Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Historical Armistice Day - 11 November in Paris


This post will be about the end of our latest trip to Europe. Since we were flying back home on 12 November, our last two days were spent in Paris. We did not remember that Wednesday 11 November was Armistice Day and a national holiday in France. The night before as we were returning to our hotel we wondered why all the parked cars had been removed from the streets but soon realized it was to make room for cars of the officials attending the ceremony. Next morning from our window we saw a row of cars parked below and could hear music coming from the Arc de Triomphe area.



We walked up the 2 blocks to the Place Charles de Gaulle where the Arc de Triomphe stands at the top of the Avenue des Champs Elysées in central Paris. It was erected in 1835 to honor the army of Napoleon. It was a cool, grey morning but quite a large crowd was already assembled. A huge screen near the Arc had been erected and I was able to take photographs of the screen for close ups of the ceremony.

Click on pictures to enlarge them

The Great War, also called World War I and The War to End All Wars ended with the armistice on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, i.e. November 11 at 11:00 AM. Armistice Day (a French word from New Latin armistitium, from Latin arma + -stitium meaning suspension of hostilities by agreement between the opponents) also known as Remembrance Day has been observed on 11 November in many countries since. Here, in the United States, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day on 11 November 1919. It was observed here until President Dwight Eisenhower signed a law changing its name to Veterans Day to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans. The reason this Armistice Day was an historical event in France was because Angela Merkel was the first German Chancellor to attend this commemoration in France which marks the moment the guns went down on the Western Front. While the national anthems of the two former enemies were being sung by the choir of the French Army Chancellor Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy laid a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe . They rekindled its flame and signed the commemoration book.


Pictures are not clear because taken at a distance from the large screen

Then the two leaders went to a small lectern where each gave a short speech. French President Sarkozy said: “…en ce 11 novembre nous ne commémorons pas la victoire d’un peuple contre un autre mais une épreuve qui fut aussi terrible pour l’un comme pour l’autre. Je veux dire que les orphelins allemands ont pleuré leurs pères morts au combat de la même manière que les orphelins français.” (…this 11 November, we aren’t commemorating the victory of one people over another, but an ordeal as terrible for the one as for the other. I mean that German orphans cried over the deaths of their fathers in combat just as French orphans did.)

he also said “…Cela fait presque un demi-siècle qu’ensemble nous construisons l’avenir, chacun d’entre nous aimant son pays d’un amour sincère et profond mais refusant désormais de confondre l’amour de son pays avec la haine de l’autre.” (For nearly half a century we have together been building the future, each of us sincerely and deeply loving our country, but now refusing to confuse love of our country with hatred of the other’s.)

Chancellor Merkel said: "Both dates, the end of the First World War, and the day of the fall of the Berlin Wall, remind us that we must always fight for the invaluable goods of peace and freedom, that we need to defend our values, of democracy and human rights, and that we keep working for European solidarity and partnership with America. That is our task."

she also said: “The Germans and the French, once bitter enemies, now stand united as neighbors in a way that nourishes hope and confidence that elsewhere in the world, too, deep trenches can be bridged and overcome” “I know that what has gone before cannot be erased, but there is a power, a power which helps us and which can help us bear what has passed: reconciliation.”

Then while the choir sang Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony the two leaders came close to the barriers to shake hands with the crowd. They came near us but in trying to move closer we forgot to take pictures! Then they joined their spouses and drove back down the Avenue des Champs Elysées.



I arrived home in Georgia with a bad cold which turned into an infection. My stay in bed allowed me to go through several library books on the Great War, such as The Great War Illustrated by Winter and Bagget, The First World War by Jack Keegan, The First World War a Complete History by Martin Gilbert and I also purchased the newer paperback A World Undone by G.J.Meyer which I am still reading (752 pages.) I’ll mention some facts that I gathered there for the benefit of my younger blogging friends who may not have studied this war too closely. I’ll also scan several vintage postcards from the 3 dozen postcards on this subject in my card collection.



On 28 July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Then from 1914 until 1917 major powers entered the war. France entered the war and subsequently was joined by 600,000 troops from Algeria, Morocco, Senegal and Vietnam (then called Indochina.)

Below is a postcard of the French infantry corps called French Zouave from French North Africa


Britain fought alongside its troops from the British Commonwealth such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Newfoundland and its Colonial Empire such as troops from India and other colonies. China, Japan, Russia were fighting with the Allies against Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. Many more countries joined the conflict – click here to see all the participants in World War I.

