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World War II

Macron pays tribute to de Gaulle, 80 years after the Battle of France

President Emmanuel Macron at the foot of the statue of General Charles de Gaulle on the Champs-Elysées for Victory in Europe Day commemorations, 8 May 2020.
President Emmanuel Macron at the foot of the statue of General Charles de Gaulle on the Champs-Elysées for Victory in Europe Day commemorations, 8 May 2020. Francois Mori/Pool via REUTERS
Text by: RFI Follow | James Mulholland
3 min

President Emmanuel Macron is to lead commemorations of Nazi Germany's invasion of France on Sunday in the department of Aisne. He will pay tribute to the "spirit of resistance" of Charles de Gaulle, who on 17 May 1940 led an armoured division in the Battle of Montcornet as an unknown colonel, on his way towards becoming the leader of the French Resistance.

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Macron's highly symbolic visit to northern France is his first presidential trip in more than two months, coming a week after his government began easing the two-month lockdown put in place to combat the coronavirus.

He is to visit Dizy-le-Gros, a small village northeast of Laon, where a monument pays tribute to those who fought in the Battle of France – a battle which, despite 60,000 deaths, remains "a blind spot in French military memory", according to the Elysée Palace.

President Macron will then make a speech in La-Ville-aux-Bois-les-Dizy, remembering Charles de Gaulle, who on 17 May 1940 led the 4th Armored Division in a bid to slow the rapid advance of the Nazi forces in the Battle of Montcornet.

The attempt was short-lived but would later be considered a "courageous defeat" – one of the few examples of a counterattack where France showed its armed forces could put the Germans in trouble.

De Gaulle's armoured vehicle strategy in the Battle of Montcornet

De Gaulle, returning to the scene a quarter of a century later as President of the French Fifth Republic, said in that defeat were sown the seeds of hope that eventually grew into the liberation of France.

'Year of de Gaulle' 

The founding president was an inspiration to the incumbent, according to Macron's entourage at the Elysée. With his visit to Aisne, the president kick starts the "year of de Gaulle", a series of commemorations leading up to the 50th anniversary of the death in November of the founder of the Fifth Republic.  

Macron has made it a key part of his presidency to remember French heroes, often leaning on themes of unity and combativity as a means to overcome times of crisis. 

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