The British and French leaders led the commemorations in London on the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s historic wartime call to resistance from the British capital.
President Sarkozy honoured World War II veterans and visited the BBC building where de Gaulle broadcast his rousing radio appeal to Nazi-occupied France.
It was seen as the founding act of French resistance, as back home Marshall Petain did a deal with Germany.
Britain initially turned down the request to broadcast until the wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill intervened.
Britain’s current Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“My father’s great uncle Duff Cooper was in the Cabinet at the time. So while there were some in the governement who were against the idea of an address to the French people, who wanted to stop General De Gaulle, I am very glad to say that my ancestor was not one of them.”
Nicolas Sarkozy, whose centre-right UMP party traces its roots to de Gaulle, paid tribute to the general’s wartime hosts:
“General de Gaulle knew the virtues of the British people. He knew your courage. He knew your tenacity. That is why we are so proud to be your friends and to be the friends of the British.”
De Gaulle’s address came the day after he fled France. The general declared himself leader of the Free French, and told his nation the “flame of French resistance must not and will not be extinguished.”
Despite the Nazi occupation, he called on soldiers to use French colonies as a base for resistance or join forces with Britain.
The impact of the broadcast was later seen as enormous, although few people heard the broadcast at the time and no original recording of the speech survives.