The Evolution of Charles de Gaulle as Leader of la France Libre during World War II (1940–1942)

Claire Mayo

Abstract


In the aftermath of Germany’s conquest of France in 1940, Charles de Gaulle fled his homeland for Great Britain and entered the public light as the military and political leader of la France Libre (LFL). Le Musée des lettres et manuscripts recently released a large cache of de Gaulle’s official and personal letters documenting his efforts to establish his legitimacy from 1940­–1942 as the internationally recognized head of LFL in London. These letters focus on a time period during which de Gaulle relied heavily upon British support and worked to sever the Allies’ trust in the Vichy government. French historians are just beginning to interpret the letters, which are largely unexplored by American scholars. My research is one of the first to use these letters–which I translated as a piece of this research–and to contextualize them with the current scholarship on Charles de Gaulle and LFL. The principal goal of my thesis is to answer the question, “How did Charles de Gaulle evolve as a political leader and establish LFL as the only legitimate fighting French force while in exile in Great Britain from 1940-1942?” The conclusions drawn from my extensive research underscore Charles de Gaulle’s lack of political experience and consequential mistakes in his initial years of leadership, but my study of the letters also reveal his evolution to become one of France’s greatest politicians. This article is a piece of my larger Honors Thesis, which can be accessed at Elon University’s Belk Library.


Keywords


World War II; Charles de Gaulle; la France Libre; France

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