Postcard below shows Britain Sir Douglas Haig introducing Sir Pertab Singh of India to Gen Joffre of France.

Click on postcards to enlarge them

The war brought an enormous amount of casualties. In October 1914 the Ottoman Empire of Turkey entered the war on the German side. Turkish men, representing the future of Turkey, fought at Gallipoli with great courage. In Turkey though corrupt and incompetent soldiers and irregulars of the army of the Ottoman Empire used the war as an excuse to massacre the Christian Armenians and Greeks within the empire resulting in more than two million innocent dead or enslaved. Terrible battles were fought – The Great War Illustrated book says: “What Gettysburg is to America, Verdun is to France and the Somme is to Britain. These legendary battlefields are still today sacred ground.” (page 156.) The Battle of the Somme lasted 5 months - from July to November 1916 – it produced no strategic gain but over 1 million casualties. The Battle of Verdun in north-eastern France was gruesome and a carnage. It was the longest battle of the war lasting 10 months (Feb to Dec 1916.) The German artillery fired over 21 million rounds and the French artillery 23.5 million. The French won but sustained more casualties (372,000) than the Germans (337,000.) Like the Battle of the Somme it produced no strategic gain but “Above all it normalized collective violence, the signature of our century [20th century.] – The Great War Illustrated, pg 361.


US President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) had vowed to keep America out of the war and had been re-elected because of that pledge. But after Germany sank three American ships in March 1917 the United States declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917. Many Americans were eager to serve and the first troops arrived in France in June 1917. By March 1918 General John J. Pershing had 500,000 troops under his command and he told French General Ferdinand Foch: “We are ready and anxious for a chance to do our part in the fight.” The Germans were very surprised when the fresh American replaced the exhausted French. Violent American attacks stunned the Germans and by November 1918 the Kaiser’s armies had been crushed and were retreating toward their German homeland. Turkey surrendered on 30 October 1918 and Austria-Hungary on 3rd November. At 5:30 am on November 11, 1918 Germany signed an armistice document. The fighting was ordered to end at 11:00 A.M. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

Click on postcards to enlarge them

Below on the left, is a postcard of Marshal Foch which says: to the American Forces: “Your high spirit, your faith, made decisive victory sure for us.”


The destructiveness of the First World War (WWI) exceeded that of all other wars known to history. In four years the number of military and civilian casualties came to more than 40 millions: 20 millions dead and 21 millions injured. This number includes 9.7 million military deaths and 10 million civilian deaths. As point of reference, in four years the American Civil War had 600,000+ killed. As another point of reference: since June 2003 and up till 20 September 2009 there has been 4345 troops killed in the Iraq war – during World War I over 7500 troops were killed each week. The scale of destruction of WWI was enormous – whole generations were wiped out. Every town in France has a WWI monument with many names inscribed on it. Most French families have a member of their family who died or was severely injured in this war (mine included) and I suspect that it is the same in Germany. Whatever was achieved was not worth the human blood it spilled. People now are interested in World War II but, in truth, WWII had its foundation and roots in WWI.

So to see the leaders of France and Germany standing side by side by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, on this formal ceremony of remembrance, while both country flags were fluttering in the wind and their anthems were being sung, was a poignant and powerful gesture of reconciliation.


This was indeed an historical Armistice Day celebration and we are glad that we could attend it.

Calm fell. From heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky….

- Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

33 comments:

♠ ♠ ♠ Nancy ♠ ♠ ♠ said...

*** Bonjour Vagabonde ! ***

Les photos, les cartes postales et l'Histoire ... tout cela c'est très bien de nous en parler parce que bien souvent en France les jeunes ne savent pas pourquoi le 11 novembre est devenu un jour férié et c'est dommage.
Tes informations sont précieuses car nous devons nous souvenirs que pour que la France soit en paix et non occupée il a fallut que des hommes paient de leurs vies.

*** MERCI VAGABONDE et GROS BISOUS ENSOLEILLÉS ! ***

claude said...

Hello Vagabonde !
Je repasserai cet après-midi pour tout lire. Là je veux simplement te dire que tu as vu la cérémonie du 11 Novembre à Paris, toi venant des US. Avec mon Chéri, nous avons assisté à la commémoration de cet armistice dans le petit village dans lequel on reste quand on est en Martinique. C'est la même chose, mais avec moins de monde. Y a pas le Président, mais cela n'est pas grave. C'était assez touchant comme cérémonie.

