In 2020, November 11 is on a Wednesday. The occasion for some French people to enjoy another extra public holiday. But behind this legal celebration hides a now-historic date in the History of France.
As a matter of fact, November 11, 1918, at 5:15 a.m. sharp, the Armistice was signed by the representatives of the Allies (France, Russian, United-Kingdom, the United-States), and by German representatives. Were there: Maréchal Foch – supreme allied commander – along with Admiral Wemyss, British representative, and Matthias Erzberger, representing the German government. The armistice is signed in a train car set in the forest of Compiègne, in Oise.
To announce the victory of the Allies – and the end of the 1914-1918 First World War consequently – bells start to ring at 11 a.m. As for the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, definitely putting an end to the war, it takes place on June 28, 1919. For the record, WWI killed about 18 million people, including 9 million civilians.
In 1920, the body of an unknown soldier is buried underneath the Arc de Triomphe as a tribute to all the soldiers gone in the First World War. November 11th then becomes an official public holiday devoted to commemorations in France on October 24, 1922.
Since then, on each November 11th, France pays tribute to fighters and victims of the First World War. That day, there are many commemorations. The French President drops off a spray of tricolored flower at the foot of the statue of Georges Clemenceau. The head of State then heads to the world’s most beautiful avenue and goes up the Champs-Elysées escorted by several riders from the Garde Républicaine. He ends the tribute by collecting himself on the famous tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.
All along the commemorations, the French President and other officials wear a cornflower at their buttonholes, as the flower has become a national symbol for veterans and war casualties. Why a cornflower? In France, in WWI, the “Poilus” (the French Soldiers) used to nickname new soldiers “bleuet” – French for cornflower – because of their blue uniform.