Born in 1890 and growing up to a French army career, Charles de Gaulle became the symbol of free France when he led the Resistance against the Nazi occupation during World War II and then continued an illustrious political career as president of France. He was without a doubt the emblem of France throughout the 1940s through to 1969 when he resigned. Moreover, he influenced the entire political evolution of France for decades after he stepped down from politics and his legacy is visible everywhere.
With such a legendary imprint into French and European history, de Gaulle is a very interesting character. Read on to find out 12 interesting facts about Charles de Gaulle!
Charles de Gaulle Facts
1. Charles de Gaulle was a German prisoner of war
During World War I, Charles de Gaulle had been in the army for a mere 2 years. He fought in the war and was wounded and captured by the German army. He tried to escape five times and was unsuccessful, so he remained a prisoner until the end of the war, an interesting fact about Charles de Gaulle.
2. He spoke German
During his time as prisoner of war, de Gaulle read German newspapers and he even lectured his fellow prisoners on his views of how the war was going. This is because he had studied German at school and spoke it fluently, after also spending his summer holidays in Germany.
3. During World War I, de Gaulle wrote his first book
Charles de Gaulle would go on to write several books which were used for military tactics and political strategy by his followers. His first was written in captivity during his time as prisoner of war in World War I. Entitled “The Enemy’s House Divided” (“Discorde chez l’ennemi”), it analysed the German forces and what he believed to be their issues and divisions. The book was published in 1924.
4. His stature towered over most people
It’s not just his legend that makes Charles de Gaulle look like a titan of French history. He was very tall, measuring 6 feet 5 inches (1.95m), a fun fact about Charles de Gaulle.
5. His fight against German occupation started in London
During World War II, as the Vichy regime took over France, collaborating with the German occupation, de Gaulle did not accept the surrender. He fled to London and was helped by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, becoming the leader of the Free French movement.
De Gaulle broadcast a famous message to the French from across the Channel by radio, telling his people to resist the occupation. It was also during this time that de Gaulle looked to enlist soldiers from the French colonies to fight the occupation.
6. He didn’t get on with all his peers
De Gaulle was perceived by many world leaders as arrogant and irritating, an interesting fact about Charles de Gaulle. It appears that Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President of the United States during his time, could not stand him. Because of his perceived arrogance, he appears to have been left out of negotiations during the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II.
7. He fought hard for French exceptionalism
To this day, French cultural and ideological exceptionalism makes France stand apart in many international debates. This can be attributed in large part to de Gaulle’s foundations. He secured a place for France in the United Nations Security Council and always strived to keep his country’s individuality in the Cold War, between the United States and the Soviet Union. This is why he always supported the country’s nuclear weapons program amongst other initiatives.
8. He came across as anti-American
Many of de Gaulle’s political actions seem quite anti-American in retrospect, but can be attributed to his deep-rooted nationalism, an important fact about Charles de Gaulle.
He opposed the United Kingdom’s joining of the European Economic Community because he was concerned about their strong ties to the US. He also pulled French forces out of NATO in 1966, again because of his disagreement with the US.
9. He is considered the “savior of France” several times over
After serving his country during World War II and being considered a savior of the nation, de Gaulle was the provisional leader from 1944 to 1946. He then resigned but was compelled to return to politics in 1958 when the new French republic seemed to be falling apart. With his immense popularity, de Gaulle was elected president and remained so for 10 years. During this time, the economy improved massively and France became the fourth biggest nuclear power in the world behind the US, the Soviet Union and the UK. Therefore, de Gaulle is seen to have saved France, once again.
10. He is known by many funny nicknames
Given his popularity, there is no wonder that Charles de Gaulle remains in the public consciousness under many nicknames. He’s been referred to as “Big Charles”, “Le Colonel Motor” and the “Great Asparagus.” The latter actually dates from his years in the military academy at Saint-Cyr where his colleagues gave him the name because of his height, as well as high forehead and nose.
11. He was a dog lover
It was Charles de Gaulle who once said the phrase which is now very popular, “The better I get to know men [people], the more I find myself loving dogs,” an interesting fact about Charles de Gaulle.
12. The unusual kitchen item named after him
A necessity in French life, the tire-bouchon i.e. the wine bottle opener, is named the “Général de Gaulle”. This is because the wing-type opener makes a V shape similar to his iconic gesture of raising both arms, which de Gaulle did during his rousing speeches. Most iconic is his speech saying “I have understood you” (Je vous ai compris) to the Algerian people in 1958 as they sought independence from France.
Charles de Gaulle has marked French history from World War II to his presidential mandates, seeing France through an incredible post-war transformation and search for identity as it rebuilt but also lost one of its biggest colonies, Algeria. And now you know the top 12 facts about him!
I hope that this article on Charles de Gaulle facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!