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French Charles DE GAULLE

born Charles André Joseph Marie DE GAULLE

French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II

Source :  Frédéric HUOT

Born: on November 22, 1890 in Lille, France
Died: on November 09, 1970 in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, France


De Gaulle was born in Lille, the second of five children of Henri de Gaulle, a professor of philosophy and literature at a Jesuit college, who eventually founded his own school. He was raised in a family of devout Roman Catholics who were nationalist and traditionalist, but also quite progressive.

De Gaulle's father, Henri, came from a long line of aristocrats from Normandy and Burgundy, while his mother, Jeanne Maillot, descended from a family of rich entrepreneurs from the industrial region of Lille in French Flanders.

According to Henri, the family's true origin was never determined, but could have been Celtic or Flemish. He thought that the name could be derived from the word gaule—a long pole which was used in the Middle Ages to beat olives from the trees. Another source has the name deriving from Galle, meaning "oak" in the Gaulish language, and the sacred tree of the druids. Since de Gaulle's family hailed from French Flanders, the name could also be a francisised form of the common Dutch Van de walle meaning From the moat.

De Gaulle was educated in Paris at the College Stanislas and also briefly in Belgium. Since childhood, he had displayed a keen interest in reading and studying history. Choosing a military career, de Gaulle spent four years studying and training at the elite military academy, Saint-Cyr. While there, and because of his height, high forehead, and nose, he acquired the nicknames of "the great asparagus". and "Cyrano". He acquired yet another nickname, Le Connétable, when he was a prisoner of war in Germany during the Great War. This had come about because of the talks which he gave to fellow prisoners on the progress of the conflict. These were delivered with such patriotic ardour and confidence in victory that they called him by the title which had been given to the commander-in-chief of the French army during the monarchy. Graduating from St Cyr in 1912, he joined the 33rd infantry regiment of the French Army, based at Arras and commanded by Colonel (and future Marshal) Pétain. While serving during World War I, he reached the rank of captain, commanding a company. He was wounded several times, one of them in the left hand, as a result of which he wore his wedding ring on his right hand in later life. He was captured at Douaumont in the Battle of Verdun in March 1916. While being held as a prisoner of war by the German Army, de Gaulle wrote his first book, co-written by Matthieu Butler, "L'Ennemi et le vrai ennemi" (The Enemy and the True Enemy), analyzing the issues and divisions within the German Empire and its forces; the book was published in 1924. After the armistice, de Gaulle continued to serve in the army and on the staff of General Maxime Weygand's military mission to Poland during its war with Communist Russia (1919–1921), working as an instructor to Polish infantry forces. He distinguished himself in operations near the River Zbrucz and won the highest Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.

He was promoted to Commandant in the Polish Army and offered a further career in Poland, but chose instead to return to France, where he taught at the École Militaire, becoming a protégé of his old commander, Marshal Philippe Pétain. De Gaulle was heavily influenced by the use of tanks and rapid maneuvers rather than trench warfare.

De Gaulle served with the Army of Occupation in the Rhineland in the mid 1920s. He also - as a Commandant (Major) by the late 1920s - briefly commanded a light infantry battalion at Treves and then served a tour of duty in Syria, then a French colony. During the 1930s, now a lieutenant-colonel, he served as a staff officer in France.

In the 1920s - 1930s, de Gaulle wrote various books and articles on military subjects that revealed him to be a gifted writer and an imaginative thinker. In 1931, he published Le fil de l’épée (Eng. tr., The Edge of the Sword, 1960), an analysis of military and political leadership based on lectures which he had given in the 1920s. He also published Vers l’armée de métier (1934; Eng. tr., The Army of the Future, 1941) and La France et son armée (1938; Eng. tr., France and Her Army, 1945). He urged the creation of a mechanised army with special armoured divisions manned by a corps of professional specialist soldiers instead of the static theories exemplified by the Maginot Line. While views similar to de Gaulle's were later advanced by Britain's J.F.C. Fuller, Germany's Heinz Guderian, United States' Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton, Russia's Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and Poland's General Wladyslaw Sikorski, most of de Gaulle's theories were rejected by other French army officers, including his mentor Pétain with whom relations consequently became strained. French politicians also dismissed de Gaulle's ideas, questioning the political reliability of a professional army — with the notable exception of Paul Reynaud, who would play a major role in de Gaulle's career. According to Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler himself claimed to have planned the invasion of western Europe with de Gaulle's theories in mind.

De Gaulle would have some contacts with Ordre Nouveau, a Non-Conformist group with fascist leanings at the end of 1934 and the beginning of 1935.

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