Speech by French President marking the 18 June Appeal
UK/France – Ceremony to award the insignia of the Légion d’honneur to the city of London – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic
London, 18 June 2020
Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Eighty years ago – after the Battle of France, and before the Battle of Britain –, two voices spoke out from London, two rejections of resignation and enslavement, two clear-sighted visions of future events. On the same day, 18 June 1940, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle uttered thundering words of resistance and hope. The French army had just capitulated to the Wehrmacht in a mere six weeks. The Government was overcome with shock and renunciation. Yet already a surge of patriotic pride, a thirst for freedom and honour – in short, a powerful desire to resist, was firing up French hearts, and first and foremost General de Gaulle’s. The man who had just been promoted to General and joined the Government, the man who rejected defeat and called for fighting to continue, had become persona non grata for Marshal Pétain’s new government. He had to find a place of asylum, a place of exile.
That place was London.
Because from now on, hope was wholly embodied by the last European country able to continue the war. Winston Churchill personified the tenacity of a nation which refused to yield and which did not yield. He said he had nothing to offer but “blood, toil, tears and sweat”. Yet he offered something so much more important: determination, faith in victory, honour and pride. Hope also took the form of King George VI, his wife and two daughters, and the calm determination of the Royal Family, who shared Londoners’ anxieties and helped forge national unity. Hope had the confident step of your soldiers, and the legendary phlegm of your people that is so envied.
Back then, de Gaulle was just a French officer whom the Vichy regime was soon to strip of his rank, property and nationality. The rebel of London now had nothing, was nothing. Yet he still had so much: an unwavering faith in his country’s destiny and unshakeable confidence in the Allies’ final victory. And as an exile he took one thing with him: the French spirit.
Arriving in London on 17 June, he immediately received Winston Churchill’s support. The Old Lion and the Royal Family offered asylum to the man they almost instinctively recognized as France’s legitimate emissary, the ambassador of its values. Your Royal Highness, the British monarchy became the refuge of the French Republic. So Britain decided to give shelter to France.
This is where de Gaulle was able to form the first ranks of the French army which would go on fighting. The soldiers of London.
This is where de Gaulle was able to call on the French people to join the Resistance. The soldiers of the shadows.
Because 80 years ago today, on 18 June 1940, the United Kingdom gave France its first weapon: a BBC microphone. So the airwaves carried de Gaulle’s determined words and spirit of resistance, which built a bridge across the Channel for those refusing to be enslaved or give up their freedom.
De Gaulle was saying nothing different from Churchill: he was certain that this was not the final word, that this war had not been decided by the Battle of France, since it was a world war.
“France is not alone!” he hammered out. No: the British Empire was closing ranks, French people from throughout the French Empire remained committed, and the huge silhouette of the United States was coming into view.
The 18 June Appeal was an exhortation to pick up France’s broken weapons and forge them anew. A solemn invitation to all those ready to stubbornly opt for combat instead of bitterly acknowledging defeat and to choose “not the uphill struggle of a history endured but a sense of history imagined”.
That evening, de Gaulle became the voice and breath of Free France. Higher than a lighthouse he held up the flame of the Resistance, so that from the banks of the River Thames its beam of hope would shine throughout France. The man who was to bear on his shoulders the destiny of a country on its last legs.
From London. Thanks to London.
The Free French command was soon able to set up right here, at Carlton Gardens, and the prospective fighters were able to train in military camps. The BBC continued lending its airwaves to de Gaulle and other speakers from Free France. It was on Radio London that France’s hope of resistance was kept alive.
So it was that, out of trust and generosity, the United Kingdom allowed the Free Forces to plant their flag on its soil, and kept the very spirit of the French Republic from dying.
No, France was not alone.
The British Government and Crown lent it their support.
The British people too.
With their 60,000 members, the Friends of the Free French Forces were striking proof of this, donating food, clothing and money to the French in London.
And when the General strode through your capital’s streets, he was often hailed with a “Vive la France!” that warmed his heart and gave him the courage to continue his work.
London and its inhabitants did not only welcome Free France, they inspired it by their example, Mr Mayor. When the British skies were torn apart by fighting between the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe. When fire and iron rained down on London amid the terror of the Blitz, the endurance and self-sacrifice of Londoners commanded admiration from every quarter.
Britain, then, withstood alone the enemy’s full fury. It did so thanks to the huge bravery of its people, who held up against all odds. Your nation knew it was spearheading the world’s liberation. It had to remain standing and rally together. And against Nazi barbarity, it built the finest defence: that of unity and fraternity.
“Keep calm and carry on!” This slogan remains the motto of British courage, that everyday self-control, that modest heroism. It set a supreme example to Free France, which was to carry it like a viaticum wherever its epic journey took it. It subsequently set up quarters in Africa, in the French Empire, first in Brazzaville and then in Algiers.
But London, capital of the free world,
resistant London, the cradle of Free France.
And it was Big Ben whose hourly chimes told of France’s renewed force of arms.
Free and sovereign, we have each taken control since then of a European destiny, a universal inspiration fuelled by the spirit of resistance and which compels us never to stop working together to be fully ourselves. I know this, and I know how much you carry these values and this history within you, Your Royal Highness – the history of your mother, your father, your grandfather and your grandmother, that of a whole family and a whole people who welcomed General de Gaulle and, with him, Free France.
I know we’ll go on writing A Tale of Two Cities, a tale of two countries. But because that tale already contains such fine pages, because it evokes that very touching period when the capital of the United Kingdom was “a home away from home” for Free France, and the last bastion of hope when all appeared to be lost, I wanted to express the French Republic’s infinite gratitude to the city of London by awarding it, in a wholly exceptional capacity, the cross of the Légion d’honneur.
I present it to you, Your Royal Highness, in memory of, and as a testament to, our eternal gratitude, on behalf of the French people.