November 11, Tribute to those who died for France

Focus on the city of Caen


The commemoration of 11 November celebrating the end of the first World War is the subject of numerous ceremonies all over France. A special focus on the Jean Moulin elementary school which joined in the Caen national tribute and received the support of the Department of Remembrance, Heritage and Archives through grants for educational projects.

On 11 November, 406 Caen pupils participated in the tribute to the 406 Caen infantrymen who died for France in 1915. Thus, 45 students from CM1 and CM2 classes in the Jean Moulin elementary school did not think twice about getting up early to honour the memory of these soldiers. The Headmaster Marc Chenal explained: 'This commemoration is part of a larger discovery project with 28 pupils who will spend two days in Verdun soaking up the history of the city and its inhabitants in preparation for the musical they are to perform'. A project pregnant with meaning as pointed out by Nadia Sayah, the teacher at the origin of this project: "The CM2 classes are writing the play, they will be writing letters from French but also German soldiers and these letters will be read out on stage by three pupils".


For the time being, these students have paid an individual tribute to every Caen soldier who died for France by placing a cartel with the name of the infantryman, his regiment and his rank on a magnetic plaque. Gérard Fournier, historian and author from Calvados, commented on this process: "I wanted this tribute because no names are mentioned on the Caen Memorial which was built in 1928. I therefore wanted to give meaning to this ceremony with the launch in 2014 of the first world war centenary commemorations (officially launched by the Government on 14 July 2014 ED)". This was a difficult task since the city of Caen - and its archives - were largely destroyed in 1944.



When asked, the pupils gave real meaning to idea of keeping our collective memory alive: "We do this for freedom! " recalled Thais before saying enthusiastically: "it's also interesting to see the prefect and the mayor". A fervour for which Léon Gaultier is thankful, a veteran who participated in the Normandy landings and who recently received the insignia of Commander of the Legion of Honour from the hands of Prime Minister, Manuel Valls: "We gave the youth this freedom, and I am glad that they are grateful for it. I also have the impression that the youth of today are more motivated than in past times to participate in the ceremonies". A motivation that he believes is an echo of the tragic events that struck France at the beginning of the year 2015.



The pupils and teachers where thanked at the Town Hall by Jean Charbonniaud, prefect of Basse-Normandie and Calvados, Joël Bruneau, the Mayor of Caen and Franck Leconte, Director of the Calvados ONAC-VG (national office for veterans and war victims). They then rounded off this 11 November ceremony with moving thoughts about the heroes of 1914-1918, their heads full of new ideas for their musical project*.




* This musical will be staged in May next at the Caen Theatre and will be the subject of a new report by the Chemins de la Mémoire web site.

Ministry of Defence - SGA/DMPA/SDMAE/BAPI - Interview by Sara Bernède


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