Newsletter

The disappeared of the Algerian War

Conscripts in the Algerian War

Hubert Germain, the last Companion of Liberation

The last of the 1 038 “Companions of Liberation”, who passed away on Tuesday, 12 October 2021, is soon to be buried in the crypt of the Memorial of Combatant France, on Mont Valérien. He joins the remains of the 16 dead who represent the diversity of French engagements during the Second World War. 

A national tribute was paid to Hubert Germain in the main courtyard of the Hôtel des Invalides, on Friday, 15 October.

Click here to watch the video of the official ceremony


The SASs in Algeria: the military coming to the people’s aid

Les écoles d’El Kremis, de Bou Ighzer et la section administrative spécialisée (SAS) de Pierre, en Kabylie - ECPAD

1962: the French exodus from Algeria

©CREUSE/ECPAD/Défense

Is sixty years enough, not only to remember without hurt, but, more importantly, to subject to the scrutiny of human reason a dramatic story of hatred and passion, contempt and impotent love, which shook and goes on shaking up people’s memories? Algeria is to celebrate 60 years of independence, and it is legitimate that it should do so. Pieds noirs and repatriated French Muslims seek to remember, to comprehend the incomprehensible: why did they leave under such circumstances?

Ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of Operation Daguet

On Tuesday, 19 October 2021, a military ceremony was held at the Hôtel National des Invalides to mark the 30th anniversary of Operation Daguet.

Daguet was the codename for French operations in the Gulf War, which went on from 17 January to 28 February 1991, the date of the ceasefire.

View our special page

151st anniversary of the Battle of Bazeilles

On Thursday, 16 September 2021, on the parade ground of Cité Lamy, in N’Djamena, French marines stationed in Chad commemorated the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Bazeilles, in 1870, under the aegis of the deputy head of mission at the French Embassy.

The cemeteries

Nécropole de la Fontenelle

La Fontenelle Cemetery. © ECPAD

Le Souvenir Français around the world

Digital remembrance tourism

Contents

    Summary

    SUBJECT: Remembrance tourism

    OBJECTIVE: Digital innovation

    STAKEHOLDERS: Remembrance sites, especially museums

    Digital has slowly crept into our museums over the last thirty years. While the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly quickened the pace of this trend, “remembrance tourism 2.0” provides us with a clearer understanding of history while also increasing the appeal of remembrance destinations and sites linked to contemporary conflicts.

    An important theatre of war during the world wars that took place in the 20th century, France today has a relatively high density of museums, memorials and fortified structures. The commemorative cycles marking World War One and World War Two have roused a great deal of public interest in remembrance sites to which visitors from France but also overseas are flocking in growing numbers.

    In 2019, for instance, remembrance sites recorded 15.2 million admissions. It is clear that remembrance places and sites are drawing in large crowds of people keen to learn more about the past. To meet this demand, a number of different visitor and educational tools and aids are being implemented, including an innovative and expanding range of digital solutions.

    Pioneering places

    The first digital technology emerged in the late 1980s, offering several devices that made it easier to disseminate knowledge and information and so, in this sense, were of particular benefit to cultural and remembrance policies. Digital also gave members of the public access to museum databases. Next, interactive terminals were installed at cultural and heritage sites that brought an educational dimension to their cultural actions. Digital technology spawned other media such as CD-ROMs. Thanks to digitisation, testimonials on contemporary conflicts could be stored and catalogued in quantities never seen before.  These achievements were the first step towards the introduction of new cultural and tourism practices in direct connection with remembrance.

    The digital boom opened up numerous opportunities for remembrance sites and stakeholders. At most places of remembrance, the first educational multimedia tool that appeared was video, typically played on a standard screen attached to the wall or built into exhibition displays. For instance, film clips of resistance members recounting their personal stories were played in the entrance to the Musée du Général Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libération de Paris – Musée Jean-Moulin when the museum commemorating the liberation of Paris was situated close to Montparnasse train station. Remembrance sites raise awareness of contemporary conflicts among visitors in fresh and interesting ways. Other installations make use of more advanced technology such as at the Juno Beach Centre. This museum was one of the first to install innovative interactive equipment, allowing visitors to “experience” the Normandy landing as if they were actually there in the Courseulles room. Members of the public get to sit in a recreated boat and watch a film. Images of the war, battalion training exercises and D-Day are projected on the walls while Canadian soldiers and their families voice their thoughts and opinions from that time in history. By integrating innovative and often impactful education tools into the museum visit, remembrance places are not only able to raise awareness of history but ensure it is passed on to future generations.

