The place of the military

VE Day ceremony at Place Rihour, Lille, 8 May 2019. © Juliette Pavy/APJ/Hans Lucas

In August 2019, General Vianney Pillet was appointed Nord area defence and security officer and military governor of Lille. As well as his operational responsibilities, supported by the departmental military representatives of Hauts-de-France, he coordinates activities concerned with remembrance and raising the profile of the armed forces, as part of promoting links between the armed forces, the nation and young people, in particular the key national commemorations.

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général Pillet

General Vianney Pillet. © Rights reserved

How is the provision of troops organised for an official commemorative ceremony held in your region?

How are the participating units chosen?

The Armed Forces concentrate their efforts on the official public commemorations. In this case, the units are designated by the chief of staff of the armed force which is due to take part. That designation is made on the basis of the commemorative theme and on the proximity and operational availability of the units.

What is the significance of having military units at a commemorative ceremony?

The reason for having military units at commemorative ceremonies is to show the importance of the event to the history of our country, the Nation’s tribute to the men and women who took part, often at the cost of their lives, and our society’s commitment to the founding values of the Republic. The participation of military units is a deeply respectful and exemplary act, which bears witness to the bond between the armed forces and the nation, while also contributing to developing the spirit of defence among the public and school pupils.

A colour party may also be present, depending on the importance of the event.

Can you take us through the military ceremonial ritual (honouring the emblems, inspecting the troops, etc.)?

A commemorative ceremony observes the following ceremonial:

Inspection and review of troops: this is the opening act of military command of the ceremony. It is performed by the troop commander, accompanied by troops bearing arms, then by the presiding military official at the ceremony.

Honouring the flag: this stage full of respect takes place upon arrival of the senior civilian and military officials. It signifies their tribute and commitment to the French Republic and its values.

Handing over of decorations or awards: this part of the ceremony is intended to focus on the merits and service performed by military personnel.

Reading of the order of the day and/or official message: this sequence consists of an address by the presiding military official or State representative, explaining to the public in attendance and the troops the reasons for the commemoration, its meaning and importance.

Honouring the dead: this stage consists of a show of respect and contemplation for those who died for their country and its values, through the laying of wreaths, the Sonnerie aux Morts bugle call followed by a minute’s silence, and finally the singing of the chorus of the Marseillaise.

Acknowledgements: the ceremony closes with a show of respect from the presiding civilian and military officials to the flag-bearers, patriotic organisations, school pupils, medal-winners and awardees.


Cérémonie commémorative du 8 mai 1945 à Lille,  place Rihour, 8 mai 2019,  remise de médaille. © Juliette Pavy/APJ

Medals being awarded at the VE Day ceremony at Place Rihour, Lille, 8 May 2019. © Juliette Pavy/APJ 


Why is it important for the military to go on participating in commemorative ceremonies?

The national commemorative ceremonies always refer to noble, grave or tragic events in our history, which have often involved the leader or soldier’s total commitment to their missions and the defence of France. These events often led them to surpass themselves to the point of sacrificing their own lives for the collective national cause. Thus, the participation of troops in a commemoration contributes to exalting the republican values of courage and devotion to the motherland, as well as model conduct for the younger generation. In this sense, it is formative and educational.

The presence of both veterans and young service personnel at the ceremonies also shows the respect, remembrance and solidarity of the contemporary military towards their forebears. So it is the duty of servicemen and women to participate in every ceremony, at least in their home town.

How is that presence understood by citizens, in particular young people, attending the ceremonies?

Since the end of conscription, the everyday concerns of our society have limited the opportunities for young people to come into contact with the Armed Forces and understand their role in the defence of the Nation. The threats of recent years have provided them with an increasing number of opportunities, through what are often solemn, striking and moving commemorative ceremonies that focus on the events, the heroes and the values they defended. The solemnity, respect, rigour and collective strength that emanate from these ceremonies help people to gain a better understanding of the issues of our world.

For that reason, elected representatives, citizens and young people appreciate the fact that the commemorative ceremonies can be carried out with the support of the armed forces and domestic security services, guarantors of the solidity and resilience of our country.


Interview with General Vianney Pillet