(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
General Charles de Gaulle first met Churchill on June 9, 1940 in London. French Premier Reynaud had sent de Gaulle as his emissary to apprise the British of the deteriorating military situation in France and to seek the prompt return to France of British troops evacuated from Dunkirk just days before.
De Gaulle described the meeting and the man:
Mr. Churchill received me at Downing Street. It was my first contact with him. The impression he gave me confirmed me in my conviction that Great Britain, led by such a fighter, would certainly not flinch.One of the first tributes Queen Elizabeth II received following Churchill’s death was from de Gaulle who said: “In the great drama he was first among all.
Mr. Churchill seemed to me to be equal to the rudest task, provided it had also grandeur. The assurance of his judgment, his great culture, the knowledge he had of most of the subjects, countries, and men involved, and finally his passion for the problems proper to war, found in war their full scope. On top of everything he was fitted by his character to act, take risks, play the part out-and-out and without scruple. In short, I found him well in the saddle as a guide and chief. Such were my first impressions. …
The harsh and painful incidents that often arose between us, because of the friction of our two characters, the opposition of some of the interest of our two countries, and of the unfair advantage taken by England of wounded France, have influenced my attitude towards the Prime Minister, but not my judgment.
Winston Churchill appeared to me, from one end of the drama to the other, as the great champion of a great enterprise and the great artist of a great history.
The Complete War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle. (Simon & Schuster) (pgs, 57-58)