    These digital devices that emerged relatively early at some remembrance places contain fairly simple technologies to offer visitors experiences that are immersive but also very poignant. Powerful tools for transmitting history, they also serve as a source of development for local areas and sites associated with contemporary conflicts, diversifying the remembrance tourism offering and catering more closely to the needs of visitors, those from the younger generations in particular.

    Mapping history

    Since 2010, remembrance places have upped their game in terms of innovative technology to boost their appeal to tourists. The past decade has seen a vast improvement in cultural mediation since more modern mechanisms for spreading knowledge have been welcomed into institutions. Drawing on innovative geotracking, virtual reality and immersive technologies, these tools make for valuable visitor aids but also increase the attractiveness of sites for stakeholders such as local authorities. The departmental council of Ardennes, for example, launched in 2016 the “Ardennes, land of remembrance” mobile app. Designed as a history trail, the app guides tourists to different sites in the local area that were affected by the wars in our recent history. At each site, the visitor can open various descriptions in the app accompanied by extensive content, ranging from presentations to city walking tours and even games.

    Innovative mediation tools meet the needs of remembrance stakeholders whose work it is to pass on history and the memory of contemporary conflicts. Digital technology certainly makes this easier by offering a number of functions such as geotracking, augmented reality, immersive reality, video and audio content.

    In addition to guiding tourists along their visit, digital devices also relay knowledge in a way that is fun and entertaining, in particular via mobile apps. They have become extremely popular and some have been developed by remembrance institutions such as the Musée de la Résistance in Limoges with “The Resistance in your pocket” aimed at a young audience (ages 8-12). With the app. kids can independently and at their own pace follow three children as they explore the museum. This type of app, known as a serious game (a game designed for a learning or educational purpose with an entertainment aspect), is also being created for other remembrance sites. These kinds of digital media – that are in constant development since the Covid-19 health crisis appeared – are helping anyone and everyone learn about the history of contemporary conflicts.

    Digital in a crisis

    The recent pandemic has prompted cultural institutions to reinvent how they operate and come up with new digital tools. Closed during the consecutive lockdowns, remembrance destinations have implemented different solutions to continue the work they do. First leveraging existing content then looking to innovation to reach out to more internet users, these sites have stayed in touch and even strengthened their connection with their usual visitors and also increased interaction with new audiences.  One of the great benefits of the digital offering is that it can be tuned to every type of visitor, both people who regularly frequent remembrance places and everyone else.

    The general idea was to cater more specifically to the needs of each category of visitor (veterans, parents, children, teachers and anyone curious just to know more) guided by several objectives: commemorate, remember, discover, amuse, learn and teach. Remembrance places and sites have promoted their content via numerous operations conducted on social media, on the model of the “Stay onboard, let the sea come to you” programme organised by the Musée national de la Marine, France’s national naval museum. In addition to a variety of information resources uploaded to their websites, they have also shared learning tools.

    Public audiences were also invited to participate in a series of weekly events on social networks, engaging in innovative and more interactive forms of educational activities. With the same goal in mind, the Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération partnered up with Nota Bene, a Youtuber with over a million subscribers, to publicise its collections and pass on the history of France’s liberation to younger audiences.

    New ways of approaching remembrance tourism also came about during the pandemic. Given that the public were unable to come to the institutions, the institutions came to them by creating virtual visits. Anyone with an internet connection was thus able to explore the major national remembrance sites associated with France’s armed forces ministry via 360-degree tours posted on YouTube during the periods of lockdown. Furthermore, many of the commemorations that took place were conducted in smaller formats, with remembrance places and their partners urged to come up with alternative ways to commemorate historic events. To give members of the public the opportunity to watch remotely, events, including most of France’s national ceremonies since the start of the year, were streamed on the social pages and accounts (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and others) of several institutions, such as the Mémorial de la Shoah, France’s Holocaust museum, Mont-Valérien, the memorial to “fighting France”, as well as the French ministry of the armed forces. Lots of virtual visitors have therefore discovered various memorial sites on these occasions and had their curiosity piqued to go there physically in person.

     

    Anne Franck

    Image from the “Anne Frank House VR” experience. © FeelU

     

    What digital future?

    The Covid-19 pandemic has of course changed how we travel, which has had a knock-on effect on remembrance tourism. Local tourism has become more popular than ever and remembrance sites are obviously included in this. To satisfy the curious minds of a growing clientèle,  we are seeing new and innovative ways of doing things.

