Since November 11, 1918, when this armistice concluded in the small iceberg of the car of the clearing of Rethondes will define all the outlines of the century to come, have passed a hundred years. A hundred commemorations of November 11, so many ceremonies whose meaning is defined, as it will be this Sunday, by the political context. Some examples are not exhaustive, but symbolic.


For the first time, a minute of silence is organized to honor the dead. The tribute is discreet, organized in the chapel of Invalides with Marshal Foch. That year, July 14, we also celebrated the victory and the peace in the jubilation, a tribute wanted by Clemenceau. A thousand mutilated, broken jaws, wheelchairs … preceded the parade, in front of a crowd innumerable.


The Third Republic celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. The Republic pays tribute for the first time to an unknown soldier who died during the Great War, an anonymous symbol of the heroic crowd of hairy people. The day before, the soldier Auguste Thin had designated Verdun the unknown soldier, whose coffin, on arriving, joined in Paris the shrine which contains the heart of Gambetta destined to be transferred to the Pantheon. A huge crowd first accompanied Gambetta to the Pantheon, then the unknown soldier to the Arc de Triomphe.


Throughout the year, veterans insisted that Parliament declare November 11 national holiday: it is done by the law of October 24, 1922.


André Maginot, the Minister of War and Pensions, lights for the first time the flame of remembrance under the Arc de Triomphe.

Read alsoNovember 11, 1918: the first day of the inter-war period


The German authorities and the police prefecture take the decision to ban all the commemorative events of 11 November. The rector of the Academy of Paris asks the principals to prevent high school students from demonstrating. The student community has been struggling since the start of the school year, anti-German leaflets are multiplying like slogans on the walls. Paul Langevin, professor at the Collège de France and internationally renowned physicist (supposed to have had an affair with Marie Curie, for the record), is arrested on October 30, leading to a demonstration on November 8th. Slogans of various origins call for a grand gathering at the Arc de Triomphe. The repression is brutal. This November 11, 1940 became a symbol for all the French, in occupied zone as in free zone, an act of resistance quoted on London radio.


Hitler, who likes symbols (see the signature of the armistice of 1940 in the carriage of that of 1918), chooses this date to occupy the so-called free zone in France.


On November 11, in Oyonnax, Captain Romans-Petit, leader of the Ain and Haut-Jura maquis, organized a military parade to honor the 14-18 dead, but also to show the Germans that Armed Resistance are soldiers in uniform, militarily organized and supervised. Moreover, the parade is held in the most perfect military tradition until the war memorial, where a wreath of flowers in the shape of a cross of Lorraine bearing the mention "The winners of tomorrow to those of 14-18" is filed. After a minute of silence and the ringing of the dead, bursts the Marseillaise. The maquis is retaliated: the mayor of the city and one of his deputies are shot. The event is quickly publicized, and it is this parade that would have completed convincing the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the need to arm the Resistance.


November 11 is commemorated in Paris in the presence of a British delegation led by Churchill and General de Gaulle, head of the French Provisional Government.


General de Gaulle wants to make Mount Valerian, the main place of execution of resistance fighters and hostages in France, a high place of memory for fighters and victims of Nazism. Some 1,008 shot, captured, or deported are symbolized by 15 coffins deposited under the Arc de Triomphe. Then deposited at Mount Valerian.


For the fiftieth anniversary, a huge crowd unfolds along the Champs-Elysees. At 11 am, all the bells of the cities of France sound like during the cease-fire in 1918. The head of state takes part in the Mass of the victory in Notre-Dame Cathedral. Parade 40 soldiers in madder pants and 80 hairy blue horizon.


President Chirac celebrates the ceremony with Queen Elizabeth … but the refusal of new Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to participate in a Franco-German ceremony of memory spoils the party a little, as the fact that the head of state disagrees with his Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, as for a rehabilitation of the mutineers of the Chemin des Dames in 1917.

Emmanuèle Peyret


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