French commemorative €2 coins 2010, 70th anniversary of the appeal of 18 June
Commemorative 2 euro coins from France
In spite of its reputation as the beginning of the Resistance and Free French, historians have shown that the appeal was heard only by a minority of French people. De Gaulle's 22 June 1940 speech on the BBC was more widely heard.
General de Gaulle became the de facto leader of the Free French Forces which had escaped to London in June 1940. Marshal Philippe Pétain, a hero of World War I, had signed an armistice with Nazi Germany, and led the collaborating Vichy government while the Germans occupied the country's northern portion. De Gaulle opposed the armistice and had fled France on 15 June after Pétain made clear that he would seek an accommodation with the Nazis.
Three days later, de Gaulle obtained special permission from Winston Churchill to broadcast a speech via BBC Radio from Broadcasting House over France, despite the British Cabinet's objections that such a broadcast could provoke the Pétain government into a closer allegiance with Germany. In his speech, de Gaulle reminded the French people that the British Empire and the United States of America would support them militarily and economically in an effort to retake France from the Germans.
The BBC did not record the speech, and few actually heard it. Another speech, which was recorded and heard by more people, was given by de Gaulle four days later. There is a record, however, of the manuscript of the speech of 18 June, which has been found in the archives of the Swiss intelligence agencies who published the text for their own uses on 19 June. The manuscript of the speech, as well as the recording of the 22 June speech, has been classed on 18 June 2005, by the UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme.
On 18 June 1940, at 19:00 (GMT), de Gaulle's voice was broadcast nationwide, saying:
"The leaders who, for many years, have been at the head of the French armies have formed a government. This government, alleging the defeat of our armies, has made contact with the enemy in order to stop the fighting. It is true, we were, we are, overwhelmed by the mechanical, ground and air forces of the enemy. Infinitely more than their number, it is the tanks, the aeroplanes, the tactics of the Germans which are causing us to retreat. It was the tanks, the aeroplanes, the tactics of the Germans that surprised our leaders to the point of bringing them to where they are today.
"But has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!
"Believe me, I who am speaking to you with full knowledge of the facts, and who tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us victory one day. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can align with the British Empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of the United States.
"This war is not limited to the unfortunate territory of our country. This war is not over as a result of the Battle of France. This war is a worldwide war. All the mistakes, all the delays, all the suffering, do not alter the fact that there are, in the world, all the means necessary to crush our enemies one day. Vanquished today by mechanical force, in the future we will be able to overcome by a superior mechanical force. The fate of the world depends on it.
" I, General de Gaulle, currently in London, invite the officers and the French soldiers who are located in British territory or who might end up here, with their weapons or without their weapons, I invite the engineers and the specialised workers of the armament industries who are located in British territory or who might end up here, to put themselves in contact with me.
"Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished. Tomorrow, as today, I will speak on the radio from London."
Although de Gaulle's speech on 18 June is the among the most famous in French history, few French listeners heard it that day. It was broadcast on BBC, an English radio station, practically unannounced, and given by an obscure brigadier general only recently appointed junior minister. Consequently, of the 100,000 French citizens in Britain, only 300 volunteered and of the more than 100,000 soldiers temporarily on British soil, only 7,000 stayed on to join de Gaulle. The rest returned to France and were quickly made prisoners of war. Despite this, de Gaulle's speech was undeniably influential and provided motivation for the people of France and for the oppressed of the rest of Europe.