Anne de Gaulle

Anne De Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle could be a very frustrating man.  Churchill, in reference to de Gaulle, said that the heaviest cross he had to bear during the war was the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the Free French forces.  Arrogant, autocratic, often completely unreasonable, de Gaulle was all of these.  However, there is no denying that he was also a great man.  Rallying the Free French forces after the Nazi conquest of France, he boldly proclaimed, “France has lost a battle, France has not lost the war.”  For more than a few Frenchmen and women, de Gaulle became the embodiment of France.  It is also hard to dispute that De Gaulle is the greatest Frenchman since Clemenceau “The Tiger”, who led France to victory in World War I.  However, de Gaulle was something more than a great man,  he was also at bottom a good man, as demonstrated by his youngest daughter Anne de Gaulle.

Charles and Yvonne de Gaulle were both devout Catholics, so when their youngest daughter Anne was born on New Years Day in 1928, they had a strong faith to fall back on when they learned that Anne had Down Syndrome.   She also had birth injuries that meant that she would never walk unaided. There was never any question about Anne being institutionalized.  She was a member of their family, and she stayed with the family in all their travels.  There was one sacred rule in the de Gaulle household:  Anne was never to be made to feel different or less than anyone else.  Charles de Gaulle was noted for his reserve and even with family members he was usually not very demonstrative.  Not so with his daughter Anne, who received a warmth that he had seemed to be storing for his entire life just for her.  He would sing to her, read her stories and play with her.  She was, he said simply, “My joy”.   As de Gaulle said, “She helped me overcome the failures in all men, and to look beyond them.”

Yvonne de Gaulle, a formidable woman in her own right, as she demonstrated after the collapse of France in 1940 when by herself she traveled across the war torn country and made sure her family, including Anne, was on the last transport from Brest to England, in October 1945 bought the Château de Vert-Cœur and established a hospital for handicapped girls, the Fondation Anne de Gaulle.  The de Gaulles were heart-broken when their beloved daughter died on February 6, 1948.  After they had buried her, Charles gently told his weeping wife, “Maintenant, elle est comme les autres.”  (Now, she’s like all the others.)

Of course the de Gaulles did not forget their daughter.  Charles de Gaulles’ life was saved by his love for Anne on August 22, 1962 when an assassin’s bullet was deflected in the car he was riding by the frame of the picture of his daughter which he carried with him at all times.  When he died in 1970 he was buried beside his daughter at Colombey-les-Deux-Églises as he requested.  Love gives us no guarantees against the tragedies of life, but it does give us the strength to surmount them.

 

Anne De Gaulle 

  1. Yeah, I guess that’s part of why the story is so good. That a total *Richard Cranium* like de Gaulle could be capable of loving someone other than himself deeply and sincerely is a welcomed thought. It was a great love story in its own right, but also one of those things that reminds us of the dignity of the person and demonstrates that God is at work in all hearts – whether or not the effects can be seen.

  2. A lot of what made de Gaulle such a pita was that he simply *had* to be in order to pull France through the crises it faced. The wounded national psychology required a kingly figure–in fact, a king in all but name, imperious and proud. It was a role imposed by the times, a necessary facade. Anne provides a welcome glimpse behind it.

  3. What we need in our own time is a figure – kingly or not – who can persuade the general public that you cannot consume 4% more than you produce for 27 years without a serious danger that your creditors will (rather abruptly) ask for some of the principal of that loan back.

  4. Art Deco;

    I read your post and thought Carthago delenda est.

    Not that you are incorrect, but that this does not seem like the appropriate place to bring up defecit spending

  5. Beautiful story. Ofttimes a little glimpse into the private history of famous (or infamous) characters can make or break the surface impression formed by public history.

  6. Not that you are incorrect, but that this does not seem like the appropriate place to bring up defecit spending

    It was in response to Mr. Price’s comment on Gen. de Gaulle’s qualities as a leader. Our contemporary problems (and I am not referring to the public sector) are intractible but less intense than those faced by France in 1940. If it bothers you, c’est dommage.

  7. Yes, I remember deGaulle from the days of WW2. The US of A helped win his country France for him, handed it back to him, and then he kicked the Americans (SHAPE headquarters) out of France. We have been despised by the French ever since.

  8. I never realized DeGaulle had a daughter with Down syndrome until I read “Cultural Amnesia” by the Australian critic and writer Clive James. “Cultural Amnesia” is a wonderful book, a compendium of essays about literary, cultural and political figures ranging from Mao and Trotsky to Chesterton, Gibbon – and Louis Armstrong! The villians of the book are the murderous tyrants of the 20th century and their apologists and enablers (Sartre gets a drubbing).

