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Charles de Gaulle

Charles Andre Marie Joseph de Gaulle was one of the most prominent Frenchmen to ever live.
This is partly the reason why I selected him. Being part French, I have an interest in
Frances History and society, both of which de Gaulle had a great part in. He fought hard
for his country in WWI and bore the scares of battle for the rest of his life. In WWII he
inspired the people of occupied France to fight for their liberation and led the French
Resistance against Hitler and the Nazis. By forming the Fifth Republic, he replaced a weak
government with a stable and effective one.

Charles de Gaulle was born November 22, 1890 in his mother’s parent’s home in Lillle,
according to the custom of that time. His father, Henri de Gaulle, was a teacher at the
College of Immaculate Conception, a well know Jesuit College. He was baptized the day
after his birth, and christened Charles Andre Marie Joseph. He was the third born out of
five children.

Charles was the biggest out of the five children and usually got his way. He enjoyed
playing war games with his brothers and neighboring children. In these games, Charles was
always the French and always wanted to be in command. On his tenth birthday, Charles’
father took him to see a play about the son of Napoleon and his second wife, Marie Louise.
This play made Charles decide that he wanted to be a soldier.

Charles went to the Immaculate Conception College wear his father taught. While there he
learned to admire the Jesuits for their discipline and scholarship. Charles enjoyed French
history, had a very good memory, and was well liked by his classmates.

After his graduation from the Immaculate Conception College, Charles applied to Saint Cyr
military College. The prerequisite was one year in the military, so Charles was attached
to the thirty third-infantry regiment. While there he was promoted to corporal and then
sergeant. He graduated in 1912 thirteenth in his class. Then he went back to the
thirty-third infantry, and met Philippe Petain. On October 1, 1913 Charles was promoted to
Lieutenant.

When World War I broke out in 1914 De Gaulle was still with his regiment. On August 15, he
was in his first battle at Dinant in Belgium. There he was wounded from a shot in the leg.
He was taken to a hospital in Arras, from there he went to Paris for an operation and then
he went to Leons for rehabilitation.

In the winter of 1914 de Gaulle rejoined his regiment and took part in several successful
reconnaissance missions. He was wounded again by fragments of a mortar that permanently
tore his left hand. Because of this injury, he had to wear his wedding ring on his right
hand.

Charles came back to his regiment in June 1915. At that time, the German general,
Falkenhayn launched an offensive at Verdun. Petain was in command of the French defense.
De Gaulle was ordered to lead an advance party and arrange takeover from the departing
110th regiment. The Germans attacked and overran most of the French positions, including
the one that de Gaulle was in. There Charles was wounded from a bayonet thrust and lost
consciousness.

It was this last battle where he was captured by the Germans. While a prisoner, de Gaulle
tried to escape five times but was recaptured every time because of his height
(Ledwidge23). In response to his repeated escape attempts, de Gaulle was put in the
punishment camp of Inglstadt in Bavaria. There he spent 120 days in solitary confinement.
While at the camp, de Gaulle read the German newspapers and gave lectures on the war to
his fellow prisoners. Charles remained in the punishment camp for the rest of the war.

When Charles got back to France, he went to visit Petain who became a hero for his defense
of Verdun. After this visit, the two men became friends. In the spring of 1919, de Gaulle
took service with the volunteers of the French Military Mission to Poland to help build up
the countries armed forces. While there, Charles taught at the officers’ training school
at Rembertow.

While in Poland, de Gaulle was able to witness the British, Italian, and American
missions, and thought that they were just there to make money. Charles also had ideas of
how the French military power should be used. He wanted France to retain hold of the left
bank of the Rhine, but the treaty of Versailles gave the land back to the Germans. De
Gaulle left Poland in 1920 but was sent back when the Russians advanced on Warsaw. He saw
some action as combat commander in the Polish counter attack. This forced the Russians
back and made peace possible.

When de Gaulle returned to Paris, he was appointed Assistant Professor of History at Saint
Cyr. While de Gaulle was in Poland, it was rumored that he had a romance with a Polish
princess and may have fought a duel on her account (Ledwidge27). In 1919 Charles met
Yvonne Vendroux at a party. They were married on April 6 1921 at the Church of Notre Dame
de Calais. They had three children together, Phillipe December 1921, Elizabeth 1924, and
Anne 1928 who had Down’s Syndrome.

