Treating the war-wounded



    SUBJECT: Military medicine

    MISSION: Treating physical and mental trauma

    PARTIES INVOLVED: Army health service, army hospitals, army medics

    How the wounded are treated on the battlefield since the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 to the most recent interventions has changed extensively, both from an organisational perspective to the ways in which treatment, and what treatment, is administered by health care specialists in the army. In this sense, it has increased the chances of survival of each and every soldier.

    By the end of the Franco-Prussian war, in 1871, the final toll of deaths and casualties among the French troops was almost the same between the number of war-wounded (130,000), the number killed (140,000) and those who died from disease (about 300,000, illness and frostbite combined). The huge defeat and toll sounded the death knell on the treatments administered to the war-wounded until then.

    The health service, reliant both on the leadership and the supply corps, was in fact not yet considered a service in its own right. As such, the battlefield was a hotchpotch of army medical corps units, aid societies under the authority of the Red Cross and hospitals further into the country. While the principle of rapid evacuation of the war-wounded was advocated by some medical staff, backed by lessons learned during the American Civil War and the Crimean War, how combat played out determined whether this would be possible or not. Under direct enemy threat, the primary caregivers were in danger of being killed or captured such as happened during the retreat to Metz or the Battle of Saint-Privat. Indeed, up until the surrender of Sedan, the doctors stayed on the ground, doing whatever they could to dress the war-wounded lying on the battlefield, becoming as much targets as the troops themselves.

    The difficult birth of an autonomous health service post 1870

    Treatment administered to the war-wounded was long thwarted by the problems of fighting infection along with the dearth of sterilised bandages, antisepsis during operations as well as morphine, in the army medic’s bag.  But the medical world was above all pointing out, until the end of the 19th century, the failings of logistics and links between the different parts of the chain. The Société de Secours aux Blessés Mlitaires, the original name of the French Red Cross, spent months roaming about in 1870, unable to provide the services it was there to, due to a lack of clear orders from the leadership or the supply corps.

    Upon the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt that formalised France’s defeat, on 10 May 1871, a reorganisation of the French army and its health service became a necessity. Drawing lessons from the tragic events of the conflict, the French Academy of Medicine recommended in 1873 establishing an independent health service, which was enshrined by the law of March 1882 and completed by the law of 1 July 1889. Management of the health service was assigned to the medical corps, both in wartime and peacetime, and the medical training was entrusted to the medical authorities.


    poste secours Somme

    Temporary first-aid post set up by the Red Cross during the Battle of the Somme, 1916. © TopFoto / Roger-Viollet


    Lessons from World War I

    The Franco-Prussian war and more recently the French medical interventions during the First Balkan War (1912-1913) provided inspiration to the medical profession. Before the start of WWI, the primary caregivers were obliged to provide emergency care by ‘wrapping up’ the injured before evacuating them away from the front to sites where surgeons could carry out operations. Matters changed when the conflict broke out in 1914.

    Following the new wave of violent combat that occurred, surgical ambulances were stationed as close as possible to the battlefield, from around September or October, to start treating the war-wounded as quickly as possible. The health service was run in a rather makeshift way in the first weeks of war as nothing had prepared the medical staff for the onslaught of casualties and dead coming in or the gravity of the physical injuries. The speed at which surgery took place was paramount in order to try and stave off infection and haemorrhagic shock. This was the intention behind the rather controversial amputation technique, known as the ‘sliced sausage’ method, practised by French surgeon Victor Pauchet in the first weeks of war. This consisted of cutting the limb at the point at which the injury occurred. The flesh surrounding the wound was kept and the skin and muscle flaps used to form a solid stump.

    The great debacle of 1940

    In May-June 1940, the dazzling speed of the advancing German troops during the Battle of France destroyed any organisation already put in place, meaning that the first medical structures set up were unable to function as planned. Various facilities had been installed to accept the war-wounded from the front, such as first-aid posts and advanced surgical units, before they could be evacuated to a hospital away from the front. Scarcely after being provided, the surgical ambulances were forced to pack up and go home. From 15 May, just five days after the start of the German invasion, the entire system planned by the health service was forced back


    blessé 1940

    An injured French soldier being treated, France, 1940. © André Zucca/BHVP/Roger-Viollet


    During wartime, the military authorities were responsible for dictating the intervention methods and protocols for medical staff, the conditions for removing bodies and the first-aid to administer in the immediacy of the battlefield.  The lightening speed of the German invasion was one reason that led to the dislocation of the French army and its health service.

    The health service became part of the general sense of confusion that pervaded the war, depicted for instance by the image of medical vehicles depositing the war-wounded wherever they could when driving away from the front. Overwhelmed by these events, the health service executive often had to leave it to individuals taking their own initiatives, like the case of one doctor working from a hospital in Zuydcoote, in the north of France, which had received over 4,000 war-wounded including 600 brought in on 2 June 1940 alone, and who resolved to stay put while awaiting the arrival of German troops.

