Remembrance in France

As we approach the anniversary of the Armistice that ended hostilities in the First World War, Fiona Reid looks at how the French commemorate the conflict

Like Britain, France has its local and national war memorials and its Soldat inconnu (unknown soldier). During the Great War, France was invaded and partially-occupied, and eight million Frenchmen were enlisted. These anciens combattants (veterans) were determined to remember such a hard-won victory.

The Nazis banned Armistice Day in 1940. In consequence, marking it became a symbol of resistance in Vichy and occupied France. November 11 remained firmly tied to the memory of the First World War only – the end of the Second World War is marked by Victory Day on 8 May – and so the two wars have distinctive commemorative events.

The last French veteran of the Great War died in March 2008 but the ceremonies of remembrance continue, and 11 November is still a public holiday.

In November 2008 the official ceremony was held at Verdun, the most sombre of French battlefields. It is dominated by an ossuary holding the bones of 130,000 soldiers, and it is well-known as the site at which the Germans attempted to bleed the French army white.

Yet, in Paris, the richly decorated Republican Guard parade through the streets on their horses each 11 November, and one can still sense a hint of that 1918 victory.  

You can read two articles on the First World War in our November edition.

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