Reader Wil said...

Cette post est très intéressante pour tout le monde.Le 11 novembre n'est pas un jour de commémoration pour nous, mais nous avons la commémoration des meurs le 4 mai, et le 5 mai est notre jour de libération. Pour la première fois les Allemands ont été invités pour prendre part à ces célébrations. C'est une très bon idée. Merci de cet histoire!

wenn said...

interesting..would love to visit europe one day..

Vicki Lane said...

A wonderful post. And yes, the thought that reconciliation can, at last, be achieved is something to hold to.

I love the old postcards!

Friko said...

Glad to have you back!

You and I, and our two nations, neighbours though we are, know too well what great harm war does.

I am glad that you and I are friends here in this virtual reality, and I sincerely hope that we may be representative of both our countries.

Fennie said...

A wonderful post as usual and a history lesson that is so valuable. People forget so quickly the lessons of the past. As an aside it is worth asking the question why Britain and France (and the US) were such firm allies in these wars. Britain and France were enemies for almost 800 years and the United States, as it came into being, was also the enemy of Britain and the ally of France. It would have been more logical to expect an alliance between Britain and Germany - especially as the British Royal Family was more German than British. So how did this sudden reconciliation come about? I put it down entirely to the influence of one man - Talleyrand - whose life if you are again stuck in bed (hope you are better now) is well worth a read, especially as he spent some years in the USA.

Anyhow I really just wanted to thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. Someone should make a fridge magnet with just that slogan!

claude said...

Ce fu effectivement une terrible guerre et malheureuseùent cette paix n'a durée que 20 ans puisque que les Allemand ont remis ça.
Ce ne fut pas le même genre de guerre mais ce fut terrible aussi quand on pense aux camps de concentrations et autres atrocités.
Espérons que la WWII est la der des ders.
Très beau et intéressant post Vagabonde et for bien illustré..

Deslilas said...

Dommage que cette commémoration soit interprétée par un président que j'ai du mal à prendre au sérieux.
Très beau post cependant.

RennyBA's Terella said...

What a readable and interesting post - thanks for sharing!

You know, as a Norwegian, it's interesting to read about about the European history and traditions through your yes!

Vagabonde said...

Nancy, Claude, et Reader Wil – Merci beaucoup d’avoir pris le temps de lire mon post. Je sais que mes posts sont longs, alors je ne les publient qu’une fois par semaine ou plus pour vous donner le temps de les lire. Merci pour vos commentaires.

Deslilas – Bienvenu sur mon blog. Du fait que j’habite aux USA je ne suis pas bien au courant de la politique en France, je ne connais que la politique d’ici, donc je ne sais pas trop de choses sur Sarkozy, plutôt qu’il est marié avec Carla Bruni! Car c’est ce dont on parle sur la télé. Mais je ne le prends qu’à son titre official de Président de la République et non pas pour sa personalité propre. Merci d’avoir laissé un commentaire. J’espère que vous reviendez.

Wenn, Vicki, Friko, Fennie and RennyBA’s Terella – it’s nice to read your comments. Thanks for taking the time to read my long posts – I try to make them a little shorter, but I always find so many things to talk about. Thanks for your patience.

DJan said...

I tried to read your post yesterday morning before heading off to hike, but I needed more time. I just finished it, and as usual it was so completely worth not rushing through. I recently read a trilogy of works by Sebastian Faulks that dealt with WWI, and I was amazed at how much I had forgotten about this war when studying it in school. It had little meaning to a young untouched schoolgirl. Now it means so much!

And you were so fortunate to see that commemoration to the war in France. We of course had little to nothing marking it. Reconciliation and celebration to mark the day is so important to keep us from repeating these wars. I fear for the future of humankind if we cannot find a better way to deal with things. Thank you for the history lesson. I will come back and read this one again!

TorAa said...

No doubt the Great War had a tremdous impact on the french society and it left behind villages without young men.....

Deslilas said...

Je reviendrai.
La tolérance fait partie de mes valeurs et je concède que je sais trop de choses pour être sensible à certaines manipulations politiciennes.

Elaine said...

How fortunate you were to be able to witness such an important ceremony. We visited the National World War I Memorial when we were in Kansas City. It is a fascinating museum and very well done. I highly recommend a visit there if you can possibly make it. I posted a few photos of it and you can find it under the Museums label on my Sidebar. I'll have to do a more thorough posting about it. The War to End All Wars, but yet 90 years later there is still so much war in the world. How very sad and tragic.