    The health service’s efforts during the wars of national liberation

    The themes of makeshift organisation and difficulty leaving the combat zone were repeated during the Indochina and Algerian wars, as if any ‘lessons’ learned during earlier conflicts had simply been forgotten.

    When the French Expeditionary Force landed in Indochina in 1946-1947, the health service was extremely low on resources, which meant that they struggled to transport the wounded to the surgical units in Saigon or Hanoi. As was the case during WWI, the main concern was the need to evacuate victims as soon as possible to start treatment just as quickly.

    But until the end of the conflict, the humble stretcher was the primary form of evacuation to transfer injured soldiers to the battalion’s first-aid post or the medical vehicle’s collection point. An exhausting operation for the carriers, forced to plod through jungle or paddy fields, and dangerous for the wounded whose pain and injury were only aggravated during transfer. A perilous mission too for the party protecting the carriers. Rigid stretchers were gradually replaced by lightweight folding stretchers made of aluminium, although hammocks and fishing nets were also commonly employed.


    blessés Indochine

    War-wounded evacuated during the Indochina War, 1954. © Roger-Viollet


    The major innovation in terms of evacuation technology was the use of aviation from the early 1950s when conflicts became more and more international. This allowed the injured to be evacuated from a combat zone by air and be transported to proper hospitals, where they could be operated on. Widely used by the American military during the Korean War, helicopters appeared in the skies above Indochina around 1949-1950. This mode of transport radically altered the primary evacuations made and the recovery of the wounded from hard-to-reach sites. The helicopter provided a useful aid to medical staff, offering an alternative to the exhausting, long and dangerous carrying of stretchers. However, from what we can make out from the images, evacuations of the wounded using this type of transport was a rare and exceptional occurrence due to the difficult terrain.

    In Algeria, the combat methods employed, involving disrupting and attacking remote army posts, in addition to the extreme geographic conditions (steep mountains, sites hard to access) made it very difficult for the primary medics to go about their work and evacuate the war-wounded. The use of air evacuation with a broader range of aircraft including heavyweight Sikorsky helicopters to more lightweight helicopters facilitating the work of the stretcher services to the first-aid post also made it possible to perform an initial triage as well as more remote evacuations. A wounded person could be under the surgeon’s knife one to six hours after being injured.

    On the ground, it was the nurse’s job to treat the wounded by performing first aid. The battalion medic would be working from an infirmary often set up in a prefab structure. The conditions were extremely basic but the surgical units did not experience the same development as seen during previous conflicts since there were already facilities for the war-wounded in local hospitals or in towns and cities such as Algiers, Blida, Médéa, Oran, Tlemcen, Constantine, Sétif and Philippeville.

    Recent developments

    France’s engagement in Afghanistan prompted the health service operating from the battlefield to further hone its specialisation. Treatment was given at different points: medicalisation on the front at the first-aid post, surgical specialisation on the front at the surgical unit and medical evacuations by air as soon as possible. 

    The introduction of a medical data collection register today allows us to study the medical treatment administered to the war-wounded on the different ranges of trauma observed, the cause of death at every step leading to questions regarding whether any deaths were ‘avoidable’. This line of thinking is a continuation of the research carried out in the US in the seventies. At the time, the surgeon Maughon had examined the autopsy results of 2,600 American soldiers who died in Vietnam, motivated by the idea that they might be able to do more on the battlefield to prevent death, in particular following bleeding out. By analysing the causes of death of casualties on the battlefield, they thought they might be able to increase the survival rate of the war-wounded. Other studies carried out during the same war showed that 40% of those killed during combat died bloodless following haemorrhages that could have been more effectively treated in situ. One report concluded that the swift and effective control of haemorrhages was crucial for survival. Similarly, thirty years later, an analysis of autopsies performed on American soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan revealed that about 80% of victims had injuries that would have been survivable, but they died of bleeding out. Among these injuries, about 20% were injuries to the neck, the axillary region and the groin. Death by haemorrhage could occur within minutes following physical injury. Consequently, rapid treatment of any bleeding point became a crucial concern.


    blessé 1991

    On the battlefield, a doctor from the 3rd Marine Infantry Regiment treats an Iraqi soldier with head and arm injuries, 1991.
    © Michel Riehl/ECPAD/Défense


    These important observations urged the American medical authorities to prioritise research into new haemostatic agents. Given the urgency of the situation, they settled not on the ‘ideal’ agent but the ‘best available’ one, namely HemCon (a bandage that had proven effective for stopping severely bleeding wounds and even severe arterial bleeding) for the American army and QuikClot (a granulate shown to be effective for treating deep vascular wounds) for the navy and marines.