    For instance, the Musée de l’Armée has developed a mobile app designed for families with games providing a fun way to discover France's national museum of the armed forces. The Historial de la Grande Guerre de Péronne – Thiepval has done something similar. Using superimposition-based reality technology, the museum of the Great War brings World War One to life for visitors through the history of prominent figures. The Normandy region meanwhile has introduced the “TimeTravel” app that presents the heritage found in the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel by taking users back in time to different eras.

    Remembrance places are therefore connected to other historic monuments and promote slow tourism, tourism that focuses on getting to know a country or region in a way that is kind to the environment via various digital innovations. New forms of virtual visits are on the drawing board in the interests of slow tourism so that visitors overseas can get to discover these sites without increasing their carbon footprint in the process. The aim is to adapt the new expectations of visitors by drawing on the power of digital to give them fresh experiences.

    Younger visitors in particular are on the lookout for more exciting, more authentic experiences. For this reason, experiential tourism is booming and much appreciated by travellers who seek a more engaging and memorable experience. Indeed, remembrance tourism plays on our emotions that can be triggered by digital means. New technologies are therefore being harnessed by operators in this sector to give travellers a unique and more meaningful time. By way of example, Musée Jean et Denise Letaille – Bullecourt 1917 supplies visitors with augmented reality headsets so they get to learn all about the Battle of Arras. It is therefore important for remembrance tourism operators to get to grips with the changes that new technologies are bringing about. To stay on top of these changes, France’s ministry of the armed forces, a key actor in and partner of remembrance tourism, is providing its support to professionals in the sector through a range of actions including professional development seminars, calls for proposals for innovative digital services and the like.

    The development of innovative digital tools at remembrance sites is now one of the main priorities of the restructuring policy being pursued by the remembrance tourism sector.  France is establishing itself as a remembrance and history destination appealing to younger visitors and competing with other countries. Tools developed by remembrance sites are more and more multidisciplinary, often bringing visitors (younger ones especially) on board before physically coming to the site as well as integrating the sustainable dimension and the objective of creating a network for all the stakeholders involved. The recent pandemic is also raising questions on funding practices. Monetisation is a big topic of discussion. While the general public are interested in remembrance places, they are far less interested in paying to visit them.

    This is an observation shared by most remembrance sites which are developing various economic models to finance these kinds of digital tools that often come with a high price tag. And it has to be acknowledged that while the biggest memorial institutions have the ways and means to create these tools, smaller organisations might struggle to acquire them. On top of the digital support costs, the sites also have to call on help from a variety of professionals such as historians, actors or developers, who of course need to be paid. Not to mention that digital equipment has to be kept up to date so it doesn’t become obsolete. To bring down the expenditure, digital devices can be included in the admission price or be covered by public grants. More than focusing on profit, the aim of these tools is to draw in audiences and keep them coming back for more. Of course, this also implies a phase of evaluating these digital tools to best meet the needs and wants of users and the latest technological advancements.

     


    A remote visit of the Musée de la Grande Guerre in Meaux

     

    musée Grande Guerre Meaux

    © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux

     

    In 2014, the Musée de la Grande Guerre in Meaux started to offer school groups a guided tour of the museum dedicated to the Great War via a platform that students could access from the web as well as an interactive digital board (or video projector). Led by a cultural mediator, the visit takes in the whole of the vast permanent exhibition covering 3,000 square metres. Equipped with fixed cameras as well as cameras embedded in a moving support, the system was even designed to interact directly with the students on the other side of the screen. Remote guided tours were also organised for the general public during the pandemic.

     


    The immersive audiovisual experience at the Mont-Faron Memorial

     

    Mémorial-MontFaron

    © Patrick Palmesani

     

    A key national memorial overseen by the French ministry of the armed forces and situated in the mountains around Toulon (Mont-Faron), the memorial to the landing and the liberation of Provence has had a new museum since 2017. The permanent exhibition is composed of various innovative devices including a larger-than-life immersive audiovisual installation. On a big screen 17 metres long, this educational film immerses visitors in the heart of the combats, from the first day of the landing to the liberation of Provence. This 10-minute immersive experience projected simultaneously on to multiple screens is designed to help viewers understand the challenges and the military events that led up to the liberation of Provence.

