian by two students of Moscow’s French Lycée, the ambassador gave a speech recalling the meaning of the Call and marking, two days in advance, the 75th anniversary of the return to France of the Normandie-Niemen Fighter Regiment, on 20 June 1945. Created during the Second World War, the regiment was the result of de Gaulle’s rapprochement with the Soviet Union. French pilots were then sent to Russia for training before undertaking missions in aircraft supplied by the communist regime.
In strict compliance with Covid-19 restrictions, as well as representatives and officials of the Russian authorities and foreign diplomatic posts, Normandie-Niemen schools and associations and Moscow’s French lycée also took part in the event.
In his speech, the French ambassador emphasised: “The Call to Arms of 18 June (...) marks the beginning of an epic; it is a landmark of honour, courage and hope. (...) We have received this legacy; let us be worthy of our great forebears. Let us draw on the roots of our history and be inspired by their example to live in freedom and defend our values.”
Speech of the French ambassador to Moscow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CJ_06lA3NE&feature=emb_title
Photo credit: French Embassy in Moscow
Next we turn to Africa, where a short ceremony was held at the French embassy in Madagascar. There, a commemorative stele recalls how current the message was. During the ceremony, attended by the French ambassador to Madagascar and the defence attaché, a message was read out from Geneviève Darrieussecq, now the Minister for Remembrance and Veterans. General Richard Rakotonirina, the Malagasy Minister of Defence, also attended the ceremony.
Photo credit: French Embassy in Madagascar
Chad also took part in the commemorations. A ceremony was held in the parade ground of Adji Kossei Airbase in N’Djamena. The event was under the aegis of the French ambassador to Chad and presided over by General Pascal Facon, commander of Operation Barkhane. The defence attaché and the commander of the troops, Colonel Xavier Jabot, commander-in-chief of the mixed-force theatre command post, were also in attendance.
The commemoration began with the award of decorations, followed by a reading of the Call to Arms of 18 June 1940. Next, the French ambassador read out the minister’s message.
Chad is a key location in the epic story of Free France, marked by the rallying of Governor Félix Éboué to General de Gaulle and the passage of the Leclerc Column in 1940 which, with the aid of countless African tirailleurs, fought the Germans in North Africa before moving north as far as Strasbourg.
Photo credit: Barkhane
Finally, on 18 June 2020, the French embassy’s defence mission in Tunisia commemorated this anniversary at the French Cemetery of Gammarth. The ceremony, presided over by the deputy head of mission, was attended by the French military community in Tunisia and one representative of the Tunisian Ministry of Defence.
Once again, it included the reading of the Call to Arms, together with a tribute to the submarine Le Morse, which was lost at sea on 17 June 1940 after entering a defensive minefield by mistake.
Photo credit: French Embassy in Tunis
In Asia, the French embassies also commemorated the event, for example in China, where the French ambassador paid tribute to General de Gaulle in a ceremony.
Photo credit: French Embassy in China