French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a passionate speech thanking London for giving his Second World War countrymen and women a voice and platform to fight Nazi tyranny.
Mr Macron praised the support the fledgling forces of Free France received from the UK, especially their “first weapon, a BBC microphone” used by General Charles de Gaulle to give his historic address.
The president marked the 80th anniversary of the broadcast, which rallied French people in the aftermath of the occupation of France, by visiting the capital – his first foreign visit since the Covid-19 outbreak.
Mr Macron, speaking in French in the shadow of General de Gaulle’s statue in Carlton Gardens, in central London, where the Free French had their headquarters, said: “Yes, Britain gave shelter to France.
“This is where de Gaulle was able to form the first ranks of the French army which would go on fighting. The soldiers of London.
“This is where de Gaulle was able to call on the French people to join the resistance. The soldiers of the shadows.
“Because 80 years ago today, on June 18 1940, the United Kingdom gave Free France its first weapon, a BBC microphone.
“So the airwaves carried de Gaulle’s determined words and spirit of resistance, which built a bridge across the Channel for those refusing to be enslaved or give up their freedom.”
Behind the president was the framed insignia of France’s highest decoration,the Legion d’Honneur, awarded to London for its support of France during the Second World War.
Mr Macron had been welcomed to Britain for his brief visit by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, who stood nearby.
Listening to the open-air address were French and British dignitaries including the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Mr Macron said about de Gaulle’s address, 80 years ago to the day: “That evening de Gaulle became the voice and breath of Free France.”
The French president praised Britain’s wartime leader, whose statue in Parliament has been uncovered for the visit after it was targeted by protesters.
“Winston Churchill personified the tenacity of a nation which refused to yield and which did not yield.
“He said he had nothing to offer but ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’, ” said Mr Macron.
“Yet he offered something so much more important: determination, faith in victory, honour and pride.”
And after laying a wreath at the statues of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother earlier, he praised the wartime spirit of the couple and their children.
He said: “Hope also took the form of King George VI, his wife and two daughters, and the calm determination of the royal family, who shared Londoners’ anxieties and helped forge national unity.”
And the British slogan “Keep calm and carry on” was described as a “kind of modest heroism” that had inspired the Free French.
Mr Macron paid tribute to London as the “cradle of Free France” and went on to say: “I wanted to express the French Republic’s infinite gratitude to the city of London by awarding it, in a wholly exceptional capacity, the cross of the Legion d’Honneur.”
It had been presented to Charles, who replied, in French and English: “Your presence here today, Mr President, is a powerful demonstration of the bond between our two countries, and between our people, and of our shared determination that it must endure.
“It is a bond forged through common experience, sanctified through shared sacrifice and burnished by the deep affection in which we hold each other.
“Time and again our countries have stood together against tyranny and oppression, joining arms to defend the values we hold most dear.”
The event was held with social distancing rules observed and Charles greeted the visiting president with a namaste gesture, clasping the palms of his hands together.