By David Stringer Associated Press
LONDON — French President Nicolas Sarkozy today marked the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s defiant World War II broadcast from London, visiting the studio where the leader urged his compatriots to resist the German occupation.
Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, traveled to Britain and toured Broadcasting House, the British Broadcasting Corp. complex in central London where U.K. officials initially refused de Gaulle’s request to air his appeal, but relented after the intervention of British wartime leader Winston Churchill.
The visit comes at a time when Europe is wrestling with economic rather than military challenges, and it offers a further chance for the French president and Prime Minister David Cameron, who took office last month, to strengthen ties.
“We come as friends, and friends who remember the past and what France owes you,” Sarkozy told an audience of about 1,500 veterans and dignitaries at London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea, a hospital and retirement center for ex-soldiers.
Amid pomp and ceremony, Sarkozy bestowed the French Legion d’Honneur on six World War II veterans — three British and three French.
British and French jets made a ceremonial fly-past through London’s cloudy skies, while red jacketed veterans and guards in plumed helmets mingled with dignitaries. Soldiers from both countries formed a joint guard of honor.
“Britain and France will be faithful to those who died for them in the skies of London, the deserts of Libya, the beaches of Normandy,” Sarkozy told veterans who attended the ceremony. He spoke in French.
Sarkozy and Cameron said commemorations of the past must be matched by strong ties between their two governments on present challenges, including Europe’s financial crisis and climate change.
Cameron, who made his first overseas visit as British leader to Paris, greeted Sarkozy warmly before a private lunch with their wives at the prime minister’s official residence in London.
“The bravery we celebrate today is not just a thing of the past, it is present every day,” said Cameron, praising the effort of British and French troops in Afghanistan.
“Today is not just about the shared history of Britain and France, it is about our shared responsibilities and our shared future,” he said.
De Gaulle’s appeal, which was largely unheard in France when it was initially broadcast and wasn’t recorded, was read aloud at the ceremony. The French army choir then sang wartime resistance song “Le Chant des Partisans.”
Earlier, Prince Charles accompanied Sarkozy and his wife on a tour of the London headquarters of the Free French, the fighters led by de Gaulle.
Sarkozy and Charles jointly laid wreaths at the statues of King George VI, the wartime monarch, and his wife Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Some 200 French veterans of the Resistance and World War II boarded a special Eurostar train in Paris today to join the ceremonies in London. A portrait of de Gaulle was emblazoned on the train.
“We were but a group of determined and courageous men. But in fact it was Gen. de Gaulle who changed the fate of France and not us,” said veteran Emile Chaline, 78, a vice admiral under de Gaulle.
Another veteran, 95-year-old George Zwang, said, “We have to think about those who aren’t here, those we left behind.”
In talks over lunch, Cameron and Sarkozy were expected to discuss Europe’s turbulent economies and plans for closer cooperation between Britain and France on defense projects — seen in part as a chance to share costs in the tough economic climate.
Other commemorations planned today across France include the projection of images from World War II onto the facade of Paris’ Invalides, the gold-domed complex where Napoleon is buried.
Sarkozy is also scheduled to take part in a ceremony at the Mont Valerien memorial to the French Resistance, close to Paris.