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During the Second World War, which French leader appealed to its people to rally in support of the Resistance?

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On the site of the French military school of Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan, south of Brittany, new officers are trained each year while the "Menhir aux Cadets de la France Libre" rises in front of the Charles de Gaulle Monument that was inaugurated on 13 June 1995 by Charles Millon (12 November 1945 – ), minister of defence, as part of the 50th anniversary of Germany's surrender. This monument designed by French architect and resistant Pierre-André Dufetel (11 November 1922 – 4 June 2014) is inspired by one of De Gaulle's historical speeches when he said, "Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished". The sculpture evokes both the "flame" of the Appeal of 18 June 1940 in the shape of the sword of France drawn up for its defence that incorporates the Lorraine Cross. This piercing pillar is located within the centre of the monument and abuts a low semi-circular wall that features raised lettering that includes the words "CHARLES DE GAULLE / PROMOTION FES 1912 / 1890 1970" and "CHEF DE LA FRANCE LIBRE / PRESIDENT DE LA REPUBLIQUE".

On 18 June 1940, a little-known general from the French army made a speech broadcasted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Charles de Gaulle (22 November 1890 – 9 November 1970) urged the people of France not to capitulate to the Nazis, but to resist. The appeal had a huge impact. Put into context, Marshall Philippe Pétain (24 April 1856 – 23 July 1951) announced the day before that France had been defeated and will accept an armistice. The Appeal was a defiant call to arms to assert that an alternative France existed. The majority of French people might not have listened to the broadcast, but they quickly heard about it since it framed the history of France for next four years of the war. On 18 June, there is no reference to resistance within France, rather outside, but rapidly different cells that collectively were named the French Resistance emerged. Beginning in May 1941, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) began infiltrating into France to aid these groups. On 21 August 1941, a German naval officer became the first target of the Resistance. He was shot at the Barbès-Rochechouart Metro station in Paris. Twenty-one-year-old Pierre Félix Georges (21 January 1919 – 27 December 1944), who was better known as Colonel Fabien, fired two shots. Over 150 Parisians were shot in reprisal. Was this the right strategy? Fabien took action but nothing is that simple. This young man, already a seasoned fighter, became a non-commissioned officer in Spain and was seriously wounded in 1938. Other groups used less violent means such as sabotaging communication lines, publishing underground newspapers and broadcasted anti-German and anti-Vichy radio programs, etc. The Resistance took part in the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy on 6 June 1944. Shortly before, the BBC broadcasted the first stanza of Paul Verlaine's (1844 – 1896) poem "Autumn Song" ("Chanson d’automne" was originally published in 1866) to let the different groups know that the invasion would begin within 24 hours. The theater of operations went beyond Normandy. In the early hours of June 6th, while the American and British scouts jumped over Normandy, 36 commandos belonging to the 4th Special Air Service French Battalion were dropped over Brittany in order to establish Allied drop zones and landing zones in coordination with the Breton resistance networks. Paratroopers, resistants, and local farmers alike joined forces, and many paid the ultimate price to disorganize the arrival of German reinforcement troops.

Today, no-one really knows the whereabouts of the BBC Broadcasting House studio from which General de Gaulle did the broadcast. The studio probably does not even exist anymore. Nonetheless, his legacy lives on as his Appeal of 18 June 1940 is considered by many as one of the most important speeches in French history.

On this day, 18 June 2022, we commemorate the 82nd anniversary of General Charles de Gaulle's declaration that the war for France was not yet over, and his appeal to the people of France to rally in support of the Resistance and mark 27 years since the inauguration of a monument in his honour at the military school at Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan of the French Army.

Christophe Kervégant-Tanguy / André M. Levesque

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