A fine day for marking British-French relations, as the President of the French Republic visits London, to mark 80 years since Charles De Gaulle summoned all patriotic Frenchmen to resist the Germans.
De Gaulle was a most remarkable man, and reading of him, his actions, his personality and his certaine idée de la France, one can only admire him, in a way it is hard to do for any other Frenchman: he was the epitome of what France aspires to be.
It is another anniversary that came to mind more readily on the 18th of June: Waterloo. It was a climactic date indeed for British-French relations: renowned as the army’s greatest victory in a long history of crushing victories, the monstrous, breaking wave of the war that brought the calm withdrawal to peace.
It was stout-hearted men who won the victory, with the unbending line of musket, rifle and bayonet, the two sides commanded by the greatest generals of the age – Napoleon and Wellington, meeting for the first and only time on this field. Such a meeting could be nothing more than heroic, vast and calamitous.
All you young girls with sweethearts out yonder,
Go you gaily and buy the black gown –
Here’s ten thousand to one I would lay you
That he fell on the eighteenth of June.
The victory overwhelming and bloody.
After Waterloo, there was some skirmishing all the way to Paris and a few redoubts to be persuaded into surrender, but nothing great: twenty-three years of war were effectively over on the eighteenth of June. Not for another ninety-nine years were British arms engaged on the continent of Europe.
It ended the mad tumult of ideas and tyranny that the French Revolution set off, and enabled the birth of the new, greater British Empire with a civilising, liberating mission across the world. Now surely that is to be celebrated each year on this day?