On the 11th November at 11.00 a.m. each year, people in my village and thousands of other towns and villages in France hold a remembrance ceremony for Armistice Day.
Armistice Day commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning, the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.
In France (as in several other nations) it is a national holiday and a time when the dead of World War I and other wars are remembered and honoured. In Paris there are official ceremonies and parades and all over France mayors and officials lay wreaths at memorials and make speeches.
In my tiny village, with its population of less than 150, we too hold a ceremony at a memorial outside the local church. The Mayor, his Deputy and those who can, turn up and listen to the Mayor’s speech and, as elsewhere, it’s a fairly solemn affair.
Last year was my first time at this event. I walked the short distance to the church and found about 25 people already standing there. Everyone shook hands or kissed, I only knew about three people but more than at any other time I was made to feel totally welcome and part of this small community. We stood around chatting until the Mayor moved into position facing us. He made a speech, I must confess I didn’t really understand much of it, and then his Deputy moved to stand at his side.
The Deputy had a role to play, he spoke clearly and loudly “Mort pour la France” and the Mayor read a name, the Deputy again said “Mort pour la France” the Mayor read another name. This went on for some time, the names of everyone from the village who had died in wars since 1914 were read out.
It was very moving. Everyone stood stock still, no cars went by. The birds carried on singing and a farm cat decided to lay behind the Mayor and roll about, hamming it up. No one blinked or moved a muscle.
At the end there was silence and the Mayor said “for the English who are here today we will also read out the name of the British soldier who is buried in our church’s cemetery and who gave up his life for France and for liberty”. The Mayor said the soldier’s name. He then laid a wreath at the base of the memorial.
Afterwards everyone walked to the grave of the British soldier who died on 19th September 1915 aged 21, who lays at rest in an immaculately maintained corner of the cemetery.
Then it was on to the Town Hall for a vin d’honneur, a glass of wine in honour of those just remembered. It is a sad event but so important and respectful and beautifully conducted. Lest we forget.