Verdun

Battle (First World War)/ Attended the 90th anniversary of the Armistice (2008)

After laying a wreath of flowers at the statue of Georges Clemenceau on the Champs-Elysées, the French head of state went to Verdun. Ninety years after the end of the First World War, he and his wife went to the Douaumont Fort, the site of a major bloody battle: from February to December 1916, 26 million shells were fired (6 per square meter). 300,000 French and German soldiers lost their lives — the Douaumont ossuary has kept the remains of 130,000 soldiers from both sides. With the passing of time, it has become a landscape of grassy dunes.  Wearing a gray overcoat decorated with a buttonhole cornflower, the French insignia to raise funds for poor war veterans, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy listened, this year for the first time without any poilus (First World War soldiers), to her husband’s speech about the soldiers shot for desertion or mutiny: “This total war had no place for indulgence or weakness. But ninety years after the end of the war, I would like to say in the name of our Nation that many of those who were executed at that time did not disgrace themselves, were not cowards, it was simply that they had reached their extreme limits. (…) Let us remember that they were men like us, with their strengths and their weaknesses. Let us remember that they could have been our children. Let us remember that they too were victims of a fate which devoured so many men who were not prepared for such an ordeal.” Twenty-five years after the historic photo of François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl celebrating the reconciliation between France and Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy, then President of the European Union, called for European reconciliation, in the company of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxemburg, the President of the German Bundesrat (senate) Peter Müller, the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and the President of the European Parliament, the German Hans-Gert Pöttering, as well as Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.