     


    The InstaLive from the Mémorial de la Shoah

     

    Brochoire expo perm

    © Photo Florence Brochoire/Mémorial de la Shoa

     

    During the consecutive lockdowns, the Mémorial de la Shoah decided to keep up its cultural programme by adapting it to the communication channels not compromised by the pandemic. Along with conferences held over Zoom and YouTube and films broadcast on its website, the Holocaust museum live-streamed some thirty or so virtual events (InstaLives) where prominent figures were invited to read aloud texts from the archival collections. The programme was such a success that it has become an occasional fixture in the museum’s calendar.

    Author

    Lise Denis - “Remembrance tourism” unit at the Directorate for Heritage, Remembrance and Archives (DPMA)

    Verdun Memorial

    © Mémorial de Verdun

    Hervé Morin

    Hervé Morin

    Call for digital proposals

    © SGA Com

    The engagement of the French overseas territories in the Second World War

    Signes National Cemetery

    Cérémonie du 18 juillet 2012. Collection ONACVG

     

    Click here to view the cemetery's information panel vignette Signes

     

    Purchased for the symbolic price of one franc, the land in the hamlet of Vallon des Martyrs, in the commune of Signes, became a national cemetery in 1996. Officially opened on 25 June that year by the Minister for Veterans and Victims of War, it remembers the 38 members of the Resistance who were executed on the site in July-August 1944. Covering 1.33 acres, this cemetery does not contain bodies as such, but an ossuary and 38 individual tombstones.

    The Resistance in the southern zone

    In the summer of 1940, individuals and small groups protested against the Occupation and criticised the political orientations of the newly established French State. Gradually, movements and networks of resistance developed in unoccupied Provence, as in the rest of the country.

    In November 1942, the Germans crossed the demarcation line and invaded the Free Zone. The Resistance was reinforced with new members and developed armed operations against the Occupier.

    On 26 January 1943, on the initiative of Jean Moulin, the three main movements in the southern zone (Combat, Libération Sud and Franc Tireur) joined forces to become Mouvements Unis de la Résistance (MUR). They established a highly structured underground organisation comprising various different branches, including the Armée Secrète (AS), Noyautage des Administrations Publiques (NAP), Recrutement-Organisation-Propagande (ROP) and Organisation Universitaire (OU). In mountainous areas, where many took refuge from compulsory labour service (STO), maquis (rural resistance groups) were formed, issuing from the MUR, FTP (Francs-Tireurs et Partisans) or ORA (Organisation de Résistance de l’Armée). Between December 1943 and February 1944, the various armed forces of the Resistance came together to form the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (FFI).

    In 1944, the Resistance in the southern zone prepared to liberate the territory. Departmental Liberation Committees (CDLs) were set up. Following the Allied landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944, repression by the German Army, the Gestapo and the Milice was stepped up, particularly against the maquis founded in June in the Provence region.

     

    The executions of July and August 1944

    In summer 1944, a betrayal led to the arrest by the Gestapo of large numbers of Resistance members in the R2 region (present-day Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur). These included, on 16 July 1944, the vast majority of members of the Comité Départemental de Libération des Basses-Alpes, who were gathered in Oraison. Others were called in for questioning or paid a visit at their homes. After being subjected to interrogation and torture at the Gestapo headquarters in Marseille, 425 rue Paradis, they were transferred to Les Baumettes prison.


    On 18 July, after a sham trial, 29 of these men were killed by firing squad in an isolated valley in the Signes woods. On 12 August, nine others were executed on the same site. The bodies were buried where they lay.


    The discovery of this mass grave in September 1944 revealed the brutality of the executions: some were buried alive and quicklime was scattered on the bodies, making some of them unrecognisable. Among the victims, it was possible to identify members of the various Resistance movements and organisations, including the chairman of the Basses-Alpes Departmental Liberation Committee (CDL), several members of the Mouvements Unis de Résistance (MUR), Organisation Universitaire (OU) and Noyautage des Administrations Publiques (NAP), the head of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) for Region 2, the Regional Military Delegate (DMR), young officers of the Free French Forces (FFL), a member of the British Special Operations Executive and a US officer.


    In the Signes woods, the Nazis inflicted heavy losses on the Provençal Resistance, depriving it, on the eve of the Provence landings, of a number of its leaders.

    On 21 September 1944, a national funeral was held at Saint Pierre cemetery in Marseille, presided over by Raymond Aubrac, then regional Commissioner of the Republic, and attended by civilian, military and religious leaders. Since then, on 18 July each year, a ceremony has been held in this “Valley of the Martyrs” turned national cemetery, in memory of those 38 members of the Resistance who were executed here.