    A new doctrine

    Besides the work that went into introducing new haemostatic agents, the whole area of ‘damage control’ was put under the microscope. Popularised in the early 1990s, damage control encompasses all of the measures taken to control a situation on or around the battlefield. The initial studies carried out focused on penetrating abdominal traumas, combining visceral and vascular wounds. They demonstrated the different rates of survival depending on the resuscitation methods employed, ranging from an 11% survival rate using a standard surgical approach to 77% when a damage control procedure was applied. This rate shot up to 90% in 2001 by the same medical team. American surgeon Holcomb worked at refining the concept through the approach known as ‘damage control resuscitation’. This consisted of the surgeon performing only the bare minimum of surgical interventions in a very short operating time to stop bleeding and prevent infection. Priority was therefore given to restoring normal physiology rather than anatomical integrity, as reflected in the return to the use of the tourniquet.


    stage Lorient

    Medicalisation in hostile environments training (MEDICHOS) in Lorient. Real-life conditions treating a mass influx of wounded people assembled in a triage
    and treatment zone before they can be evacuated.  
    © R. Connan/DICOD


    Modern tourniquets do not aggravate the risk of amputation or permanent disability. The wounded patient themselves, one of their crew or the medic accompanying the combat group are all given first-aid training including how to apply a temporary tourniquet. Employed in combat zones by British and American troops, tactical tourniquets provide fast and more effective control of bleeding than any other techniques and contribute to reducing the fatal consequences of blood loss.

    The latter has also been made possible by transfusions performed from the outset of injury.  The process consists of first resuscitating the wounded patient using a hypertonic saline solution to restore a pulse or consciousness to then transport the living victim to the first medical facility where other treatments are administered (red blood cells, plasma, platelets, etc.), to control the state of shock.  All of the resuscitation procedures developed in recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan explain the extremely high rate of survival in the various epidemiological surveys conducted and among those with facial injuries in particular

    A return to ‘normal’ life?

    In this sense, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought the soldiers’ extraordinary capacity for survival into relief. The statistics confirmed the trend. The chances of survival on the battlefield during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were higher than in any other previous conflict. According to a study by American surgeon Matthew S. Goldberg carried out between March 2003 to January 2007, 90.4% of wounded service people survived compared to 86.5% in Vietnam. The difference between the two rates may seem modest, but when translated into numbers of lives saved, it is phenomenal.

    The capacities for survival on the battlefield may evoke a relative sense of invincibility among survivors, in particular those who return home with disabilities. After all, don’t we have the Invictus Games organised for wounded service men and women from every nation? In the games, people who have lost a limb or who have nothing from the torso down compete, moving about just as nimbly as able-bodied athletes.


    Invictus games

    The French delegation arriving at the Invictus Games opening ceremony. During the third edition, from 23 to 30 September 2017, 30 wounded service men and women, serving and veterans, and civilians from the Ministry of the Armed Forces took part in the competitions in Toronto, Canada. © A. Thomas-Trophime/DICOD


    Treatments administered by medics, especially in the time immediately following injury, have given service men and women new hope when their anatomical disabilities would have been fatal in previous conflicts. With the use of highly sophisticated prostheses for limbs and reconstructive surgery for facial trauma, medicine now has a host of tools at its disposal to give wounded service people a functioning body. Thanks to medical advances, they can now live a life almost as ‘normal’ as if the war had not removed a part of their body.

    Treatment of the wounded today also encompasses mental trauma. Following on from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) added to the DSM-III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, third revision) in 1980, based on various psychiatric disorders observed among Vietnam war vets, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) has emerged more recently. TBI refers to brain trauma caused by exposure to explosive blasts from improvised explosive devices (IED). TBI is the signature diagnosis in the British/American medical discourse from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (OIF/OEF) although it has not completely stamped out PTSD. Based on estimates, between 13% and 17% of service men and women have received this diagnosis. Over 25% of service men and women are diagnosed with a combination of PTSD and TBI. It is worth pointing out that despite the best efforts of the American army in terms of preventing and understanding disorders related to these diagnoses as well as implementing facilities and new procedures designed to reduce the impact of mental disorders, success remains low. Clearly return to civilian life in peacetime is a harsh reality for those who have experienced the violence of war.  What also disturbs the historian in all this is the silence of French psychiatrists regarding the matter, both during and after the war in Afghanistan. There is very little material on the French experience in Afghanistan and, more broadly, the most recent international interventions.


    Sophie Delaporte - Senior lecturer, qualified to direct research (HDR), UPJV-CHSSC

    Musée du Service de Santé des Armées

    The Debat collection at the MSSA. © Musée du Service de santé des armées

    Luc Aigle, head physician

    ‘100 years of the “Gueules Cassées”’

    © UBFT

    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, was buried on 11 November in the crypt of the Memorial of Combatant France, on Mont Valérien. He joins the remains of the 16 war dead who represent the diversity of French engagements during the Second World War. 

    Ceremonies in tribute to the last Companion of Liberation on Wednesday 10 and Thursday 11 November.

    Press release issued by the Musée de l'Ordre de la Libération


    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


    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

    Josephine Baker’s induction into the French Pantheon

    Following the decision of the French president, Josephine Baker entered the Pantheon on 30 November 2021.


    Le Souvenir Français around the world

    Digital remembrance tourism



      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



      © 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.


      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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