    Here’s what James said about DeGaulle:

    Had he (DeGaulle) been a megalomanic, he would have been less impressive. Napolean, owing allegiance to nothing beyond his own vision, was petty in the end, and the fate of France bothered him little. De Gaulle behaved as if the fate of France was his sole concern, but the secret of his incomparable capacity to act in that belief probably lay in a central humility.,…, the touchstone of his humanity was his daughter. Nothing is more likely to civilize a powerful man than the presence in his house of an injured loved one his power can’t help. Every night he comes home to a reminder that God is not mocked, a cure for invincibility.”

  9. WW2 Marine Veteran: First of all, thank you for your service.

    Things have come to a pretty ironic pass these days, haven’t they? The pro-American Sarkozy, elected to replace the anti-American Chirac, has found the new American president is rather cool toward his countries’ allies. Sarkozy publicly chided Obama several weeks ago for being naive about the intentions of the Iranians. It came as a shock to me to realize I agreed with the French president and not the American one.

  10. “Nothing is more likely to civilize a powerful man than the presence in his house of an injured loved one his power can’t help.”

    Amen Donna. Thanks also for the tip about Cultural Amnesia. I am going to pick it up.

  11. That quote also made me think of Lincoln and the personal tragedies he had to deal with while acting as Commander in Chief.

    I heartily recommend Cultural Amnesia; it’s one of the most original and thought-provoking books I have read in years. If you are like me and enjoy books with a wide historical and cultural range, I’ll bet you’ll like it.

  12. I can assure you that the majority of French people hold no grudges against Americans, on the contrary they are deeply grateful for their role in liberating occupied Europe from Nazi Germany. I am currently reading a biography of De Gaulle by his on Philippe (an admiral) who knew him well and am discovering a very different man who had to fight many private battles in his life. He was critized and misunderstood even by his own countrymen. His pride and determination was for his country, but he accepted humbly many personal defeats as a true Christian. He was also a daily communicant.

  13. There is an enormous amount of biographical information on Charles de Gaulle. Reading the essential sources by writers from different point of (political) views could make one clear that:
    - De Gaulle had a very sincere conviction about his mission; when he fled to Great Britain in 1940, he had nothing but his beliefs and his family;
    - De Gaulle was a profound democrat; he was the first president not elected by the parliament, but by the people (one man one vote), on his own initiative;
    - De Gaulle gave the French women the right to vote;
    - He was asked to replace the government to save France from chaos as the fourth republic had 22 governments between 1945 and 1958 – the masses demonstrated in the streets at the end of the fifties to call him;
    - De Gaulle gave all French colonies the possibility to gain their independence by vote;
    - De Gaulle had to unite and cure a country that was torn apart by pre-war corruption, largescale wartime collaboration with the Nazis and postwar chaos; by no means he could just go by his own will; he had to be cunning and in many instances had to weigh the bad against the worst;
    - De Gaulle had to fight the permanent threat of mutiny by the highest ranks of France’s military officers in the years of the Algerian independence war – the last attack on his life was on August 15th (sic!) of 1964 by the French terrorist OAS;
    - De Gaulle never threw the US out of France; he did not want a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR being fought at the cost of the European population; for that reason he refused to handover the command in the Mediterranenan area to foreign (read: American, British etc.) powers; for that reason too he created France’s ‘force de frappe’, the necessary nuclear strike to deter any aggressor from threatening Europe’s and especially France’s safety (at that time, we were in the Cold War); moreover his distrust in especially the British government is very understandable as they initially handed over power to pro-Vichy and anti-semitic factions in French colonies in the Middle/Near East at the end of WWII;
    - De Gaulle held F.D. Roosevelt and J.F. Kennedy in a very high esteem;
    - by reading and listening to De Gaulle’s books and speeches and taking his strategic insights into account, much of the misery in Vietnam in the sixties and recently in Iraq would have been avoidable;
    - you cannot measure a statesman’s acts by the way you and your neighbor are supposed to act when discussing the fence that divides your gardens;
    - all sources affirm his immense strategic insights;
    - on humility: in the famous Panthéon in Paris where all great French are (re)buried, De Gaulle is absent; he insisted on being buried next to his daughter Anne; he insisted too that his funeral in his village Colombey-les-deux-églises in Northern France there was not meant to be attended by politicians, by statesmen or by any other celibrity whatsoever, but just by his fellow villagers and his companions of the WWII-resistance; actually, there were more than 30.000 people gathered there, while in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral the powerful and famous attended the ‘official’ service while all over France church bells were ringing; De Gaulle served as a colonel when WWII started; he was made a brigadier-general by what developed as the Vichy-regime; when he was outvoted by referendum in 1969, he refused his pension as a brigadier-general; he also refused his pension as a president; the pension of a colonel was what he chose; De Gaulle did not wear any signs of honor or distinction other than his brigadier-general’s uniform after WWII (the lowest general in rank); he had not built prestigious personal projects by the time of his stepping down as his successors did; instead, in the sixties he started France’s freeway project, an impulse to France’s weak economy at that time; once he stated that the French were too attached to their belongings and affluence;
    - and so on.