     

    Cérémonie du 18 juillet 1945

    Ceremony of 18 July 1945. Chiny collection

     

    Those executed at Signes

    • Marcel ANDRÉ

    44, headmaster – CDL Basses-Alpes

    • André AUNE

    45, broker– departmental head, AS Bouches-du-Rhône

    • Georges BARTHÉLEMY

    37 ans – Lieutenant FFI

    • Lucien BARTHÉLEMY

    40, sales representative – France au Combat

    • Charles BOYER

    59, lawyer – France au Combat

    • Albert CHABANON

    29, teacher – regional head, OU

    • Henri CHANAY

    30, French officer – head of inter-Allied mission (acting DMR)

    • Roger CHAUDON

    36, head of farming cooperative – SAP Basses-Alpes

    • Georges CISSON

    34, highways authority engineer – regional head, NAP

    • Paul CODACCIONI

    55, inspector-general, PTT – regional head, NAP-PTT

    • François CUZIN

    29, philosophy teacher – CDL Basses-Alpes

    • André DAUMAS

    44, doctor – doctor, FFI Basses-Alpes

    • Jean-Pierre DUBOIS

    49, decorator – MLN

    • Léon DULCY

    32, doctor – British SOE

    • Guy FABRE

    19, student – OU

    • Maurice FAVIER

    27, town hall secretary – CDL Basses-Alpes

    • Paul KOHLER

    44, head mechanic – NAP SNCF

    • Pierre-Jean LAFFORGUE

    29, French officer – ORA

    • Émile LATIL

    41, painter – CDL Basses-Alpes

    • Jean-Louis LESTRADE

    20, student – OU

    • Maurice LEVY

    32, adman – intelligence agent, OSS

    • Jean LIBERT

    20 – head of MLN liaison service

    • René MARIANI

    22, student – OU

    • Louis MARTIN-BRET

    46, head of cooperative – leader, MLN, and chairman, CDL Basses-Alpes

    • Jules MOULET

    45, entrepreneur – head, NAP Bouches-du-Rhône

    • Jean M. MUTHULAR

    34, US officer – Inter-Allied Mission, OSS

    • Francis NINCK

    30, French officer – sector commander, AS Marseille

    • Léon PACAUD

    31, French officer – FFL

    • François PELLETIER

    23, French officer – BCRA, FFL

    • Jean PIQUEMAL

    39, nurse – CDL Basses-Alpes

    • Terce ROSSI

    28, mechanic – agent, FTP Basses-Alpes

    • Robert ROSSI

    31, French officer – regional head, FFI

    • Georges SAINT-MARTIN

    20, student – FFI (Robert Rossi’s secretary)

    • Robert SALOM

    18, student – agent, FTP Basses-Alpes

    • André WOLFF

    44, notary – OU

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    REMEMBERING

    Overseas operations: how to remember them?

    Contents

      Summary

      DATE: 11 November 2019

      PLACE: Parc André Citroën, Paris, France

      OBJECT: Inauguration of the Memorial to French soldiers killed in overseas operations

      Overseas operations refer to interventions by French military forces outside national territory. Although they officially came into existence some 60 years ago, the question of the aspects, challenges and transmission of this living memory remains relatively discreet and recent.

      Remembrance can be defined as all events that remain in people’s memory. Extended to a group, collective remembrance refers then to all the representations which that group shares about its past, what it remembers or chooses to remember, even after the direct witnesses of the events have died. It involves a conscious, intentional process; first, the participants in an event share their recollections spontaneously amongst themselves, then their accounts are formalised and taken over by official entities (MPs, charities, historians, etc.), who choose to focus on certain messages they wish to put across. This memory is not frozen in time, but evolves with the sensibilities of public opinion, advances in historical research or political wills. Because the way we tell the past always says something about the present, the focus of interest of a society or the way it sees itself.

      In this regard, who remembers Operation Capselle (the evacuation of French nationals from Lebanon, in August to October 1989) or Operation Libage (the French participation in Operation Provide Comfort, the humanitarian mission to help the Kurdish population, from April to July 1991), whose dead nonetheless have their names inscribed on the Memorial to French soldiers killed in overseas operations, inaugurated on 11 November 2019 in Parc André Citroën, Paris? Thirty years on, they seem to have completely disappeared from our national memory, like many other operations. Yet French servicemen and women have been deployed more than 250 times beyond French borders during the last 60 years. It is only over the past decade that we have seen the timid emergence of remembrance of French overseas operations, quite different from that of previous conflicts and, to a certain extent, specific to France.

