The Great War. Not great because it was good--great for the sheer size of the battles, great for the introduction of chemical weapons and flamethrowers, great for the number of lives lost, great for the devastating impression it left on people.
Between 1914 and 1918, 9.5 million people died in battle and another 21 million were injured or maimed. These numbers don’t take into account the thousands of children that died of malnutrition, hundreds of thousands of battlefield horses and numerous other collateral losses of life. It was a war that left deeper emotional wounds than anything else, leaving people to hope never to experience another war; ‘la ders des ders’ the French said, the ‘last of the last’ for human bloodshed.
At 11 am on 11th November 1918, the Armistice treaty was signed, ending the warfare between the Allies and Germany. Across France, bells chimed at churches, playing ‘cessez le feu’ to announce the cease-fire and the Marseillaise was played in town squares. It was a relief and cause to celebrate, but after so many years of war, nearly every nation was brought to its knees. Across Europe, fields in the countryside had become scenes of treacherous death and mass burial grounds. People were starving and governments were broke. There wasn’t much left to celebrate other than peace itself.
Over the last decade, Armistice Days have come and gone without much fanfare. Remembrance Day in Britain, although always celebrated with the chiming of Big Ben at 11 am, has also lost its importance over the years. While plaques and monuments across Europe attest to the lives lost for the Patria--
promising never to forget--many young people don’t fully understand the gravity of the war and the scars that it left on the survivors. Perhaps if not for Britain’s strict adherence to wearing poppies for remembrance, even more people would forget.
‘Peace is fragile, we know that well,’ says Richard Kiss, technical advisor for military affairs. He is in charge of the Grasse town hall’s memorial celebrations and believes that remembering The Great War is as important now than ever. He reiterates the classic saying that we must remember our past to avoid repeating it. He states:
‘We need to understand how man came to such an extreme. The centenary of the great war is the opportunity to honour our ancestors, reflect on our history and teach the young generations about it.’
Time has done its work to mend the battlefields and the physical damage to the land. Trenches that were once muddy scenes of death are now covered with plants and flowers. But just because these horrific scenes have disappeared, he emphasises that we must never forget.
This Sunday, 11th November marks the 100th anniversary the Armistice. Ceremonies, exhibitions, and parades have been planned across the country, including a large celebration and parade in Paris with multiple heads of state. Here on the Riviera, many celebrations are planned with some exceptional events in Grasse, Nice, and Beausoleil. For events in your town, check the website of your local Marie.
Nice’s mayor, Christian Estrosi has worked hard to plan a series of memorial events, capped with a large ceremony at the Fallen Soldiers Memorial, the Monument aux Morts Rauba Capeu. In a statement about the event he said:
‘[These soldiers] were prepared to die for their country, for freedom, for the republic. Amongst them, there were numerous Niçois and Azuréens who fought with bravery. They gave their lives for us and we owe them a great deal of gratitude. We celebrate the victory, but above all, a rediscovered peace and a Europe that is finally peaceful after so many tears and wars with each other. I invite the people of Nice, in particular, our young people, to come together, to participate in large numbers to highlight this commemoration.’
Events in Nice
Some very special events are planned for the weekend, including a full-costume re-enactment on the Quai des États-Unis. Soldiers, nurses and original vehicles will be on display. See the photos for details.
On Saturday, 10 November from 8:30 to 11:40 am, wreathing lying ceremonies will be performed at churches and plaques across the city, including Parc Pheonix and Place Blanqui (Gare Riquier).
At the end of the day, from 5:30 to 9:30 pm there will be an homage to the fallen Niçois at the Monument aux Morts Rauba Capeu where residents are welcome to place flowers.
On Sunday, 11th November from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, there will be a full-costume display on the Promenade at the Quai des Étas-Unis near the Opéra. At 10:55 am, the Nice cathedral, Sainte Reparate will play ‘cessez le feu’, followed by the ringing of the ancient bells and then mass.
At 2 pm, a full-costume procession will leave Gare Thierry and follow Avenue Jean Médecin to the Hôtel de Ville for the inauguration of a new plaque honouring the occasion.
At 3 pm, the official Armistice ceremony will take place at the Monument aux Morts Rauba Capeu.
Special Artefact Exhibition
In preparation for the centenary, the Rauba Capeu monument was opened to discover a copper urn with over 2,000 soldiers’ tags. These tags were deposited by family members when the monument was inaugurated at the ten year anniversary (90 years ago) and have not been seen since. The contents will be on display in an exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville on Friday and Saturday.
Events in Antibes
Saturday, November 10 at 11 am at the Albert Camus Media Library features "Roadmap of a soldier musician 1914-1919" by the Hidraïssa Company of Vallauris (Tel.: 04 92 19 75 80).
Several events will be taking place throughout the day on Sunday, November 11:
9:30 am Ceremony at the Synagogue
10:10 am Ceremony at the Cathedral of Antibes
10:25 Triptych of the Town Hall with a re-igniting of the flame and laying wreaths
10:40 Port Vauban - Stele of the Mariners perished at sea with a laying of wreaths by patriotic associations and the City of Antibes Juan-les-Pins and a salute to the Jean Moulin monument.
