La France Libre and the Legacy of de Gaulle

Max Beloff reviews a fresh account of de Gaulle and the Free French movement.

It is a commonplace of the study of French history that what took place in France from 1789 to 1815 set the pattern for all that followed, at least until 1939. To understand the dilemmas of France today, the years between 1940 and 1945 are no less relevant. A work which both tells the absorbing story of the establishment of the Free French endeavour and its many vicissitudes, doing full justice to the drama itself and the personalities involved, while pointing to the wider implications of the saga, makes a massive contribution to our political understanding.

Its study has been a long pre-occupation of Jean-Louis Cremieux-Brilhac, who as a twenty-year-old escaped prisoner of war, joined de Gaulle in London and was thereafter deeply involved in the great adventure. For someone like myself, who was a little on the fringe of these events, both the narrative and the abundant illustrations in his book La France Libre de l'appel du 18 juin a la Liberation, (Gallimard, Paris 1996) reproduce the feeling of the time, while the use or archival material - most recently from Soviet sources - gives a depth to the narrative which could not have been fully perceived by contemporaries. It is a pity that its length probably means that it will not be translated.

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