      Particularities of remembrance of overseas operations

      The remembrance of overseas operations is unlike any other. First of all because, unlike earlier conflicts, it is not concerned with a single theatre or a clearly defined time period, but takes in a multitude of operations that differ greatly in form and purpose (humanitarian intervention, evacuation of French nationals, restoring government rule, etc.), span several decades and are of varying lengths; from a few days, as in Operation Bérénice (to evacuate French and foreign nationals from Somalia, from 5 to 9 January 1991) or Operation Notou (a relief operation to aid the population affected by the tsunami in Papua New Guinea, from 23 to 30 July 1998), to more than a quarter of a century for Operation Epervier, in Chad. How, then, can shared memories be drawn from them, identical messages to pass on to future generations?

       

      8e RPIMa

      Ceremony in honour of the soldiers of the 8th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (RPIMa) killed in the attack on Uzbin in Afghanistan, Castres, 18 August 2009. © 8e RPIMa

       

      Next, this remembrance is characteristic because of the period it concerns. Unlike the previous wars of the 20th century, which each last less than ten years, overseas operations have spanned more than half a century. The longer the period, the more difficult it is to draw overarching messages or a shared representation. Nor do overseas operations benefit from the critical mass of veterans of previous generations to pass on and keep alive their memory. Indeed, the service personnel who participate in overseas operations form a juxtaposition of small contingents that do not feel united by a shared past and do not as yet feel the need to pass on their story. Their memory is not created spontaneously around the sharing of their testimonies. Sent on short-term missions, they tend not to stop and write down their recollections of one operation before moving on to the next. Professional soldiers, their deployment far from French soil also has less of an impact on public opinion, which shows little interest in their story.

      Since remembering overseas operations contributes to the spirit of defence, it is regrettable, for instance, that only the most recent operations are known and talked about (Pamir, Serval, Barkhane, etc.), to the detriment of those of the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, the fact that these operations take place overseas means it is necessary to construct remembrance “at a distance”. Indeed, if there is no military cemetery for overseas operations, similarly it is impossible to visit the scenes of the fighting and to develop remembrance tourism like that of the First World War battlefields or the Normandy landing beaches. Yet remembrance tourism today plays a key role in passing on the remembrance message to future generations, who need to see and feel in order to understand and remember.

      Naturally, stone testaments in memory of overseas operations are found at local and regimental level, in the form of war memorials or commemorative plaques, each specific to a unit or theatre of operations and often not easily accessible to the public. By offering a tangible structure around which people can pay their respects, honour the dead or tell the story of these conflicts, the Memorial to overseas operations soon took on importance in the remembrance of these operations. For example, it was the setting for the ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Vrbanja Bridge in 2020, and that marking the 30th anniversary of Operation Daguet, in February 2021. The memory of the overseas operations is visible in the marble, by way of the list of dates and country names. For the time being, it is the only site illustrating this part of our military history.

      A memory under construction

      However, the most striking thing about the memory of overseas operations is that it is an open memory, being written while events are still underway. The memory of earlier conflicts was always written after the event, based on the recollections of direct witnesses and the work of historians, and is therefore part analysis and rewriting. But overseas operations are still going on; over 6 000 servicemen and women are currently mobilised outside our borders. How then to take a step back from a period that is not yet over? How to distinguish should be remembered and passed on to future generations from what is merely immediate information, not worthy of being preserved?

       

      monument OPEX

      Memorial to French soldiers killed in overseas operations, a major national remembrance site of the Ministry of the Armed Forces, Parc André Citroën, 15th arrondissement, Paris, 25 February 2020.
      © Laure Boyer/Hans Lucas/Hans Lucas via AFP

       

      In an ever accelerating society, remembering a form of engagement that is still in progress may seem like a formidable challenge. This particularity was nevertheless taken into consideration in the Memorial to overseas operations, when the decision was taken, for the first time ever, to build a deliberately unfinished monument. Empty spaces were left between each region, not to complete or correct the lists of names in the light of historical research, but to receive the names of the next servicemen and women who will die for France on overseas operations. Twenty-three new names have been added since the inauguration.

      While this memory has only recently been associated with the Memorial to overseas operations, its inclusion in our national calendar precedes its inscription in the landscape. By making 11 November the date for remembering all those who have died for France, thus including in the tribute those killed on overseas operations, the Law of 28 February 2012 gave a national dimension to the remembrance of these conflicts. Since then, the names of the service personnel who died for France in the previous 12 months are read out in all the communes, and are inscribed on the war memorial of their birthplace or last place of residence. They no longer belong only to their family or their unit, but enter our collective representation.