10:55 The Orchestre d'Harmonie d'Antibes Juan-les-Pins plays the Military Marches on the Esplanade du Pré des Pêcheurs
11:00 Ringing of "cesse le feu" played through the City followed by:
- Reading of the UFAC manifesto, by Christian GIAMPRETI, President of UFAC
- Reading of the national message by the LCL (er) Gérald LACOSTE
- "Sambre et Meuse" by the Orchestre d'Harmonie d'Antibes Juan-les-Pins
- Reading of Poilus' letters by high school students
- Speech by Jean LEONETTI, Mayor of Antibes Juan-les-Pins
- Speech by Éric PAUGET, Member of Parliament for Alpes-Maritimes
- "La Marseillaise" by the choir of Collège La Fontonne and École Laval
11:30 Opening of the exhibition "War and Peace" with the participation of the choir of Fersen College
War & Music concert on Saturday, November 24th at 3 pm at the Espaces du Fort Carré, playing "Tribute to the glorious soldiers" by the Orchestre d'Harmonie d'Antibes under the direction of Daniel Jeangeorges (free admission).
Events in Cannes
Saturday, 10th November at 10 am - Square de Verdun
Ceremony with a performance by Borne Voix Sacrée and wreath laying. Statement by Dr. Guy Lemaire, speech by David Lisnard, Mayor of Cannes, President of the Cannes Lérins conurbation and Vice-President of the Alpes-Maritimes Department.
Sunday, 11th November
10am - La Bocca Memorial - Raising of the flag and a reading of a message from the President of the Republic by André Frizzi, Municipal Councillor Delegate for Veterans Affairs. Laying of wreaths
10:30 am - Memorial to the Dead in Cannes
Tribute" ceremony with the raising of the flag, reading of letters from the Poilus by the students of Collège Gérard Philipe as part of the Armistice Centenary Mission
Reading of the message from the President of the Republic by André Frizzi, Municipal Councillor Delegate for Veterans Affairs. Speech by mayor David Lisnard.
Laying of wreaths and patriotic songs performed by the orchestra classes of the Cannes Conservatory, the orchestras of the Jean Macé and Eugène Vial de Cannes schools, the Espérance de Cannes and the Académie Provençale.
Exhibitions to reconstruct the past
Until Sunday, 11th November - Espace Miramar - Life in the trenches, between the lines 14/18. Joint exhibition of period objects and archives on the First World War.
From Saturday 10th November to Monday 19th November - Moulin Forville - Victor Tuby in the Great War (Costumes of the Poilus).
Events in Grasse
The Grasse archive has a special exhibition ‘1918, la fin d’une guerre’ which allows people to see personal letters, brochures, postcards and photographs taken from the archive’s collection. Most of the display has never before been seen in the public, offering a wonderful chance to get a peek into everyday life during WWI. Hervé Faure is a WWI historian who has spent 10 years going through over 20,000 documents in French archives. He says the exhibition gives us a look into the minds of the young men, matured by the threat of their own mortality. ‘We have signed testimony from these twenty-year-olds, well-aware of their impending death and anxiously working to get their affairs in order.’
See the intimate collection at the Villa Saint-Hilaire in Grasse.
On Saturday, 10th November a talk on ‘La Guerre et la Société’ (War and society) will take place at the Bibliothèque & Médiathèques de Grasse from 11 am to 12 pm. Free entry.
The commemorative centenary ceremony will take place on Sunday, 11th November at the Marie de Grasse. At 10 am there will be High Mass Solenelle at the Notre Dame du Puy Cathedral.
At 11 am, there will be a ceremony at the Monument aux Morts in Place du Petit Puy with a wreath laying.
Events in Beausoleil
On Saturday 10th November at 11 am will be the inauguration of the exhibition ‘Life in the Trenches’ at the Chapiteau Place de la Libération.
Sunday 11th November at 3:45 pm a full-costume historic procession will walk through town from the Moneghetti gymnasium to Place de la Libération. At 5 pm there will be the relighting of the flame of the Unknown Soldier, followed by a speech from Beausoleil’s mayor, Gérard Spinelli, and a wreath laying at the Monument aux Morts.
Wreath laying at 11 am at the Monument aux Morts with Mr Franck Vinesse, Deputy Prefect of Nice.
Wreath laying at 10:40 am at the Monument aux Morts, Place des Victoires with Ms Gwenaëlle Chapuis, the Deputy Prefect of Nice-Montagne.
At 11 am a gathering at the Place des Patriotes, then a ceremony at the Monument aux Morts, followed by a toast in the square.
Wreath laying at 11 am with Mr. Jean-Gabriel Delacroy, Cabinet Director of the Nice Prefecture.
General Secretary of Nice prefecture, Ms Françoise Taheri will lead the ceremonies starting at 12 pm.
In the Var
At 10 am, a ceremony at the Memorial With Mr Jean-Luc Videlaine, Prefect of the Var, Place Gabriel Peri. A display of the troops, presentation of decorations and laying of wreaths.
At 10am, a review of UIISC7 troops and taking up arms on the square, presided by Mr André Carava, sub-prefect of
Ceremony at the Memorial and municipal cemetery, speeches and wreath laying
At 10:50 am, ceremony and wreath laying at the War Memorial in the presence of Mr Emmanuel Cayron, Chief of staff of the Prefect of the Var
Ceremony at the main wharf; Ceremony at the Franco-Italian necropolis, wreath laying
At 11:00 am, ceremony and wreath laying at the Monument aux Morts in the presence of Mr Eric de Wispelaere, sub-prefect of Draguignan of the ANGLES Garden
At 1pm, ceremony and wreath laying on behalf of the President of
Republic at the Alphonse Karr cemetery on the tomb of Marshal Gallieni