Monday 9 November 1970, around 7:00 p.m. “It hurts, there, in the back”, murmurs General Charles de Gaulle before collapsing in his property of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises (Haute-Marne), struck down by a ruptured aneurysm. He is dead. A few days away from his 80th birthday.
With his wife Yvonne, the man of June 18 has been living in retirement in La Boisserie since he resigned, 18 months earlier, from the presidency of the Republic, the day after the failure of the referendum on regionalization and reform of the Senate, after 11 years at the Elysee Palace.
Ordinary and rainy autumn day in the residence acquired in 1934 by the couple. The leader of Free France works on his “Memories of Hope”, has lunch with his wife, walks, between two showers, in the garden, writes to a few “Companions” and to his son Philippe.
His death is kept secret all night
He has just reached the library where a wood fire is burning in the fireplace. He sits down in front of the bridge table, where every evening before the television news and dinner, he indulges in what he calls his “discipline of idleness”: a success. Charles de Gaulle collapsed in his chair, his head in one hand, under Yvonne’s eyes, writing, sitting at her secretary. He’s already passed out. Immediately called by his wife, Father Jaugey, parish priest of Colombey, and Doctor Lacheny arrive together. It’s too late. Ruptured abdominal aneurysm, diagnoses doctor. The founder of the Fifth Republic expires while the priest administers the last sacraments to him.
Hardly conceivable 50 years later in the age of Twitter and social media, the death of the hero of WWII is being kept secret overnight. Only his children are warned. His successor, President Georges Pompidou, was not himself notified until 7.20 am, 12 hours after the death. No press release, no official announcement. It was, at 9.41 am, an AFP flash – “de Gaulle died” – which made the general’s death public.
In the streets, at work, the news spreads like wildfire. Messages of condolence are pouring in from all over the world. A crowd rushes to Paris, in front of the private secretary of the former head of state, to sign the mourning book. “France is a widow …”, declared at midday, in a televised address, Georges Pompidou. An extraordinary Council of Ministers decrees a day of national mourning on Thursday 12th, with a solemn Requiem mass in Notre-Dame-de-Paris cathedral.
“I don’t want a national funeral”
But the last wishes of General de Gaulle, written in January 1952, are very clear: his funeral will take place in Colombey, during an “extremely simple” ceremony. And above all, “I don’t want a national funeral … Neither president nor ministers […] no speech, ”he demanded.
Contrast between Paris and Colombey. On Thursday 12th, the whole world gathered under the vaults of Notre-Dame in the absence – unique in history – of the remains of the deceased: 86 nations represented, 33 sovereigns and heads of state, including the American president Richard Nixon, and 6,000 worshipers. 250 km away, in Colombey, there is also the crowd but it is the sobriety that dominates. The only official participation is that of the army. The oak coffin covered with a simple tricolor cloth fringed with gold joins the cemetery on an armored reconnaissance vehicle.
In the concert of praise that accompanies the death of the man on June 18, the satirical weekly “Hara Kiri, stupid and wicked newspaper” detonates with the headline: “Tragic ball in Colombey: 1 death”. An allusion to a terrible news item that occurred a few days earlier: the fire in a dance hall in Isère which left 146 dead.
Scandal. The weekly was immediately censored by the Minister of the Interior, who banned it from “exhibition and sale to minors”. The team immediately relaunched the newspaper with a title nod to “Charlie Brown”, hero of the Peanuts, but also to the general’s first name: “Charlie Hebdo” was born …
Emmanuel Macron expected in Colombey
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of General de Gaulle, more than ever the tutelary figure of French politics, Emmanuel Macron is expected this Monday in Colombey-les-deux-Eglises (Haute-Marne).
Because of the Covid-19 epidemic, this anniversary will be celebrated soberly and in a small committee in the small village of 700 inhabitants 250 km east of Paris. The president will meditate on the white tomb where Charles de Gaulle rests, alongside his wife Yvonne and his daughter Anne, in the cemetery which adjoins the church.
Original article by : www.leparisien.fr