Why a Memorial to French soldiers killed in overseas operations?

Since the end of the Algerian War, thousands of men and women have enlisted to protect their fellow citizens and, beyond our borders, to defend French interests. Hundreds of them have paid the highest price: that of their lives. Thus a new generation of combatants has emerged, and with them a living memory of the most recent conflicts is being constructed.

That is how the idea came about to pay tribute to all those who have died for France in the overseas operations in which the country has taken part since 1963. Going back to the First World War, the war memorials erected in every town and village square across France became the rallying point for collective memory, and still today they embody the nation’s gratitude for the sacrifice made by their sons and daughters.

It was only natural, then, that the planned tribute to the new generation of combatants should tend towards a memorial bearing the names of all those who have died for France in overseas operations. The tribute caters to the expectations of the families and comrades of the dead servicemen and women, as well as the organisations that work to preserve their memory.

This memorial honours the memory of those who have sacrificed their lives. It expresses the nation’s eternal gratitude and tells their comrades and families that they will not be forgotten. The memorial is also intended to raise the general public’s awareness of the importance of France’s operational commitment and the peacekeeping missions it undertakes.

The planned memorial was the subject of a report commissioned from General Bernard Thorette, former army chief of staff and chairman of the veterans’ charity Terre Fraternité, and published in 2011. The report was produced in consultation with senior representatives of the armed forces and veterans’ organisations.

In October 2014, prior to the transfer of the armed forces commands and Ministry of Defence directorates and services to the Balard site, in Paris’s 15th arrondissement, the authorities announced that they were in favour of putting up the memorial in Parc André Citroën, within a completely redeveloped Jardin Eugénie Djendi. The site is widely accessible to the public and is sufficiently spacious and open for national ceremonies to be held there.

In addition to expressing the nation’s gratitude, the memorial will serve as a reminder of France’s ongoing military commitments. Beyond the ephemeral actions of the present, the memorial will stand as a lasting expression of remembrance of the men and women who have taken part in overseas operations.

 The Ministry of Defence’s Directorate for Remembrance, Heritage and Archives (DMPA) has overall control of the project.

 Its role is to supervise and monitor all aspects of the project: definition, schedule, consultation, etc.

The DMPA funds the operation and liaises between the various actors: the Office of the State Secretary for Veterans and Remembrance, Ministry of Defence; the Defence Infrastructure Service, Paris Area (ESID IDF); Jean-Paul Viguier et Associés, architects; Paris City Hall; and the Office of the Military Governor of Paris.

It chairs the working group charged with drawing up the list of the French servicemen and women whose names will be inscribed on the memorial.

The ESID IDF is in charge of implementing the project, and project management has been delegated to the firm of architects Jean-Paul Viguier et Associés.

The design for the Memorial to French soldiers killed in overseas operations was chosen by a jury consisting of: General Bruno Le Ray, Military Governor of Paris; Myriam Achari, Inspector-General of the Armed Forces and Director of Remembrance, Heritage and Archives; General Rémy Franco; Catherine Vieu-Charier, Head of Remembrance and Armed Conflict, Office of the Mayor of Paris; Pierre Oudart, Deputy Director of the Visual Arts, Ministry of Culture; Jean-François Lamour, MP for Paris, councillor for Paris and the 15th arrondissement, former Minister for Sport; General André Soubirou, Chairman of the National Association of OPEX Participants (ANOPEX); Laurent Attar-Bayrou, Chairman of the National Federation of Veterans of Overseas Missions (FNAME); General Bernard Thorette, Philippe Prost and Pierre Nora, as experts.



The artist’s intention

 “This work aims less to create emotions than to receive them.

A group of six pallbearers - one woman and five men - will take up its place in the heart of the Jardin Eugénie Djendi. Six bronze figures, bearing an invisible coffin. The empty space, bordered by the 12 hands of the bearers, unites the six figures that make up the cortège. The active presence of that void invites each of us to reconstruct the missing object in our minds.

This reconstruction mechanism is crucial to the work, because it combines with the act of remembering a deceased person. By this mechanism, the whole community participates in the mourning, by contributing to continually filling the void. The absence gives rise to a communion of personal accounts, produced and assumed by the community of those left behind. I conceived this monument as a tribute to the dead, but also as an expression of solidarity towards those left behind, because the ceremony and memorial also look to the living.

The idea for a figurative memorial stemmed first and foremost from a desire to make it a work that was accessible and immediately comprehensible to as many people as possible. So the memorial was not conceived from abstract or allegorical elements needing a written explanation. Because, in my view, the purpose of this memorial and its location in a public space require a formal language that can be deciphered by everyone, so that anyone can make the memorial their own.

So I chose to be explicit, portraying an unmistakable scene, deliberately chosen for its evocative power at the collective level. Coffin-bearing is a ritual that concerns the whole of society, and is found in both military and civilian ceremonies.  I wanted the funeral cortège to be life-size and at the ground level, rather than raised on a pedestal, to highlight the idea that these men and women belong to the community. So the cortège will share the same space as those who come here to contemplate, so that the whole of the Jardin Eugénie Djendi becomes a shared space of representation of the memorial and of contemplation.”


Stéphane Vigny,  January 2017

Source : Délégation à l’information et à la communication de la Défense