De Gaulle and the 20th century

De Gaulle's Mémorial © T.Joly
General De Gaulle was France’s greatest statesman of the 20th century. A Memorial honouring him just opened in his hometown, Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises. Fitted to young and old alike, it evokes his life and also the main events of the past century.

[ Practical ]

- Getting there
By road
260 km from Paris on autoroute A5
By train
Corail train from Paris Est to Chaumont. Duration of the journey : 2 h 15. TER bus shuttle from Chaumont to Colombey, 25 km away.
- Hotels – Restaurants
La Montagne
La Grange du Relais
Hôtel des Dhuits
- Mémorial Charles de Gaulle
Open everyday except Tuesday from 10.00 to 17.30 from October to May and everyday from 10.00 to 19.30 from May to October.
Closed in January
Entrance : Adults : 12,50 €. Students : 10 €. Children 6 to 12 years old : 8 €. Family (2 adults + 2 children) : 35 €.
Tel : 0325309080
- La Boisserie
pen everyday except Tuesday from 10.00 to 12.30 and from 14.00 to 17.15 from October 15th to April 14th, till 18.15 from April 15th to October 14th.
Tel : 0325015252
- Information
Haute-Marne tourist Office, tel : 0325606900
Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises looks like a typical village of Haute-Marne with its stone houses and its farms opening on meadows surrounded by forests.
Except that it has two souvenir shops, three hotels and three restaurants including “La Montagne”, the only one of the department having one star in the Guide Michelin. All that for only 650 inhabitants !!!

Colombey © Ph.Lemoine / CDT 52
 A place of commemoration and an educational site
Why this particularity ?... Because here stands La Boisserie, General de Gaulle’s private residence from 1934 to 1970. So, every year about 60 000 persons come to visit this property or to meditate on the tombs of the man generally considered as France’s greatest statesman of the 20th century. Commemorating his distinguished wartime role as commander of the Free French Forces during the Second World War, a 50 m high Cross of Lorraine towers over the village and the surrounding countryside. A monument that was erected in 1972, two years after his death, thanks to a public subscription.
Almost naturally, that’s underneath this Cross, stuck to the hill, that was set up the Memorial bearing his name. Inaugurated on October 11th, 2008, this museum housed in a square white stone-clad building is not only intended to his admirers. It was conceived both as a place of commemoration and as an educational site.

De Gaulle's Mémorial © T.Joly
 Chronological evocation
The General’s life, his military and political careers as well as his stays in Colombey serve indeed as a connecting thread to evoke and depict the main events of the 20th century which he took part in.
Covering 1 600 sq meters split between the 1st and 2nd floors, the permanent exhibition is made up of four spaces chronologically reminding the main periods of his life. His youth and the Great War. The Second World War and the key role he played in this conflict. The years his political fortune waned, from 1946 to 1958, when he retired from public life. His comeback at the head of the country and the years he was President of France, till 1968. His final withdrawal in Colombey. Quite successfully, the scenography mingles all kinds of sensorial effects. Films, slides, soundtracks, texts, documents, pictures, maps, dioramas, interactive multimedia terminals and reconstitutions of a World War I trench, a Paris street at the time of the Liberation, or a section of the Libyan desert…

De Gaulle's Mémorial © T.Joly
 Temporary exhibition
A modern display that should catch the attention of young and old alike as there are commentaries and explanations with different levels of reading. Moreover they are all in three languages : French, English, German. As for the contents, it is globally objective even if the section evoking its realizations as President is slightly too eulogistic.
On the ground floor visitors will find a boutique, a catering area, an auditorium and a 200 sq meters room dedicated to temporary exhibition renewed every 18 months. The first one is named : “De Gaulle – Adenauer : A Franco German reconciliation”. It tells the meeting the two men had in Colombey 50 years ago to set up new relationships between both countries. Besides, the German chancellor was the only foreign leader ever invited to La Boisserie. Lastly, the Memorial also includes a library open to the public that has the second largest bibliographic fund about the General.

Colombey © T.Joly
 De Gaulle’s home
Being in Colombey, the opportunity to visit De Gaulle’s home shouldn’t be missed. He bought La Boisserie in 1934, but the house was looted and burned during the Second World War. So its present aspect only dates back to the late 40’s when it was reconstructed and embellished with the addition of an angle tower. The property is still owned by the General’s children who come once a month. That’s why only a few ground floor rooms are open to the public. The dining room where he always ate back to the chimney. The hallway, filled with souvenirs of Africa. The lounge where religious objects remind his catholic faith. The library, decorated with statesmen's photos of the whole world, which was the place where all the family met and where he died from a ruptured aneurysm on November 9th, 1970.

La Boisserie © T.Joly
 Upright man
From there, a door gives access to his office, installed in the angle tower of the house, which offers a magnificent view on the surrounding countryside and the forest of Clairvaux. It is there that he wrote his Memoirs. Common point to all the rooms, the decoration and the furniture are of a great simplicity, in the image of this upright man who finishes his life modestly, having refused to perceived a pension from the State. Only the personal gifts he received during his journeys remind the functions that he occupied. He also asked to be buried in the village’s cemetery in a humble grave bearing only the inscription " Charles de Gaulle 1890-1970 ". An ethic and a lifestyle that don’t exist anymore at the head of the State !!!

November 03, 2010
Thierry Joly