I was waiting for that magnificent Churchilian punchline.
But, please this all encounter is worthy to be told by you and Spartacus !
June 4, 1944, de Gaulle meets Churchill in a train near Portsmouth with among others Eden, Duff Cooper and Bevin.
Everything goes well until dessert, where Churchill, again evoking the uncertainty of the landing date, goes on to say: “In the meantime, we could talk about politics.” De Gaulle turns his head, looks at the Prime Minister, and answers in his driest tone:
“Politic ? Why is that ?”
Slightly puzzled, Churchill continues:
'Here is a certain time that I correspond with the President. The latter initially wished that General de Gaulle would come to see him in the United States, but he did not want to invite him officially. His latest telegrams seem to show that he is less keen on this visit at the moment, which can be partly explained by the treatment of General Giraud […]"
De Gaulle notes that there is no rush, and that “right now, it is better to be here than in Washington.”
The Prime Minister replied that “this is probably true, at least as regards the initial phase of the battle. […] The President said that General Marshall would be free to discuss military matters with General de Gaulle, but he twice refused to allow political conversations between the representatives of the three countries. I am willing to have two-person conversations. […]”
General de Gaulle repeats that there is no rush, and he adds with an icy tone: “It is war, do it, we will see afterwards.”
Churchill is visibly disappointed, but he continues: “After the battle, General de Gaulle could go to the United States to discuss with the President, or else he could return to Algiers and have no talks with Britain nor the United States, two powers that sacrifice their soldiers for the freedom of France […]. For example, we could discuss the issue of currency[…].”
De Gaulle, impassive repeats: “It is war, go make war.”
Anthony Eden then intervenes in the discussion:
'I have reason to believe that, if General de Gaulle is ready to go to the United States, it is not out of the question that we may have political conversations here beforehand, in the presence of the US ambassador. We must not forget that Great Britain is also concerned by this matter. We have offered to General de Gaulle to begin the conversations. If this offer is rejected, we cannot do anything about it; but we will regret it."
To what, Mr. Bevin finds it good to add: “the Labour party would be offended”.
It’s one word too many. De Gaulle turns around, shoots his eyes and explodes: “How! We have sent proposals since last September. You never gave us an answer, so there’s no point in saying that the Labour Party would be offended. The battle will begin and I will speak on the radio; so be it. But when it comes to discussing matters of civil administration, it is clear that the President never wanted to see me, and now all of a sudden I am told that I have to go and talk to him. Why do you seem to think that I have to apply to Roosevelt for power in France ?! The French government exists. I have nothing to ask on this subject to the United States, nor to Great Britain ! That said, it is important for all Allies to organize the reports of the French administration and military command. It’s been nine months since we proposed it. As tomorrow the armies will disembark, I understand your eagerness to see the matter resolved. We ourselves are ready for it. But where is the American representative for this settlement. Without it, however, as you well know, we cannot conclude anything in this matter. In fact, I note that the governments of Washington and London have made arrangements to do without an agreement with us. I have just learned, for example, that in spite of our warnings, the troops and services preparing to disembark are equipped with a so-called French currency, manufactured abroad, which the government of the Republic does not recognize at all and who, under the orders of the Allied Command, will have forced course in French territory. I expect that tomorrow General Eisenhower, on the instruction of the President of the United States and in agreement with you, will proclaim that he is taking France under his authority. How do you want us to treat on these bases ? Go to war with your counterfeit money !”
A heavy silence, then Churchill resumed, with increasing exasperation: “Whether or not General de Gaulle went to visit the President is his business. But I strongly advise him…”
Churchill repeats, shouting: “[…] Know it! every time we have to choose between Europe and the open sea, we will always be for the open sea. Whenever I have to choose between you and Roosevelt, I will always choose Roosevelt.”
Bevin intervenes to declare to the General:
“The Prime Minister told you that, in any case, he would side with the President of the United States. Know that he spoke on his behalf, and not on behalf of the British Cabinet.”
With that, the “conference” ends, and so does lunch. Yet, before we part, Churchill, melancholy, raises his glass:
“A de Gaulle, who never accepted defeat.”
And de Gaulle replied:
“To England, to victory, to Europe.”
An unusual encounter between two characters who are clearly out of the ordinary…