Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille, France, on 22nd November, 1890. The son of a headmaster of a Jesuit school, he was educated in Paris. De Gaulle was the second son of a Roman Catholic, patriotic, and nationalist upper-middle-class family. The family had produced historians and writers, and his father taught philosophy and literature; but, as a boy, de Gaulle already showed a passionate interest in military matters. He was a good student and at the Military Academy St. Cyr, he graduated 13th in the class of 1912.Commissioned as a second lieutenant, the 6 feet 5 tall de Gaulle joined an infantry regiment commanded by Colonel Henri-Philippe Petain in 1913.
De Gaulle was an intelligent, hardworking, and zealous young soldier and, in his military career, a man of original mind, great self-assurance, and outstanding courage. In World War I he fought at Verdun, was three times wounded and three times mentioned in dispatches, and spent two years and eight months as a prisoner of war (during which time he made five unsuccessful attempts to escape). After a brief visit to Poland as a member of a military mission, a year’s teaching at Saint-Cyr, and a two-year course of special training in strategy and tactics at the École Supérieure de Guerre (War College), he was promoted by Marshal Pétain in 1925 to the staff of the Supreme War Council. From 1927 to 1929 de Gaulle served as a major in the army occupying the Rhineland and could see for himself both the potential danger of German aggression and the inadequacy of the French defense. He also spent two years in the Middle East and then, having been promoted to lieutenant colonel, spent four years as a member of the secretariat of the National Defense Council.
At the outbreak of World War II, de Gaulle commanded a tank brigade attached to the French Fifth Army. In May 1940, after assuming command as temporary brigadier general in the 4th Armoured Division—the rank that he retained for the rest of his life—he twice had the opportunity to apply his theories on tank warfare. He was mentioned as “an admirable, energetic, and courageous leader.”De Gaulle entered his wartime career as a political leader with tremendous liabilities. He had only a handful of haphazardly recruited political supporters and volunteers for what were to become the Free French Forces. He had no political status and was virtually unknown in both Britain and France. But he had an absolute belief in his mission and a conviction that he possessed the qualities of leadership. He was totally devoted to France and had the strength of character (or obstinacy, as it often appeared to the British) to fight for French interests as he saw them with all the resources at his disposal.
In his country, to the politicians on the political left, a career officer who was a practicing Roman Catholic was not an immediately acceptable political leader, while to those on the right he was a rebel against Pétain, who was a national hero and France’s only field marshal. Broadcasts from London, the action of the Free French Forces, and the contacts of resistance groups in France either with de Gaulle’s own organization or with those of the British secret services brought national recognition of his leadership; but full recognition by his allies came only after the liberation of Paris in August 1944.
On 13th November, 1945, the first Constituent Assembly unanimously elected de Gaulle as head of the French government. He held the post until resigning on 20th January, 1946. He then formed the right-wing group, the Rally of the French People (RFP). After initial success it declined in popularity and de Gaulle left it in 1953 and it was disbanded two years later.
After his retirement from politics de Gaulle wrote the first three volumes of his memoirs. He returned to politics in 1958 when he was elected president during the Algerian crisis. He granted independence to all 13 French African colonies but the Algerian War continued until 1962.
De Gaulle decided that France should have its own atom bomb and repeatedly blocked Britain’s attempts to join the European Economic Community. In 1966 de Gaulle withdrew France from the integrated military command of NATO.
Following student riots against his government and negative results in a referendum, de Gaulle resigned from office in April, 1969. In retirement he completed his memoirs. Charles De Gaulle died on 9th November, 1970.