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A new meaning for an old celebration

-Robert Arnoux

A very emotional moment,  at the Verdun battlefield in 1984 when President Mitterrand of France and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl stood silent and holding hands. (Click to view larger version...)
A very emotional moment, at the Verdun battlefield in 1984 when President Mitterrand of France and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl stood silent and holding hands.
Last year saw the passing of the last surviving French WWI veteran. His name was Lazare Ponticelli and he was 110 years old. For the first time in 90 years, the familiar figures of frail old men sitting by the Unknown Soldier Memorial will be absent from the 1918 Armistice ceremony on 11 November.

The departure of the last of the "Poilus" — the "Hairy Guys", as WWI veterans were nicknamed — has presented France with the opportunity to attach a new meaning to the 11 November celebrations. The holiday that commemorated the Allies' victory will from now on be a celebration of French-German friendship.

A quarter of a century ago, President Mitterrand and Chancellor Helmut Kohl stood at the Verdun battlefield, silent and holding hands. On Wednesday, French-German friendship will take on a new expression as Angela Merkel speaks at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris by the "eternal flame" that burns over the tomb of the Unknown WWI Soldier.



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