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France

Sarkozy in London for 70th anniversary of de Gaulle's resistance call

©

Video by Fiona CAMERON

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-06-19

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in London on Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's impassioned BBC radio appeal to his compatriots to resist the Nazi occupation of France.

REUTERS - Elderly former members of the Free French joined President Nicolas Sarkozy in London on Friday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s radio appeal to his fellow citizens to resist Nazi occupation.
 
The British authorities rolled out the red carpet for a huge French delegation headed by Sarkozy and his wife Carla, with Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron taking part in a series of solemn and colourful events in the British capital.
 
The Sarkozys toured the BBC’s Broadcasting House, where de Gaulle, made his appeal on June 18, 1940, before laying a wreath at a statue of the general and visiting the former headquarters of the Free French at 4 Carlton Gardens, in central London.
 
Sarkozy and Cameron then attended a ceremony with 1,600 guests at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where de Gaulle’s appeal was read out by a pupil from the French lycee in London, World War Two veterans were honoured and a Resistance chant was sung.
 
“I consider myself the greatest Gaullist,” said Jacques Drabier, 88, who after hearing of de Gaulle’s appeal as an 18-year-old left France on a tuna fishing boat and joined what would become the Free French in London on July 21, 1940.
 
Drabier became a fighter pilot, flying combat missions over Italy, the Atlantic and Germany later in the war. Sarkozy awarded him the Legion d’Honneur at the Royal Chelsea ceremony, alongside two other French and three British veterans.
 
“I am very proud to receive the Legion d’Honneur, which I will accept in the name of all my comrades who died on the battlefield,” Drabier told Reuters just before the ceremony, wiping tears away as he spoke.
 
“Flame of resistance”

De Gaulle’s radio appeal was the founding act of the French Resistance to the Nazis during World War Two, although few people heard it at the time and no recording of it has survived.
 
He argued that, even though mainland France was mostly under occupation, French soldiers could continue the fight using the country’s colonies as a base or by joining forces with Britain.
 
“Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not be extinguished and it will not be extinguished,” he said.
 
Cameron, whose Conservative Party has a history of tense relations with Britain’s European Union partners, seized the opportunity to celebrate Franco-British friendship.
 
“Today is a reminder that Britain and France are not just neighbours in the geographical sense but also in the emotional sense,” he said, citing the war in Afghanistan as an example of the two countries’ “shared responsibilities and shared future”.
 
Sarkozy responded in a similar vein.
 
“I bring you the brotherly greetings and eternal gratitude of the French people, who remember what you accomplished, you the British, for our freedom,” he said in his speech at Chelsea.
 
For Sarkozy, struggling at home with poor poll ratings, the lavish celebrations were 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.

 

Date created : 2010-06-18

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