French President François Hollande on Armistice Day officially unveiled the new International Memorial of Our Lady of Lorette: the “Ring of Remembrance” in northern France, near the border with Belgium.
The ring bears almost 580,000 names, yet no rank or nationality.
Curators say the Ring’s purpose is to give each individual his place in history.
French, British and German high school students read parts of research their teams had done to give a face to World War One fighting men and their families.
One read a letter sent home by one Marcel Garrigue, who wrote: “I’ve made it this far, hope I’ll make it till the war’s over.” But it didn’t work out that way.
A young British woman read an excerpt by leading anti-war poet Wilfred Owen, killed in 1918, aged 25, one week before the signing of the Armistice.
From Anthem For Doomed Youth: “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns, Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons [funeral prayers].”
Commonwealth troops are the most numerous here, then German then French, yet some 40 nationalities are represented.
A young German tells how the death of one of the Kaiser’s recruits came in a context of industrial-scale bloodletting.
“Kark Schrag was probably killed by an exploding shell when the artillery fire was at its most intense, at the very beginning of the offensive. Records are missing, which is common for German combatants, as so many archives were destroyed during the Second World War. Only the historian’s patience and interest allow us to know more about what happened to the millions of nameless.”
The site of the world’s largest French military cemetery, Ablain Saint-Nazaire, the focal point of the battles of Artois, saw around 1.5 billion artillery rounds fired in 1914 and 1915.
Hollande said: “Each time nationalism surges back, each time the ideologies of hate resurface, each time separatism gets worse we must remember the machinery of hell of the summer of 1914, and remember where it led humanity. Remembrance is not for the past but for the present and the future.”
The theme was to avoid such levels of madness and hatred at all costs, and remember that the Second World War was even more murderous.
Our correspondent Laurence Alexandrowicz summed up: “François Hollande underscored the conflict’s international dimension embodied in the Ring of Remembrance. Among the fallen were more than 241,000 soldiers of the then British Empire, who made the ultimate sacrifice on French soil.”