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Important Historical Figures in French Culture – Charles De Gaulle

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Important Historical Figures in French Culture - Charles De Gaulle

Learning French in France has many advantages to learning in your home country and one of them is how close you are to the culture. You will see what subjects are close to the people of France through conversations with your host families, your teachers, what you see in the media etc. A lot of it is completely new which is exciting but it’s always nice to have a little foundational knowledge so you can contribute to a conversation and utilise what you have been learning on your French immersion course. If you are doing the DELF/DALF exam preparation classes it’s even better because the structure of the test revolves around subjects important to French culture. Given that, I would like to do a little summary of the political figure Charles de Gaulle who you are bound to hear discussed during your time learning French in France.

The first place you might hear the name is as soon as you fly into France to start your French immersion experience; Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris is one of the country’s biggest airports.

Who was Charles de Gaulle

  • Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) was a French general and statesman.
  • He was leader of Free France (France Libre) which was the government-in-exile during the Second World War (Seconde Guerre mondiale).
  • He founded the 5th Republic (Cinquième Rèpublique) in 1958.
  • He was President of France (1959-1969) until he resigned.
  • He was the main figure of France during the Cold War era.
  • He was highly involved in the Algerian War (Guerre d’Algerie).
  • He was a decorated officer of the First World War (Première Guerre mondiale) and was taken as a prisoner of war at Verdun.

Charles de Gaulle as leader of Free France

  • Free France was the government-in-exile that continued to fight against the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) after the fall of France in 1940 when Germany invaded.
  • The military forces of Free France were called the Free French Forces (Forces françaises libres) and were a member of the Allied forces that were at war with the Axis powers.
  • Free France was founded by de Gaulle when he was a general in London (18/06/1940).
  • Under his leadership they supported the French Resistance which was the movement that fought against the Nazi German occupation and the Vichy regime who had opted to collaborate with the invaders. They engaged in guerrilla warfare, ran an underground newspaper, provided intelligence and helped Allies with escape routes.
  • He made a stirring BBC broadcast which became known as the ‘Appeal of 18th June’ (Appel du 18 juin) in which he called for the French to resist. This had a big impact on morale throughout France and the empire.
  • The Free French Forces fought all over; often as auxiliary forces to the other allied powers and later as stand-alone units.

De Gaulle after the Second World War

  • He started introducing economic policies before the war had even ended and what followed was 30 years of economic growth which France had not seen before and it became known as the glorious thirty (Les Trente Glorieuses).
  • His book War Memoirs became a very important work.
  • He had left politics but returned in 1958 when the Fourth Republic was crumbling under the pressure of the Algerian War.
  • He founded the Fifth Republic which allocated more power to the presidency; he was elected to continue as president.
  • He granted independence to Algeria and other French colonies subsequently.
  • He restored Franco-German relations after centuries of conflict.

So here is a little taster of the story behind the name you will see on the cover of magazines and in history documentaries etc. It is useful to know for your discussions with the locals during your time learning French in France and will give you a better understanding of the history and the French culture of the country. You will probably discuss De Gaulle in your French classes as well and you can go in armed with some prior knowledge. He is a very interesting figure.