Peter said...

Happy I discovered your blog! Really impressed when I read this post! I will read more ... immediately!

Reader Wil said...

Chère Vagabonde! Je vous remercie de votre visite et voeux à mon anniversaire et aussi de votre commentaire gentil.
J'aime la photo de l'Arc de Triomph avec le drapeau français au milieu!
Bonne journée!

ellen abbott said...

Thank you for the little history lesson. I really didn't know much about WWI.

I wanted to say thank you for visiting my blog and for your nice comment. I hope to see you back.

Ruth said...

This is a fantastic post with a lot of information packed in. That book you are reading must be amazing, as well as all the other resources you used. Thank you very much for condensing it for us so well.

Silence in the sky. I am afraid it will never happen again in human history. I am afraid we are in a state of perpetual war. How sad that this war was not the war to end all wars.

My grandfather Reuben fought in this war for about a year I think. I was young when he died, so I never heard any stories. He was a wonderful man, we have a photo of him in uniform.

I hope you are healthy and strong now.

My sister Ginnie has now moved to Amsterdam, left Atlanta yesterday and landed this morning and is starting her new life.

Marguerite said...

Such an interesting ceremony and post! Whenever I read the history of WWI and WWII, it boggles my mind and I agree that the achievements in these wars were not worth the human blood they spilled. Loved your excellent photos and postcards, as always. Have a great weekend!

√ Abraham Lincoln said...

Your photos and postal cards are nice to see and certainly make this post really nice.

Baino said...

Such a shame that it turned out not to be the war that ended all wars. And so futile. Look what happens, the war ends and we end up friends. Same in Cambodia, Vietnam and a zillion other places. Such a waste of time and life.
Ah Paris, my nemesis. I've never been and I'm dying to visit. Your history lesson and photographs are just lovely as usual.

The Lucy and Dick Show said...

Detailed and informative post. I especially like the old posters and ads: The lighting of the cig's and the flags. Thanks, for including us Canadians.

SJ said...

flags all over the place

A smile from SJ =)

♠ ♠ ♠ Nancy ♠ ♠ ♠ said...

*** Coucou Vagabonde ! Je viens te dire "un petit bonjour" et j'en profite pour regarder à nouveau tes photos ... BISES et bonne continuation ! ***

Shammickite said...

What a wonderful post! Another book you might like to read is Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. It's actually fiction, but so much of the story is based on fact, and the description of life in the battle trenches is horrific, it really gives a sense of what it was like to be there. I visited the WW1 battlefields and explored some of the trenches and tunnels in Northern France a couple of years ago. So many graves, so many young men lost. Tragic. Will mankind ever learn?

Vagabonde said...

DJan, TorAa, Deslilas, Reader Wil, Marguerite, Abraham Lincoln, the Lucy and Dick Show and Baino – Thank you for your comments – I appreciate your comments a lot and read them with pleasure. I am catching up reading all my friends’ blogs and shall visit yours shortly.

Vagabonde said...

Elaine – I read your post on the World War I museum in Kansas City (which I had not heard about) and enjoyed it very much. Now Kansas City is on my list of cities to visit whenever there is a cheap flight there. Thanks for mentioning it.

Vagabonde said...

Shammickite - I have not been to visit the WWI battlefields in France and hope I can some day. Thanks for mentioning the book by S. Faulks, I’ll add it to my list. I do appreciate your comments and your visit.

Vagabonde said...

Ruth - I am pleased your liked this my post – it was fascinating reading all about this war, which did not end all future wars unfortunately. I enjoy reading your thoughts on all this. Thanks for commenting.

Queenmothermamaw said...

Hello Miss V. I bet you are the one who explained the root of my word when I used it before. I can't remember past the next sentence. I do love history. I have been watching a BBC series Foyle's War, I think that is the name. Foyle is a policeman in England during the WWI.Thanks for stopping by.
QMM

Protege said...

What a very beautiful post, complemented so well with lovely picture collages. I am sure this must have been a very memorable trip for you, considering your origins.
Thank yo so much for your visit to my place and for that very lovely comments you left. I am glad you enjoyed the memories my post brought your way.
xoxo
Zuzana

MARCELA said...

SUPERBE TON BLOG!!!! je viens de Chez Lorilaire!!! Moi je suis Argentine , , j'habite en France depuis 20 ans presque!!! passe une douce soirée
MARCELA DE PATAGONIA

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