President Obama may have thrown a bust of Winston Churchill out of the White House, but the French have taken him up. The Times reports that François Kersaudy has done a new and much better translation of Churchill’s well-known account of the Second World War. Kersaudy is a historian who teaches at the Sorbonne and Oxford, and is totally bilingual. The Times carried an interview with him and quotes him saying, “There is special nostalgia for Churchill, with his great contempt for the opinion of the man on the street at any moment when present leaders are obsessed with opinion polls.”
Kersaudy has previously written in close detail about the relationship between Churchill and de Gaulle. De Gaulle’s flight to London in 1940 undoubtedly allowed France to salvage its identity, so allowing the country to recover confidence once Germany was defeated. It was a moment that had destiny in it. In the course of the war, de Gaulle often stood up to Churchill, and Churchill often had fierce rows with him, sometimes threatening him in his notoriously bad French. The British navy sank the French fleet at Mers el-Kebir in order to prevent it falling into German hands, but the Churchill-de Gaulle relationship survived even that. In fact, Churchill romanticized all things French, and de Gaulle seems to have recognized that and even traded on it.
The Germans pulled out of Paris on Aug. 20, 1944. A few days afterwards, Churchill and de Gaulle headed a triumphal procession along the Champs Elysées. It was observed that the emotion of this ceremony of the liberation of France overcame Churchill, and tears were pouring down his face. There were still a few snipers somewhere on the rooftops, either German soldiers who had stayed behind or French collaborators, and some of these began firing on the procession. Everyone scattered and threw themselves down, except Churchill and de Gaulle who continued marching in the middle of the great avenue, oblivious of a small thing like sniper-fire. Their bravery is one thing, but those tears is another, truly signifying greatness.