Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Never Forgotten

Though the last surviving Great World War veteran passed away several years ago, the Armistice commemoration honoring those lost in the war to end all wars gets celebrated every year in many of the Mairie's (arrondissement town halls) in Paris. It's a national holiday and the shops are closed.
On November 11 at Place Voltaire, in the packed foyer of the Mairie of the 11th arrondissement, local school children from the lycée Voltaire gathered to sing, a few Résistants to place wreaths, and veterans of the Algerian conflict (it's never referred to as a 'war') held flags.
The ceremony, conducted by a white haired Resistant and former city hall member, began with him lighting a flame sparked from the eternal flame at the Arc de Triomphe. He spoke movingly of how this war resonated and affected the generations of today: these men lost or wounded in the trenches had wives, mothers, sisters, uncles, fathers, children, nieces and nephews. No one who returned, he said, was unaffected. And their families too. The man in the beret was a dentist and former Resistant, someone told me, who'd been captured and put in a camp. He survived but his family didn't.
He brought up, for the first time, how Women had been forgotten in these commemorations - which brought a cheer that he quickly silenced - and their role and work had been just as important. They ran the home, the business and kept the home front running. He introduced the Mayor, the council member who each laid wreaths at the World War I + II memorial sculpted in marble and the students - prompted by a piano note from their teacher - sang what must have been a traditional patriotic song which many of the crowd joined in with. Then the Marseilliese which we all joined in singing. The crowd was a mix of locals, parents, grandparents and the older generation who had lived through at least one war.

Afterwards it was all kissing then up to the next floor and the Salle de Fetes.  The long table was spread with Champagne, it's France, fruit juices and nibbles.
Many of the older men wore medals on their lapels and after un coupe de Champagne spoke about their experiences in Algeria.
A woman, Françoise, who lived near the Mairie spoke with me about her life. She's originally from Brittany, is a widow without children and congratulated several of the students on their singing. Françoise lost her father in the second war, then her mother shortly after. She was raised by grandparents, became a nurse and then met her husband. They moved to Paris and ran a restaurant on Place des Vosges. She told me this was the first time she'd ever come to this ceremony. And so it goes.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. My greatest fear for humanity is that we will forget what happened in order to prevent it from happening again. The death and destruction will all have been in vain. Events such as the one you have described are about the only hope of keeping the memories alive.

  2. Yes, Jono and it was so moving to hear one of the students read a letter sent home from a French soldier in the trenches. It brought it all alive.