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SCENE: Exterior, late afternoon in mid-June. A quiet green corner of the village, backdrop of village houses and the blue Languedoc sky.

FOREGROUND: Group mostly of elderly men, some with military procession flags, highly embroidered. Micro

SCENE: Exterior, late afternoon in mid-June. A quiet green corner of the village, backdrop of village houses and the blue Languedoc sky.

FOREGROUND: Group mostly of elderly men, some with military procession flags, highly embroidered. Microphone, speakers.

MIDDLE GROUND: flagpole, a sort of altar beside a stand of bamboo, inscribed enamel plaque on a stand.

Resistance Monument

MONSIEUR LE MAIRE, suited as befits the solemnity of the moment, takes sheaf of papers from his pocket, starts to read a dramatic, highly coloured speech, ending with a call for a minute's silence. Heads bowed, flags are lowered at the salute.

And at this solemn moment, a mighty voice, gigantically amplified, easily powerful enough to carry to the neighbouring villages up and down the valley, breaks in with . . .

. . . but I'd better start at the beginning. June 18th is a special day in France. It's the anniversary of General de Gaulle's appel. Appel means 'call' in French, and it was on this day in 1940 that de Gaulle broadcast his famous call to French men and women, wherever they might be, to join him in England to continue the fight after France had folded up before invading Nazi troops.
70 years ago in late May and early June French resistance to the Nazi invasion collapsed. British forces in France didn't do much better: beaten back to the Channel, they had to be rescued from Dunkirk. Things looked very black indeed.

In the midst of this chaos an unknown French army officer appeared in London, having escaped the French collapse with his military honour untarnished. This was Brigadier General Charles de Gaulle, a tank brigade commander with a reputation for tactical innovation and for speaking his mind. As the only successful French senior commander he had been co-opted into the crumbling French government as a junior minister with responsibility for Franco-British co-ordination. He went to London in early June to present his credentials to his British counterparts, who gave him some premises in Carlton Gardens. He returned to France to report, only to find that his government had surrendered. France, as a sovereign nation, had ceased to exist.

Horrified, he flew back to London on June 17th with 100,000 gold francs given to him from a secret fund by Paul Reynaud, the French ex-prime minister. The following day, backed only by Churchill and against the advice of the Cabinet, de Gaulle, without any official authority, made his famous appel via the BBC overseas service. (Churchill, curiously, says in his memoirs that this happened on the 17th.)

Nobody knows who heard de Gaulle's call. Who among a broken nation choked with refugees would be listening at that moment on June 18th to the BBC? A recording was made of it later, but no original recording exists. But undoubtedly it was heard, and word of mouth amplified it: across the Channel the flame of hope was flickering feebly, but flickering nevertheless. As a result French volunteers and serving soldiers began to trickle into the United Kingdom, each with their own tale of escape from occupied France. French troops overseas heard the call, and some - not all - rallied to the colours hoisted by de Gaulle. The appel was also heard by the French puppet government, who condemned him - in his absence - to death for treason. The appel was the first tiny sp

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Here in village there was a commemoration, in the Place Jean Moulin, a flowery corner of the village dedicated to the memory of Jean Moulin, a Resistance hero who, though captured and tortured by the Gestapo betrayed no one and gave nothing away. The flags of local branches of the equivalent of the British Legion or US veterans' associations were paraded, Last Posts and Reveilles sounded, speeches made. Josephine and I went along, the only Brits. Usually we feel our presence at these memorial commemorations is intrusive and that it's better to let the French get on with their own business, but this time we felt a British presence might just underline the part the United Kingdom played in the events of 1940. Anyway Monsieur le Maire acknowledged our presence in his speech . . .

. . . ah yes, that speech. Very unfortunate. A second or two after calling for a minute's silence in remembrance of those who gave their lives for France, M. Maigre the travelling fishmonger arrived in the village with his van. His van is equipped with huge, football-stadium-size loudspeakers, on which he announces his wares. The maire's silence could not have been more rudely assaulted by shouts of 'COD! SEA-BASS! PRAWNS! HALIBUT!' than France was by Nazi shock-troops 70 years earlier.

Then a very curious thing happened. The maire had trotted out an aged colonel from somewhere, to lend at least an echo of a military presence. The colonel made a short speech of appreciation of the help France had received from Britain, herself in great turmoil, in those dark days. After the ceremony Josephine and I thanked him. I probably shouldn't have done, but I mentioned to him quietly that June 18th was also the anniversary of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. (Privately I have sometimes felt that de Gaulle hi-jacked June 18th deliberately to eclipse Waterloo, but I expect this is terribly unworthy of me.)
'Oh, let us not speak of that,' he said. He opened his shirt collar and I wondered what on earth he was going to do. Show us a battle-scar? An old bullet wound? Not received at Waterloo, surely? He pulled out a medallion on a slender gold chain. Where others might have had a crucifix or St Christopher, there was an image of Napoleon on it. 'I am a Bonapartist.' he said, almost conspiratorially.

It was as though Colonel Mainwaring in Dad's Army had murmured, equally conspiratorially,

General de Gaulle's appel

'I'm a Jacobite' and had surreptitiously drawn out from beneath his tunic a medallion with Bonnie Prince Charlie on it. It took me a very long time to think up this parallel, which isn't exact by any means. I can't claim that I was interrupted by M. Maigre's fish van, either.

The picture is of the enamel plaque with part of the text of de Gaulle's appel. It's flanked by two caskets containing sand from the invasion beaches of Normandy and Provence.

You can see similar plaques all over France, at war memorials, in schools, barracks, mairies and public buildings.

 In translation it reads:

To all French people
 France has lost a battle.
But France has not lost the war!

Stand-in government members have only been able to capitulate, giving in to panic, forgetting honour, surrendering the nation to servitude. However, nothing is lost.

Nothing is lost, because this war is a world war. In the free world, immense forces have not yet risen. One day, these forces will crush the enemy. On that day, France must be present at the victory. Then will she find her freedom and her greatness again. Such is my aim, my only aim.

This is why I invite all French people, wherever they may be, to unite with me in action, in sacrifice and in hope.

Our homeland is in danger of death. Let us all strive to save it.

Long live France!

London, June 1940    [Signed]  C de Gaulle
General de Gaulle

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