Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 01 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Coverage of Gaza in the Israeli media

Read more

REPORTERS

1914-1918: The Depths of Hell

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 01 August 2014

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Exclusive: Israel's US ambassador speaks to FRANCE 24

Read more

#THE 51%

World War One: The war that changed women’s lives

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Ségolène Royal goes for green

Read more

THE OBSERVERS

A look back at some of the Observers' best stories

Read more

DEBATE

Argentina Defaults: Kirchner Cries Foul Over 'Vulture Funds' (part 2)

Read more

  • Hamas denies capturing Israeli soldier as Gaza truce lies in tatters

    Read more

  • Scores killed in China factory explosion

    Read more

  • Exclusive: Israel's US ambassador speaks to FRANCE 24

    Read more

  • Police 'chokehold' caused NYC death, coroner rules

    Read more

  • French most keen to erase their online footprint, says Google

    Read more

  • Air France ground workers to strike on August 2

    Read more

  • Rogue general denies Islamist seizure of Benghazi

    Read more

  • Ugandan court strikes down anti-gay legislation

    Read more

  • 1914-1918: The Depths of Hell

    Read more

  • Regional summit to tackle deadly Ebola outbreak

    Read more

  • French hospital to open wine bar for terminally ill patients

    Read more

  • Video: Tipping is dying out in French café culture

    Read more

  • €2.5 million in cocaine ‘disappears’ from Paris police HQ

    Read more

  • Appeal court keeps French rogue trader Kerviel in jail

    Read more

  • Interactive: France’s new plan to counter jihadism in Africa

    Read more

  • Ukrainian army suffers losses in separatist attack

    Read more

World marks anniversary of end of WWI

Video by Shirli SITBON

Text by REUTERS

Latest update : 2008-11-11

On the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I, French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to more than 600 French soldiers who were executed by their own side for disobeying orders as ceremonies were held across the world.

Watch our Face-Off programme: 'History: a selective memory?' 

 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute on Tuesday to hundreds of World War One soldiers shot for disobeying orders, in a change of tone on the first Armistice Day without a living French veteran.

 

More than 600 French soldiers were executed by their own side during World War One, many for refusing to obey orders to continue to fight after a bloody and failed series of offensives in northeastern France in 1917. "France will never forget its children who died for it," Sarkozy said in a speech paying tribute to the French and allied war dead that explicitly included those shot for cowardice or acts of mutiny.

 

"I think of these men of whom too much was asked, who were too exposed, who were sometimes sent to be massacred through mistakes by their commanders, of those men who, one day, no longer had the strength to fight," he said.

 

The 1917 mutinies, in which many regiments refused to move from their own lines, raised fears among French leaders that the army could collapse and led to harsh reprisals against soldiers who disobeyed orders to fight.

 

World War One, fought out in large part on French soil between 1914and 1918, cost some 1.4 million French lives and remains firmly anchored in French memories but there has been growing debate about the best way to mark the event.

 

This year's Armistice Day was the first without a French veteran after the death earlier this year of Lazare Ponticelli, an Italian-born immigrant who joined the Foreign Legion as a 16- year-old and who was the last French survivor of the war.

 

In his speech, delivered on the site of the Battle of Verdun rather than at the traditional site before the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Sarkozy said the time had come to recognise that many of those executed had been pushed beyond endurance.

 

"That total war ruled out any indulgence, any weakness but 90 years after the end of the war, I wish to say in the name of our nation that many of those who were executed at the time did not dishonour themselves, were not cowards but went to the extreme limits of their strength."

 

The speech made no mention of a possible posthumous pardon but the minister in charge of veterans affairs said earlier this year that France would consider clearing the names of many of those shot for refusing to obey orders.

 

In 2006, Britain posthumously pardoned 306 men shot for desertion or cowardice during World War One, many of whom were believed to be suffering from psychological trauma.

 

There have been several previous attempts in France to rehabilitate soldiers shot as an example and dozens were cleared during the 1930s, but the most recent serious bid was rejected by former President Jacques Chirac in 1998.

Date created : 2008-11-11

COMMENT(S)