Sixty million men were mobilised for the 1914-18 war. A conflict that caused nearly 10 million combat related deaths. Millions more were wounded and disfigured. The War to End all Wars in the heart of Europe. The battlefield: France.
The signing of the Treaty of Versailles marked the end of the Great War but punitive reparations demanded by the French compounded Germany’s humiliation. Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists pledged to return Germany to greatness.
Deep divisions remained between France and Germany. It was not until 1962, during a visit of the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to Paris that the old enemies began to turn the page on a century of rivalry and war.
Hand in hand, in 1984, the French President François Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, symbolised the Franco-German reconciliation. It was at Verdun, where French and German troops engaged in a long and bloody battle in 1916.
Recalling the event Helmut Kohl said: “It was spontaneous, we did not plan in advance to clasp hands. He (Mitterrand) was older, he took the first step and it was for us both, for different reasons and because we are from different generations, one of the most moving moments of our lives.”
1998, the French President, Jacques Chirac invited the newly elected German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Remembrance ceremonies in November of that year. Schroeder, refused, afraid that it was too soon for a German leader to attend alongside Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Only now, for the first time in Paris, has a German Chancellor – Angela Merkel – taken part in Armistice Day commemorations.