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Charles de Gaulle (President of the Republic, France)


Last modified: 2016-12-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: de gaulle (charles) |
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De Gaulle's standard
Left, flag used at sea - Image by by Željko Heimer, 9 November 2004
Right, car flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 26 April 2016

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A short biography of Charles de Gaulle

In June 1944, de Gaulle, made aware of the project of allied administration of France, ruined it. Five days after the allied landing in Normandy on 6 June 1944, de Gaulle landed on the French territory in Courseulles. The popular support he received definitively convinced the allied leaders of his representativity. His influence on the strategy to be set up to liberate France increased. He was able to impose Leclerc's 2nd Armoured Division (2e DB) as a peak unit. The 2e DB was the first to enter Paris, where de Gaulle marched on the Champs-Élysées on 26 August, along with the leaders of the Resistance still alive, acclamated by one million people.
On 3 September, de Gaulle appointed a provisory government, based on the government he had been presiding for one year in Algiers. The new government was based on tripartisme, including six Communist ministers, Socialists and members of the Catholic MRP (Mouvement Républicain Populaire, often nicknamed "Mon Révérend Pere").
TheThird Reich capitulated on 8 May 1945 and France was officially represented during the Nuremberg trial. However, de Gaulle was not invited to the Yalta conference, where he had expected to limit the Soviet stranglehold on Eastern Europe.
Fed up with the political parties, the MRP included, de Gaulle promoted a new Constitution, which was adopted by referendum, and resigned on 20 January 1946. It is most probable that de Gaulle expected to be immediatly called back by the public opinion and the parties, which did not happen.

Convinced that the "parties' regime" would ruin France, he drafted a new Constitution, very close to the future Constitution of the Fifth Republic, and founded on 7 April 1947 anw party, the RPF (Rassemblement du Peuple Français).
The RPF originally had a very wide range of voters; some of his leaders were from left parties, but the world situation - the Cold War and the War of Indochina - forced the RPF to evolve to a very conservative, anti-Communist party. The"partties' regime", however, progressively got rid of the RPF, which was disbanded in 1953.
De Gaulle retired in his estate in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, where he wrote his Mémoires de Guerre. This period of withdrawal from the public life is known as "the Desert"s Crossing", an expression coined by André Malraux.

In late 1957, rumors started to spread around Colombey. De Gaulle said, privately, that the emancipation of Algeria was the only solution to the War of Independence that had broken out and complained about the lack of power granted to the government. In spring 1958, more and more people called for the return of de Gaulle to the power, which was prepared in Algiers by Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the Minister of National Defence. The insurrection broke out in Algiers on 13 May; on 15 May, de Gaulle said he was "prepared to conduct the powers of the Republic". Four days later, he said publicly he would respect the law ("Aged 67, I won't start a dictator's career"). On 29 May, René Coty, President of the Republic, invited de Gaulle, "the most famous of the French", at the Elysée Palace and appointed him Head of the Government, with full powers to revise the Constitution.
On 1 and 2 June, de Gaulle exposed his proposal at the National Assembly in a very modest way, rallying a large majority that included the MRP and the Socialists as well. The new Constitution, drafted during summer 1958, was submitted to a referendum and approved by 80% of the voters. In January 1959, a college of 80,000 notables elected de Gaulle President of the Fifth Republic.

De Gaulle's three main tasks were to rebuild a strong state, to restore the currency and to solve the Algerian crisis. After several visits in Algeria, de Gaulle set up his strategy: first, a military victory, and then peace and discussion on the self-determination of Algeria. On 16 September 1959, de Gaulle proposed three choices: francisation, association, warmly encouraged, or independence. However, de Gaulle's plan was perceived in Algeria as an attempt of liquidation of French Algeria. On 18 January 1960 and 22 April 1961, de Gaulle was challenged by a street insurrection in Algiers, led by four retired generals supported (or manipulated) by the OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète). On the two instances, de Gaulle, wearing a military uniform, delivered a strong-minded speech on the national TV and turned the tables. The agreement signed in Évian on 18 March 1962 with the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) prepared the self-determination of Algeria. The OAS started a violent terrorist campaign, which killed any residual possibility of coexistence in Algeria. The Évian agreement was therefore more the procedure of liquidation of the French interests in Algeria. For a few years, France preserved access to Algerian oil and used the Saharian part of the country for nuclear trials.

De Gaulle's foreign policy was based on three principles: relations between countries, even allied, shall be considered in terms of a power struggle; nations are more important than ideology; France must be on the first rank, for the benefit of all. Accordingly, de Gaulle refused to follow automatically the American point of view and withdrew from the operational command of NATO. After having failed to build a tripartite Atlantic directory with Britain and the USA, de Gaulle attempted to convince the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to build a Franco-German alliance, to no avail, either. De Gaulle also developed relations with the USSR and contributed to the East-West detente. He supported the emancipation of the eastern European states from the Soviet rule, which ended with the invasion of Czechoslovakia. De Gaulle then turned to the Third World, recognizing in 1964 the People's Republic of China and supporting the Arab countries after the war against Israel in 1967.

In 1962, de Gaulle revised the Constitution adopted in 1958 to increase the powers of the President of the Republic, who would then be elected via universal suffrage for seven years and have extended powers thanks to his "reserved area". However, this new system, expected to give the President a large and everlasting majority in the Parliament, completely blocked the evolution of the institutions and increased the split in trends of public opinion. A students' revolt broke out in May 1968, quickly supported by factory workers, unionists etc.. From 3 to 30 May, de Gaulle partially lost control of the country; on 29 May 1968, he left Paris in helicopter to Colombey and then diverted the flight to Baden Baden (Germany). He stayed there with General Massu for a 2.5 hours maximum and flew back to the original destination, his residence at Colombey. On 30 May, he was back to Paris and made one of his famous press conferences.
Prime Minister Georges Pompidou eventually got the situation back to normal, but the May 1968 events dramatically modified the country. De Gaulle decided to test his legitimity by calling a referendum on 27 April 1969. The question asked in the referendum was fairly complicated, mixing issues on the regionalization and the Senate. André Malraux called this referendum a "suicide". The majority of the voters answered "no" to the referendum. On the evening of 27 April, short before midnight, de Gaulle announced in a communique that he had ceased to exert his office of President of the Republic.
De Gaulle, aged 78, retired in Colombey, where he wrote his (uncompleted) Mémoires d'espoir. In June 1969, he travelled to Ireland during the presidential election won by Georges Pompidou. De Gaulle died on 9 November 1970.
[Jean Lacouture. Gaulle (Charles de). Encyclopaedia Universalis]

Ivan Sache, 9 November 2004

De Gaulle's presidential standard

A flag used by President Charles de Gaulle, kept in the private archive HCC (Habillement, Couchage, Casernement - Outfit, Bedding, Barracks) of Direction du Commissariat de la Marine (Direction of the Admiralty Board) in Toulon is a French Tricolore flag, in overall proportions (7:8) and respective proportions of the stripes (30:33:37), charged in the middle of the white stripe with gilded letters "C G", and, underneath, with a red Cross of Lorraine.

Armand du Payrat, 30 June 1998

The personal collection of a gendarmerie officer hired by the Presidential Staff in 1962 for, among other duties, the preparation of the car flags used by the President, as the head of the state (these flags were only used in official events, never during private trips) keeps a similar flag, but without the letters (photos).

Esteban Rivera & Ivan Sache, 27 April 2016