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Charles de Gaulle

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Born in Lille, Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle graduated from Saint-Cyr in 1911 and was severely wounded and captured by the Germans in 1916.

In June 1940 he refused to accept the new prime minister Pétain’s truce with the Germans and on 18 June made his historic broadcast calling on the French to continue the war against Germany.

He based himself in England as leader of the Free French troops fighting the Germans between 1940 and 1944. In 1944 he entered Paris in triumph and was briefly head of the provisional government before resigning over the new constitution of the Fourth Republic in 1946.

In 1947 he founded the Rassemblement du Peuple Français, a non-party constitutional reform movement then withdrew from politics in 1953. When national bankruptcy and civil war in Algeria loomed in 1958, de Gaulle was called to form a government.

As prime minister, he promulgated a constitution subordinating the legislature to the presidency and took office as president in December 1958. Economic recovery followed, as well as Algerian independence after a bloody war.


Re-elected as president in 1965, he pursued a foreign policy that opposed British entry to the European Economic Union (EEC), withdrew French forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1966, and pursued the development of a French nuclear deterrent.

He violently quelled student demonstrations in May 1968 as soon as they were joined by workers. The Gaullist party, reorganised as Union des Democrats pour la Cinquième République, won an overwhelming majority in the elections of the same year.

In 1969 he resigned after the defeat of the government in a referendum on constitutional reform. He retired to the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises in north-eastern France.

De Gaulle died suddenly of a heart attack on 9 November 1970, just two weeks before his 80th birthday and in the middle of writing his memoirs.