The death of the general de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle died at his home, La Boisserie, on 9 November 1970, at 7.25 in the evening. The death was sudden, caused by the rupture of an aneurysm according to Dr. Lacheny, a GP from Bar-sur-Aube. Anxious to preserve a moment of family intimacy around the death of her husband, Yvonne de Gaulle managed to keep the event secret for 14 hours until it was announced in an AFP dispatch on 10 November at 9.40 a.m. The emotional reaction was immense, in France and around the world. 

As early as 1952, the general had laid out the plans for his funeral in a handwritten document, copies of which were handed to only three people, his son Philippe, son-in-law Alain de Boissieu, his private secretary at the time, and Georges Pompidou. The ceremony, instructed the general, was to be "extremely simple": "no president, minister, assembly committees, nor constituted body" were to attend. "Only the French armed forces may participate officially in their own right, but their involvement is to be on a very modest scale, without music, fanfare or sounding of trumpets…". "No places are to be reserved for any during the ceremony save only for my family, my Compagnons, members of the Order of the Liberation, and the town council of Colombey…". The people of France could pay him the tribute of accompanying his body to its last resting place, provided it be in silence.

These instructions were followed to the letter. On 12 November, just before 4 p.m., the mortal remains of the General were laid to rest in the cemetery of Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, following a service in the packed small church attended by the family, parishioners and some 350 Compagnons. Outside the church a crowd of 40 000, some of whom had spent the night in the open, stood massed in the streets and environs of the tiny village. The only concessions to required ceremony: the passing bell was rung, as it was also in many churches around France and, since virtually every sovereign and head of state around the world had announced an intention to come to Paris to pay their last respects, a Requiem Mass was held at 11 a.m. on 12 November at the high altar of the Cathedral of Nôtre-Dame. The evening before, a spontaneous demonstration, impressive in its fervour, had taken place in Paris at the Place de l'Etoile – soon to be renamed Place du Générale de Gaulle: tens of thousands of people of all races and origins assembled at the Arc de Triomphe, in the rain, to lay their tribute of flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in a last tribute to national unanimity.

Handwritten testament "concerning my funeral"

The document was handwritten in three numbered copies: the first to Georges Pompidou, his private secretary, the second and third to Elisabeth and Philippe de Gaulle.

16 January 1952.

I wish my funeral to take place at Colombey-les-Deux-Églises. Should I die elsewhere, my body should be taken to my home without any public ceremony. 

My body is to be laid in the tomb in which my daughter Anne lies already and in which one day my wife will lie. The inscription: Charles de Gaulle (1890-….). Nothing more.

The ceremony will be organised by my son, my daughter, my son-in-law and my daughter-in-law, assisted by my personal staff, with the greatest simplicity. I wish for no state funeral. Neither president, nor ministers, nor assembly committees, nor constituted bodies. Only the French armed forces may participate officially in their own right, but their involvement is to be on a very modest scale, without music, fanfare or sounding of trumpets.

No speeches are to be made, in church or elsewhere. No funeral prayer in parliament. No places are to be reserved for any during the ceremony save only for my family, my old Compagnons, members of the Order of the Liberation, and the town council of Colombey. The men and women of France and other countries of the world may, if they so wish, honour my memory by accompanying my body to its last resting place. I wish that journey to be accomplished in silence, however. I hereby refuse in advance any distinction, promotion, dignity, citation or decoration, French or otherwise. Should any such award be made to me, it will be in violation of my last wishes.