       

      Corrèze

      Remembrance Day ceremony in Malemort (Corrèze), 11 November 2020. © Mairie de Malemort

       

      This concern with uniting the nation around shared combative values, at a time when the terrorist threat is increasingly significant, finds specific, concrete expression in the decision to intentionally “construct” the memory of overseas operations. Beginning by remembering the dead, on the principle, so well expressed by Ernest Renan at the Sorbonne in 1882, that “(s)hared suffering unites more than joy. In terms of national memories, mourning is worth more than triumph, for it imposes duties and requires a joint effort.” In his speech to inaugurate the Memorial to overseas operations, the President of the Republic invited us to take away three messages from this half-century of operations, and thus gave the outline of our national representation of overseas operations. A first message addressed to service personnel, to show them that those who are killed are not forgotten. A second message for families: through this monument, the nation expresses its gratitude to those who died for their country, which transcends generations. We have a collective debt towards them, and in a sense, they are presented to us an example, in an era often in search of heroes. A third and final message to all French people, to remember that peace should not be taken for granted, that our security requires our armed forces to go on being deployed, sometimes far from home, to protect us, show our solidarity or uphold our values. To remind us that, from the Gulf War, to Afghanistan, to the current fighting against jihadist groups in Mali and Iraq, there are a multitude of other operations in which we have lost servicemen and women.

      Remembering overseas operations: is France a special case?

      Remembering overseas operations is also an opportunity to recall our own recent history, and sometimes to rediscover it. 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the end of Operation Daguet (the name given to France’s participation in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the operations carried out by the United States after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, from September 1990 to June 1991). Yet the French army’s average age is currently 33, which means most of today’s service personnel were still at school when that operation was launched. Those who participated directly in the conflict are now generals, colonels or warrant officers, preparing to retire, if they haven’t done so already.

      Hence the urgency of gathering their testimonies and remembering this fighting, so that it can be passed on to future generations, within the armed forces and throughout society.

       

      memorial day

      Members of the Old Guard lay American flags on the graves of Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, on 24 May 2018, in preparation for Memorial Day.
      © Mandel NGAN / AFP

       

      As France embarks on this commemorative initiative, it is worth taking a look at the process underway in other countries to remember those who have taken part in overseas operations. English-speaking countries have opted for a single commemorative day to remember all those killed for their country, whatever the conflict. It is Memorial Day in the United States (since the American Civil War), and Remembrance Day in the UK and Canada, where all those who serve their country are also celebrated.  That is the idea behind the 11th November in France, except that the law of 2012 did not do away with the other commemorative dates on which contemporary conflicts are remembered (there are 11 official ones).  While this law may not distinguish between the conflicts, it is primarily those killed in the First World War and overseas operations who are honoured on that date.

      Belgium, meanwhile, has since 1998 taken an anniversary, 7 April (the date on which ten Belgian Blue Helmets died in an air crash in Rwanda in 1994), to pay tribute to its 252 servicemen and women killed in operations since the Second World War.

      Some French veterans’ associations campaigned for France to do the same, choosing the date of the Beirut barracks bombing (the suicide bomb attack on the Drakkar barracks, on 28 October 1983, in which 58 French paratroopers were killed) as the commemorative date for overseas operations. However, although that day remains the bloodiest for the French armed forces, such a choice would have given pre-eminence to that operation over the others, and partly diminished the scale of the sacrifice in other theatres (90 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, 140 in Lebanon and 154 in Chad). The 11th November has the advantage of being a neutral date, which unites generations of service personnel and conveys an image of hero rather than victim.

      Spain has not chosen to set aside a particular date, but instead pays a special tribute at each national ceremony to the 186 servicemen and women killed in operations since 1987. The names of those killed that year are also read out on the Monday following the first Sunday of November, in all barracks, though not at a national ceremony as in France. Meanwhile, the Memorial to overseas operations certainly appears to be unique to France. Our neighbours have monuments dedicated to overseas operations, such as that in honour of the service personnel killed on 7 April 1994 in Belgium, or the various regimental war memorials in Spain, but none that is both exhaustive and national, and which bears the individual names of each victim.

