Trib­ute to De Gaulle’s de­fi­ance

Al­lied lead­ers mark gen­eral’s WWII broad­cast

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

LONDON: French Pres­i­dent Nicolas Sarkozy marked the 70th an­niver­sary of Charles de Gaulle’s de­fi­ant World War II broad­cast from London yes­ter­day, vis­it­ing the stu­dio where the leader urged his com­pa­tri­ots to re­sist the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion.

Sarkozy and his wife, Carla BruniSarkozy, went to Bri­tain and toured Broad­cast­ing House, the BBC com­plex in cen­tral London where UK of­fi­cials ini­tially re­fused De Gaulle’s request to air his ap­peal, but re­lented af­ter the in­ter­ven­tion of Bri­tish wartime leader Win­ston Churchill.

The visit comes at a time when Europe is wrestling with eco­nomic rather than mil­i­tary chal­lenges, and it of­fers a fur­ther chance for the French pres­i­dent and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron, who took of­fice last month, to strengthen ties.

“We come as friends, and friends who re­mem­ber the past and what France owes you,” Sarkozy told an au­di­ence of about 1 500 vet­er­ans and dig­ni­taries at London’s Royal Hos­pi­tal Chelsea, a hos­pi­tal and re­tire­ment cen­tre for ex-sol­diers.

Amid pomp and cer­e­mony, Sarkozy be­stowed the French Le­gion d’Hon­neur on six World War II vet­er­ans _ three Bri­tish and three French.

Bri­tish and French jets made a cer­e­mo­nial fly-past through London’s cloudy skies, while red-jack­eted vet­er­ans and guards in plumed hel­mets min­gled with dig­ni­taries. Sol­diers from both coun­tries formed a joint guard of hon­our.

“Bri­tain and France will be true to those who died for them in the skies above London, in the Libyan desert, on the Nor­mandy beaches and the plain of Al­sace, when all that we hold most dear was threat­ened with an­ni­hi­la­tion,” Sarkozy told vet­er­ans who at­tended the cer­e­mony. He spoke in French.

Sarkozy and Cameron said com­mem­o­ra­tions of the past must be matched by strong ties be­tween their two gov­ern­ments on present chal­lenges, in­clud­ing Europe’s fi­nan­cial cri­sis and cli­mate change.

The fallen would be hon­oured “by tak­ing on to­gether the de­fence of free­dom and democ­racy ev­ery­where in the world”. Sarkozy said.

Cameron, who made his first over­seas visit as Bri­tish leader to Paris, greeted Sarkozy warmly be­fore a pri­vate lunch with their wives at the prime min­is­ter’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence in London.

“The brav­ery we cel­e­brate to­day is not just a thing of the past, it is present ev­ery day,” said Cameron, prais­ing the ef­fort of Bri­tish and French troops in Afghanistan.

“To­day is not just about the shared his­tory of Bri­tain and France, it is about our shared re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and our shared fu­ture,” he said.

De Gaulle’s ap­peal, which was largely un­heard in France when it was ini­tially broad­cast and wasn’t recorded, was read aloud at the cer­e­mony. The French army choir then sang wartime re­sis­tance song Le Chant des Par­ti­sans.

Ear­lier, Prince Charles ac­com­pa­nied Sarkozy and his wife on a tour of the London head­quar­ters of the Free French, the fight­ers led by De Gaulle.

Sarkozy and the prince jointly laid wreaths at the stat­ues of King Ge­orge VI, the wartime monarch, and his wife Queen El­iz­a­beth, the Queen Mother.

About 200 French vet­er­ans of the Re­sis­tance and World War II boarded a spe­cial Eurostar train in Paris on Fri­day to join cer­e­monies in London. A por­trait of De Gaulle was em­bla­zoned on the train.

“We were but a group of de­ter­mined and coura­geous men. But in fact it was De Gaulle who changed the fate of France, and not us,” said vet­eran Emile Cha­line, 78, a vice-ad­mi­ral un­der De Gaulle. An­other vet­eran, 95-year-old Ge­orge Zwang, said: “We have to think about those who aren’t here, those we left be­hind.”

Other com­mem­o­ra­tions were planned yes­ter­day across France. – Sapa-AP

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