Charles taught at Saint Cyr for one year before being accepted to The Senior War School
(Ecole Superieure de Guerre) in Paris in November 1922. Charles and his professors
disagreed over defensive tactics. De Gaulle believed in free offensive use of tanks.
Because of the difference of opinions, de Gaulle graduated with a second class degree. It
is said that Petain may have intervened on de Gaulle’s behalf. If he didn’t, Charles may
have gotten a third class degree. Because of the second class degree, de Gaulle was posted
in Germany. Petain recalled him, and put him on the Supreme War Council.

Late in 1927 de Gaulle was left the Supreme War Council to take command of the 9th Light
Infantry Battalion at Trier and assume the rank of major. In 1929 de Gaulle was posted to
the Headquarters of the army of the Levant in Beirut as chief operations and military
intelligence.

De Gaulle returned to Paris in late 1931 to receive a post in the Secretarial- General of
the Supreme Council for National Defense. In 1937 Charles was promoted to Colonel
commanding the 507th Tank Regiment at Metz, this meant that he had to abandon his campaign
to create a motorized corps (Ledwidge 43).

World War II starts. De Gaulle was posted from Metz to Lower Alsace to take command of the
fifth tank army. On May 15 1940, de Gaulle is ordered to stem the German advance and buy
time while a defensive position is established to protect Paris. He completed the
objective but the Germans moved west toward the coast. On May 28 – 30 de Gaulle is ordered
to reduce the bridgehead across the Somme. De Gaulle attacks late in the afternoon and
takes the Germans by surprise. He did not achieve his objective, but captured 500
prisoners and war materials.

In 1940 de Gaulle was made Under-Secretary of State for National Defense under the current
Prime Minister, Reynaud. The 8th of June, de Gaulle was sent to London to ask Winston
Churchill for more aid for France. This visit left an excellent impression on Churchill.
When de Gaulle returned to France, he pressed even more urgently for the French government
to relocate to Africa but Reynaud’s defeatist advisors were pushing for an armistice. The
pressure of the war forced Reynaud to resign. De Gaulle’s former friend, Petain took
Reynaud’s position and pushed for an armistice with Germany.

After France signed the armistice with the Axis powers, de Gaulle secretly left France to
go to London to continue the fight for France. There he was announced as leader of all
free Frenchmen. Between 1940 and 1944, de Gaulle worked to gain support from the French
colonies around the world. He worked extensively with the British government, and the rest
of the Allied nations to preserve France’s good name by using the Free French Forces to
help fight the Germans.

In June, the Free French Forces went to Dakar in hopes of gaining control of the naval
base and seaports there. The attack was unsuccessful. In September of 1941, the Free
French Forces had their first successful confrontation with the Germans. Five and a half
thousand men in a light division under General Koening defended Bir Hakim for fourteen
days before completing a successful withdrawal. This was the first time that the French
forces had proven to be a match for the Germans. This prompted the change of the official
title of Free France to that of Fighting France.

In June de Gaulle made a radio address to France from London urging the people of France
to help the liberating forces to fight the Nazis. This directly contradicted the
announcement that Eisenhower made earlier for the French public to stay quiet until the
Allies approached. The reaction to de Gaulle’s announcement was magnificent, but many
Frenchmen were killed. De Gaulle considered this a worthy sacrifice in order to restore
honor to France.

In June de Gaulle landed on the beaches of Normandy after nearly four years of being away
from his homeland. From there he visited the villages of Isigny and GrandCamp. In those
two villages, de Gaulle was greeted with intense enthusiasm and unquestioned authority
from the town’ citizens.

On July sixth de Gaulle went to Washington to discus the Post War world. Roosevelt made it
clear to de Gaulle that he thought that France would never return to being a prominent
world power. De Gaulle also believed that the Soviet Union had this view of France also.
The British, in de Gaulle’s opinion, wanted France to be a back up power in Europe with
the British being the supreme European power.

With the Allies pushing the Nazis out of France, de Gaulle entered Paris on August 25. On
the 26th de Gaulle appeared at the Arc de Triomphe to celebrate his return to France
(Ledwidge180). His childhood dream of being recognized by the people of France for his
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