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General de Gaulle


The Free French forces
François Jacob Scientist
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As opposed to the incredible confusion and mess in France. Which was unbelievable: the defeat, the guys on the roads, it was incredible at that time, you can't imagine it... on the contrary, in England, everything was very organised. The guys took care of us. We were put in camps for eight days, we were screened because they were scared that Germans would sneak in, etc. And so we ended up in a camp. But it really was a nation which was fighting, which was completely preparing itself for war.

And that's when the real bombings on London started. I didn't stay very long after that. I was in a camp in the south-west of London where most of the Free French were. Because it wasn't... so at the beginning there were only two of us. At the beginning we thought: we'll join the English. Then we found out that there was a guy called de Gaulle that was doing something. So one of de Gaulle's guys paid us a visit and explained the operation. And so, we joined that new formation which was to become the Free French. You said that for once, it was a military formation, but without that humiliating aspect of military formation. That you were actually trained in what was useful, but... But it was constituted solely of volunteers. And that, that changes everything. Between the guys who were recruited by... well, not by force but who were recruited and enrolled to do their 'service militaire' and a troop solely made up of volunteers that are there to fight, it's definitely very, very different.

And there were people from a variety of backgrounds and with different political opinions. There was a mix of everything in there, absolutely everything. You had communists, royalists, absolutely everything. The majority was the usual, radical-socialist, socialist. But there was... I remember a conversation between two communists who were saying, 'Honestly, that general isn't being very reasonable'. In the end, they enrolled like everyone else. And there were also far-right guys. It was a mix of everything.

[Q] There weren't any confrontations between these very differently opinionated people?

No. What really dominated at the time was occupied France. Especially as it was very recent, it had just happened. And it was probably the biggest catastrophe in the history of France.

Par rapport à l'incroyable bazar et bordel qu'il y avait en France. Qui était incroyable: la défaite, les types sur les routes, c'était incroyable à ce moment-là, on ne peut pas imaginer... Au contraire, en Angleterre, quelque chose de très organisé. Les types s'occupaient de vous. On nous a mis dans un camp pendant huit jours, on nous a filtrés parce qu'ils avaient peur qu'il vienne des Allemands etc. Et on s'est retrouvé dans un camp. Mais c'était vraiment un peuple qui se battait quoi, qui se préparait à faire la guerre et complètement.

Et c'est à ce moment-là qu'ont commencé les véritables bombardements sur Londres. Et là, je ne suis pas resté très longtemps. J'ai été dans un camp qui était au sud-ouest de Londres, où il y avait la plupart des Français libres. Parce que c'était pas... Au début, on était donc deux. Au début on s'est dit: on va s'engager chez les Anglais. Puis on a appris qu'il y avait un type qui s'appelait de Gaulle qui faisait quelque chose. Alors on a eu la visite d'un type de chez de Gaulle qui nous a expliqué l'opération. Et donc, on a adhéré à cette nouvelle formation qui était les Forces Françaises dites libres. Vous dites que pour une fois, c'était une formation militaire, mais qui n'avait pas ce côté humiliation de la formation militaire. Qu'on vous formait vraiment à ce qui était utile, mais... Mais ce qu'il y avait surtout, c'est que c'était uniquement des volontaires là. Et que ça, ça change complètement. Entre les types qui sont embrigadés de... Enfin pas de force mais qui sont recrutés et embrigadés pour faire leur service et une troupe qui est composée exclusivement de volontaires qui sont là pour se battre, c'est quand même très très différent.

Et là, vous aviez des gens d'opinions politiques, d'origines très différentes. Il y avait de tout là-dedans, il y avait absolument de tout. Il y avait de tout. Il y avait des communistes, il y avait des royalistes, il y avait absolument de tout. Le plus grand nombre était le truc moyen, radical-socialiste, socialiste. Mais il y avait... Je me souviens d'une conversation entre deux types qui étaient communistes et qui se disaient, 'Quand même, ce général, ce n'est pas très raisonnable'. Puis finalement, ils se sont engagés comme tout le monde. Et il y avait aussi des types d'extrême-droite. Il y avait de tout.

[Q] Il n'y avait pas de conflits entre ces gens qui avaient des opinions si différentes?

Non. Non. A ce moment-là, ce qui dominait, c'était quand même la France occupée. Surtout que c'était très récent, ça venait d'arriver. Et c'était probablement la plus grande catastrophe de l'histoire de France.

François Jacob (1920-2013) was a French biochemist whose work has led to advances in the understanding of the ways in which genes are controlled. In 1965 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with Jacque Monod and André Lwoff, for his contribution to the field of biochemistry. His later work included studies on gene control and on embryogenesis. Besides the Nobel Prize, he also received the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science for 1996 and was elected a member of the French Academy in 1996.

Listeners: Michel Morange

Michel Morange is a professor of Biology and Director of the Centre Cavaillès of History and Philosophy of Science at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. After having obtained a Bachelor in biochemistry and two PhDs, one in Biochemistry, the other in History and Philosophy of Science, he went on to join the research unit of Molecular Genetics headed by François Jacob, in the Department of Molecular Biology at the Pasteur Institute, Paris. Together with Olivier Bensaude, he discovered that Heat Shock Proteins are specifically expressed on the onset of the mouse zygotic genome activation. Since then he has been working on the properties of Heat Shock Proteins, their role in aggregation and on the regulation of expression of these proteins during mouse embryogenesis. He is the author of 'A History of Molecular Biology' and 'The Misunderstood Gene'.

Michel Morange est généticien et professeur à L'Université Paris VI ainsi qu'à l'Ecole Normale Supérieure où il dirige le Centre Cavaillès d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences. Après l'obtention d'une license en Biochimie ainsi que de deux Doctorats, l'un en Biochimie, l'autre en Histoire et Philosophie des Sciences, il rejoint le laboratoire de Génétique Moléculaire dirigé par le Professeur François Jacob à l'Institut Pasteur. Ses principaux travaux de recherche se sont portés sur l'Histoire de la Biologie au XXème siècle, la naissance et le développement de la Biologie Moléculaire, ses transformations récentes et ses interactions avec les autres disciplines biologiques. Auteur de "La Part des Gènes" ainsi que de "Histoire de la Biologie Moléculaire", il est spécialiste de la structure, de la fonction et de l'ingénerie des protéines.

Tags: France

Duration: 2 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008