Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

WEB NEWS

Concerns grow as hobby drone use increases

Read more

WEB NEWS

Buffalo residents share stunning images of the snowstorm

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Senegalese photographer's flashbacks to Africans throughout history

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Hollande photographed with Julie Gayet on Elysée Palace balcony

Read more

REVISITED

Is Beirut still haunted by ghosts of the civil war?

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Band Aid 30 - Hit or Miss? Bob Geldof in Hot Water over Ebola Single

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Deal or No Deal with Iran? Home Stretch to Reach Historic Agreement

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Football scandals: The ugly side of the beautiful game

Read more

#THE 51%

Ending violence against women: The dangers of trial by Twitter

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)