      National and regional intermediaries for passing on this memory

      This memory, which had previously been relatively confidential – because it was too specific to a unit or theatre and/or had too much of an internal focus on the armed forces – now has a growing number of intermediaries to pass it on. To begin with, organisations concerned with overseas operations, like FNAME OPEX (the National Federation of Veterans of Overseas Missions) or ANOPEX (the National Association of Participants in Overseas Operations). Likewise, the major veterans’ associations, like the André Maginot National Federation for veterans and victims of war (FNAM), the National Union of Combatants (UNC) and the Federal Union (UF), which are giving more and more space to the current generation of service personnel, as the previous generations die out. Also, Le Souvenir Français, which has undertaken to locate the graves of service personnel killed on overseas operations and to offer to maintain them for their families.

       

      Montmorency

      Inauguration of the plot in Montmorency forest (Val-d’Oise) in memory of the servicemen and women killed in domestic and overseas operations, 10 December 2020.
      Ceremony organised by ANOPEX and presided over by Geneviève Darrieussecq, Minister for Remembrance and Veterans. © Erwan Rabot/SGA-COM/Ministère des Armées
       

      Next come the institutional intermediaries, in the context of the 2020-22 remembrance directive issued by the Minister for Remembrance and Veterans, overseen by the Directorate for Heritage, Remembrance and Archives, and implemented at regional level by the National Office for Veterans and Victims of War, with the aim of “reinforcing remembrance of overseas operations”. The media, too, which devotes more and more reports to overseas operations, often where there are deaths involved, but also for French people to share in the day-to-day lives of servicemen and women, like the reports ‘Cuisiniers sous les drapeaux’ (Cooks in the ranks) or ‘Femmes soldats, au cœur de l’opération Barkhane’ (Women soldiers, at the heart of Operation Barkhane), by Fabien Lemaire. Large amounts of written materials already contributed to a better understanding and transmission of the history of overseas operations.

      Each regiment, airbase or vessel also proudly shares its veterans’ accounts of their engagements, as shown by the series of articles ‘Les canons de Daguet’ (The Daguet guns), published on the 11th Marine Artillery Regiment’s Facebook page. Research and publications to make overseas operations accessible to the public, such as Cahiers du RETEX, published by the French Army’s Command Doctrine and Education Centre (CDEC), the special edition of Les Chemins de Mémoire published in 2017, the Dictionnaire des Opérations Extérieures (Dictionary of Overseas Operations), by Philippe Chapleau and Jean-Marc Marill, together with the dozens of web pages devoted to specific overseas operations.

      Lastly, today this memory is passed on to schoolchildren by means of resources made available to teachers and students, in particular via the defence education platform Educ@def on the Chemins de Mémoire website, and programmes run jointly by the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of National Education, Youth and Sports, such as defence and global security classes, “defence and citizenship” days, and Universal National Service.

       

      SNU

      Universal National Service launch day at Lycée Le Corbusier in Tourcoing, Nord, on 17 June 2019.
      © Sylvain Lefevre/Hans Lucas/Hans Lucas via AFP

       

      The decision was taken, at national level, to develop the memory of overseas operations by remembering the dead. It now seems necessary to go a step further, by taking more of an interest in their history, the heroic exploits that might be celebrated and the lessons we might learn from them. There is a vast memory to be gathered, through the testimonies of those who took part in the very first overseas operations, over 70 years ago. Material to be compiled, analysed, transcribed, so as to draw from it a collective account to pass on to future generations. Today, then, the challenge is for that history to be collected, archived and to find its place in our museums, as well as for the anniversary dates to provide an opportunity to remember and pass it on.

      As well as working hard to share and promote existing resources through publications, symposiums, documentaries, etc., in February the Ministry of the Armed Forces commemorated the 30th anniversary of Operation Daguet. In 2021, the 40th anniversary of Operation Barracuda (the French intervention in the Central African Republic, from September 1979 to July 1981), the 20th anniversary of the start of Operation Héraclès (the French participation in Operation Enduring Freedom, against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, from October 2001 to October 2013) and the 10th anniversary of Operation Harmattan (the French participation in the inter-allied operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector, in Libya, from March to October 2011) are also excellent opportunities for events to be organised in honour of overseas operations. 

      Author

      Marie-Capucine Vauzanges - Principal Commissary

      Overseas operations veterans’ associations

      Ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the Gulf War (Operation Daguet), 27 February 2021. © A.Thomas-Trophime/Ministère des Armées

      Jean-François Hummel

      Jean-François Hummel. © Jean-François Hummel

      30 years ago: Daguet

      Troops set up a food distribution chain in the desert, laying out boxes of food and bottles of water. 23/09/1990-28/02/1991. © Christian Fritsch/ECPAD/Défense