Charles de Gaulle
Leader of the Free French in the Second World War, becoming President of France. During 1941-2, de Gaulle lived near Berkhamsted.
Link with the Chilterns
During 1941-2, de Gaulle lived near Berkhamsted
22nd November 1890
9th November 1970
Charles de Gaulle, a professional officer in the French army, distinguished himself in the First World War, and between the wars was recognised to be a forward-looking military strategist. In 1940, after the capitulation of France in the Second World War, de Gaulle and other French officers escaped to England. In June 1940 he famously broadcast to the French people on the BBC, urging them to resist Nazi occupation, and he was condemned to death by the Vichy Government. In 1941 he set up home with his family in Rodinghead, a house in the Ashridge area, near Berkhamsted. While there he came to be accepted as the leader of the Free French, and represented the interests of France to the Allied governments.
A devout Roman Catholic, de Gaulle would regularly attend Sunday Mass at the Roman Catholic church in Berkhamsted, the congregation hardly suspecting that amongst them was the leader of the Free French, a man destined to become President of his country and the most influential ruler of France in modern history.
On Remembrance Sunday in November 1941, de Gaulle was persuaded to take the salute at the march-past of the local Home Guard in the nearby village of Potten End, an unlikely event recorded in photographs. Three years later he returned to Paris after its liberation to lead a rather grander parade down the Champs Elysees to a hero’s welcome.
Immediately after the war he presided over the interim French Government, going on to be responsible for founding the Fifth Republic and was its President from 1959-69 (and surely the only one-time resident of the Chilterns to have an international airport named after him!).
What you can visit
Rodinghead is a private house, but it can be seen from the road through Ashridge and the public footpath alongside. Postcode HP4 1NP.
The Ashridge Estate is now owned by the National Trust and has miles of footpaths and bridleways through beautiful countryside, plus a Visitor Centre, all free to visit.
The Roman Catholic church in Park View Road, Berkhamsted, where de Gaulle worshipped is still there, although no longer a church.