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French President Macron leads ceremonies marking Armistice Day

François Guillot, AFP | French leader Emmanuel Macron stands to attention after laying a wreath in front of the statue of Georges Clemenceau to mark Armistice Day, in Paris, on November 11, 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday led ceremonies in the French capital marking the 99th anniversary of the end of WWI, a conflict which cost France nearly 1.5 million lives.

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Macron, who for the first time led the ceremonies as the country’s military chief, began the commemorations by visiting the Georges Clemenceau museum in Paris’s upscale 16th arrondisement. Clemenceau was named France’s prime minister in 1917, a year before the end of the 1914-1918 “Great War”. As such, he orchestrated France’s final assaults and was also one of the architects behind the armistice, earning him the two nicknames “Le Tigre” (The Tiger) and “Père la Victoire” (Father Victory).

After the visit, Macron, accompanied by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, arrived at the famed Champs-Elysées avenue where the president inspected the Republican Guard and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomph. The tomb contains the body of a French soldier who fell during the war and whose body was never identified. It is a national monument dedicated to all French troops who died in the war.

"The last great military conflict in which France was a leading power" - French historian Laurent Hanninger

France lost almost 1.5 million soldiers

In an interview with FRANCE 24, historian Laurent Henninger said that Armistice Day remains a significant day for the French, occupying an important place in France’s collective memory.

“It was the last great military conflict in which France was a leading military power,” he said. “Plus, it was a conflict where France lost almost 1.5 million soldiers and so every family here today has one, two, or several people who died in that war. It’s still very much remembered,” he said, adding it is still very much visible in France, where almost every village and town has raised plaques with the names of the locals who died fighting for France.

Henninger said that at the end of the war, France found itself in a very difficult situation as the country’s military situation reached a stalemate.

“Offensives were launched with thousands and thousands of dead [in order to] gain just a few hundred metres. The soldiers were fed up, many times the soldiers went on strike and refused to launch offensives,” he explained.

“Until recently, the official French military history has presented these movements as mutinies but they weren’t mutinies… They were mainly strikes, like a professional strike. The soldiers were thinking in a professional way: [arguing that] ‘No, we don’t want to be used in stupid ways, but in efficient ways’.”

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