Charles de Gaulle remains, for many, the quintessence of Gallic defiance through the dark years of World War II. Not only did he symbolise the famed resistance, he organised it, led it, conquered the Boche, and delivered national salvation after the humiliation of 1940.
As Robert Gildea makes clear in this new history of the French Resistance, it was not always thus. In France's moment of crisis, de Gaulle's supporters at home and abroad were thin on the ground. Acolytes among the exiled Free French diplomatic and military community in London were difficult to find. The British government early recognised de Gaulle as the leader of the Free French, but wondered whether perhaps it had backed the wrong horse. As for Franklin Roosevelt and his administration, they regarded the Frenchman as 'an egoistic troublemaker whose personal ambitions divided a French people otherwise considered happy under Marshal Pétain, and who harboured Napoleonic fantasies about seizing power in France as a dictator'.