Yvonne de Gaulle, Charles de Gaulle's wife
"My wife, without whom nothing could have been achieved," wrote the general in the copy of volume I of his Mémoires d’Espoir which he presented to his wife.
Yvonne Vendroux, daughter of a Calais manufacturer, married Captain de Gaulle on 7 April 1921, and bore him three children: Philippe, born 28 December 1921 ; Élisabeth, born 15 May 1924 and Anne, born 1 January 1928, and whose severe Down's syndrome was to be diagnosed several months later. From that day on, Madame de Gaulle was never apart from her handicapped daughter, whatever the circumstances.
A model wife and mother, Yvonne de Gaulle followed her husband wherever his career took him, from Paris to Trier (1927-1928), by way of Lebanon (1929-1931) and Metz (1937-1939). With the outbreak of the Second World War, she stepped with him into the tide of history: on 17 June 1940, accompanied by her three children, she sailed for London on the last ship out of Brest harbour. The ship she was to have boarded but missed was sunk by the enemy between Brittany and England. For several hours there was great concern in London about the loss of this vessel, all the way up to Churchill's own entourage. Installed in London, Yvonne de Gaulle experienced the Blitz and all the problems it posed. In June 1943 she travelled to Algiers to rejoin her husband, now head of the Free French Forces, leaving her son Philippe to fight on in Britain and later to play his part in the Normandy landings.
After the glory of the Liberation, Madame de Gaulle, sustained by her unshakeable faith, patiently accompanied her husband to Marly and then into the internal exile of the years in the desert (1946 to 1958) in Colombey, at their La Boisserie house. Here the couple rediscovered the joys of family life with the marriage first of their daughter Elisabeth to Major Alain de Boissieu, and then of their son Philippe to Henriette de Montalembert; here, too, they suffered inconsolable loss with the death of Anne on 6 February 1948.
Tried and tested in adversity, Yvonne de Gaulle remained vigilant in the moment of victory. When her husband was recalled to power in June 1958, she moved into the Hôtel Matignon with him. She continued to perform her role of the welcoming, discreet mistress of the household to perfection, even if she missed the peace and quiet of La Boisserie. On becoming France's "first lady" in December 1958, she maintained her natural simplicity by avoiding journalists and confining herself strictly to her official duties: she accompanied her husband on his state visits, devoted herself to unpublicised charity work and ensured that the mass of correspondence she received was faithfully answered. In the apartments of the Elysée Palace, however little she appreciated the setting, she supervised the preparation of the lunches and dinners given for her husband's close colleagues, members of government, members of the family and the heads of newly-independent former colonies.
A woman undaunted by difficult moments, Yvonne de Gaulle was at her husband's side at the time of the assassination attempt at Petit Clamart. Unhurt by the fusillade of machine gun fire, she won praise from her husband for her coolness. The burdens of power – an endless series of official visits to the provinces and abroad, conversations with ambassador's wives – wearied her; she would have preferred her husband to take a well-deserved rest and not stand in the Presidential elections of 1965. She nonetheless supported him to the full in the trials of his second seven-year term, confident that her husband would give up the Presidency at the age of 80 "to give everyone a surprise".
Some time after the death of her husband, this self-effacing yet fervent Catholic withdrew to a religious institution. She died at Val-de-Grâce on 8 November 1979, on the eve of the 9th anniversary of the death of the man she had loved and aided in his work for the nation, aided far more than the French might believe, for she possessed powers of observation and judgement and a capacity for listening. Nothing that affected her family and France was a matter of indifference to her