Armistice Day: How France will commemorate 100 years since the end of WWI

This weekend events will be taking place across France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice treaty that brought an end to World War One.

Armistice Day: How France will commemorate 100 years since the end of WWI
Photo: AFP
The biggest event will be the one at the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday which will be attended by up to 70 world leaders including US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
On Saturday afternoon Macron will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Rethondes in the Compiegne Forest to the north of Paris where the Armistice was signed.
Sunday's ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the Champs-Elysees avenue will take place at 11 am — marking the time when the guns finally fell silent after four years of bloody trench warfare in France and Belgium. Macron will deliver a speech in front of world leaders.
Many of the invitees, including Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Germany's Angela Merkel, are then expected to attend the opening of the inaugural Paris Peace Forum at La Villette in the 19th arrondissement, which French President Emmanuel Macron will host. Although Trump won't be there.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was also in France on Friday to commemorate the sacrifice of British soldiers in the First World War. 
The commemoration, just ahead of the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, was to be held at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, in northern France, near the Belgian border.
There will also be events taking place across France (see map below) which can be found at the official centenary website.  
Small ceremonies and remembrance parades will take place on November 11th in each village and town in the department of Somme, the location of the largest battle of World War One fought on the Western Front.
There will also be events held in other areas of military significance, such as Verdun where there will be church services and ceremonies in honour of the fallen. 

Like many other nations, France also marks the signing of the armistice with a minute of silence at exactly 11 am on November 11th each year, providing a moment to contemplate and remember those who served and lost their lives for their country, not just in the First World War but in other wars too.

In France, the bleuet or cornflower is used as a symbol of remembrance alongside the poppy, which is used in countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Nations. 
The flower was chosen because cornflowers have traditionally symbolized “pure and delicate” sentiments, while blue is one of the colours of the French flag, and was also the colour of many soldiers' uniforms in the First World War. 
Profits from the sale of cornflower brooches go to aid organisations assisting victims of war including veterans, orphans and widows. 


There are no living veterans of the First World War in France as the last surviving soldier, Claude Choules, passed away in 2011 having reached the age of 110. But in towns and villages across the country, people gather at memorials and battlefields to remember the sacrifices made by France's fighters.

For example, in Bastia in Corsica, the day is marked with singing, readings of soldiers' letters by local schoolchildren, and projections of archive footage.

The villages which 'died for France'

Bezonvaux church. Photo: TCY/Wikicommons

Several villages were razed to the ground in the battles which led to the end of the war. These include Beaumont-en-Verdunois, Bezonvaux, Cumières-le-Mort-Homme, Fleury-devant-Douaumont; Haumont-près-Samogneux and Louvemont-Côte-du-Poivre, all of which are located in the départment of Meuse.

Residents were evacuated at the start of the Battle of Verdun, which raged from February 21st to December 18th 1916, but when they returned they found that everything had been destroyed in the conflict, from houses and buildings to trees and hedges. 

In 1919, the land was bought by the government and it was decided that the six villages would not be rebuilt or inhabited, but would remain as memorials, each with a mayor and an annual budget to take care of the land.

Restoration of graves

Memorial group Le Souvenir Français is campaigning for graves of soldiers to be restored.

The First World War was the first time soldiers killed in combat were buried in individual tombs rather than in mass graves; each tomb was marked with the words 'Mort pour la France' (Died for France). The 265 military cemeteries around the country contain the remains of around 740,000 soldiers, but Le Souvenir Français says many of these graves are falling into disrepair and wants to protect them.

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Australia concerned over French plan to build wind farm on WW1 war graves

A plan to construct several wind turbines on the site of a World War One battlefield in northern France where the remains of thousands of Australian soldiers lie has caused concern in Canberra.

Australia concerned over French plan to build wind farm on WW1 war graves
French renewable energy company Engie Green plans to build several wind turbines between the villages of Bullecourt and Riencourt-lès-Cagnicourt in the northern Pas-de-Calais department, where so many World War 1 battles took place.
In this particular area between the two villages several divisions of British and Australian soldiers tried to breakthrough German front line between Arras and Soissons in spring 2017.
Some 10,000 Australian soldiers, most of whom were volunteers were killed or injured during the offensive.
The area was the scene of the heaviest Australian losses in the war during a battle that has become symbolic of the incompetence of British generals
directing the campaign.
The bodies of most soldiers were never recovered and their remains under the soil on what is now farmland (see pic above).
Australians regularly travel to Bullecourt to pay their respects and remember those who died.
The Australian government believes those remains, which lie undisturbed by farm machinery, will be disturbed due to the deep digging that would need to take place for the construction of the wind turbines.
Veterans' Affairs Minister Dan Tehan told Australia's Sky News in the first instance he would be raising the issue with his French counterpart.
“I'll be getting clarification on this matter,” he said in a statement.
“The French people, like the Australian people, understand the significance of this land and they have the upmost respect for the sacrifices made by Australian soldiers on their soil.
“Australia enjoys a close working relationship with the French government when it comes to recovering the remains of Australians from French battlefields,” he added.
According to Sky News, the Engie Green proposal would involve digging for foundations. There would also be transmission tunnels, other earth works and infrastructure, it said.
A spokesman for Engie told The Local France they are in contact with Australian authorities to discuss their concerns about the project and that the consuiltation period is still ongoing.
“We are ready to respond to all to their questions,” he said, but added that the company had not been asked o move or scrap the wind farm.
The Local has contacted France's Ministry of Culture for comment.