Commemorations in 2014 of Two World Wars

France has launched the Grande Collecte as part of a global four-year commemoration of the centenary of the Great War (1914-1918) and the 70th anniversary of Normandy landings that in 1944 finally brought defeat to Hitler and the Nazis.

Remembering the sacrifices of the Great War in its centenary year

The official French government website dedicated to the “The Great War Remembered“ puts it this way: ”The First World War saw two countries, France and Germany fight each other for four and half years. This experience needs to be explained and commemorated so that the countries can plan a better future together.

As we reported earlier: “The two peoples shared a bitter hate of each other, which was stoked by a mad desire to fight the other until victory was achieved. Today, they are reconciled and united in the construction of Europe.

“Starting in just six months time and running through to 2018 “The Great War Remembered” or “1418 Remembered” joint European project, designed as a remembrance of the centenary of the outbreak of war on 28 July 1914, will roll out in places such as Westhoek in West Flanders, Comines-Warneton in Wallonia, the Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Somme and Aisne departments (Northern France) and elsewhere in the European and other theatres”.

Here French News Online continues a series of occasional articles about the Remembrance and about both World Wars, as a contribution towards ensuring that those who were sacrificed will never be forgotten.

France, where Verdun and the Somme, two of World War l’s most devastating battles took place, is taking a leading role in remembrance events set to span the world — as did the impact of that terrible event and the aftermath – World War ll.

Bastille Day celebrations on July 14 2014 are to be a platform for international commemorations and representatives from all countries involved in the Great War have been invited to attend.

100great war 14As the website notes: “From 2014 to 2018, across the world, nations, communities and individuals of all ages will come together to mark, commemorate and remember the lives of those who lived, fought and died in the First World War. The First World War Centenary Partnership is a network of over 1,800 local, regional, national and international cultural and educational organisations led by IWM (Imperial War Museums). Together, we are presenting a vibrant global Programme of cultural events and activities, online resources and digital platforms which will enable millions of people across the world to discover more about life in the First World War”.

For its part the Grande Collecte is billed as a national effort to ensure that the memorabilia, personal papers and artefacts of families whose ancestors fought in the war, are preserved for posterity.

Its website says: “World War has left in its wake numerous private archives preserved among families. The massive mobilization of men at the front leaving their loved ones behind for the duration of the conflict contributed to the production of many domestic sources of information: private correspondence, diaries, and other stories or photographs.

14-18missioncentenaire“France launched the Great Collection between 9 and 16 November 2013. It is organised by the National Archives Services of France, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Centenary Task Force.

The act of collection is part of the Europeana 14-18 European database: ” Europeana 14-18 . The idea of preserving the collective memory for transmission to future generations is a way of reflecting also on our common heritage. The Great Collection is being extended throughout 2014 and beyond and offers more than 100 collection points around the country attracting thousands of contributors. To participate contact Europeana 1914-1918.

Great Collection is part of a major international operation conducted in nine European countries by the online library Europeana. Scanned documents will be available online as a part of a database collection of European virtual memories of the Great War.

General mobilisation:  the call went out in France when WW1 broke out

General mobilisation: the call went out in France when WW1 broke out

In collecting this material from across Europe Europeana 1914-1918 notes: “The First World War was a conflict on an unprecedented scale that affected the every-day lives of virtually all Europeans and many people living in other parts of the world. The memory of the war, its events and consequences, its victims and victors, remains very much alive today. It has become part of the individual and collective memory of Europe. The three-year project will make more than 400,000 digitised items from the First World War publicly and freely available online for the first time – content that is often rare and highly fragile because of the deteriorating quality of the paper it was produced on and generally only accessible in reading rooms. The digital collection will span the full range of national library collections including books, newspapers, trench journals, maps, music sheets, children’s literature, photographs, posters, pamphlets, propaganda leaflets, original art, religious works, medals and coins.

Europeana – An impression of our 1914-1918 roadshows (short) from Europeana on Vimeo.

The video clip above reports on the more than 400 people who took part in Europeana 1914-1918 Family History Roadshows between October 12 and 22 in Bonn, Aachen, Bochum and Bremen, Germany. The roadshows collected around 16,000 new digital entries, to be added to the online archive. See more here.

Back in France the “Great War Remembered” programme is in full swing.  British Commonwealth nations paid a heavy price in the Great War battles in Northern France. “Great War Remembered” pays homage to the soldiers who fought for freedom. It includes special programmes of centenary commemoration visits concentrated in Northern France and coordinated by Nord Tourism; Pas de Calais Tourism and Nord Pas de Calais Tourism
(Press contacts: Delphine Bartier Phone: + 33 320 57 50 12 Mobile + 33 608 00 38 91, e-mail; Benoît Diéval : Phone + 33 321 10 34 68 Mobile : + 33 683 15 72 67 e-mail; Katia Breton: Phone + 33 320 14 57 59 Mobile : + 33 608 34 76 15- e -mail :

Here is an extract from their most recent news release – ‘100 years on and we still remember’:

“From Armentières to Fromelles and Lille and on to Cambrai, the Nord is full of reminders of the Great War. Half of the Nord was occupied from as early as August 1914. In Lille, a number of statues of the members of our Resistance are reminders of these terrible years. Maubeuge in the Avesnois was the first town to be under siege, in August 1914. These early battles of the First World War in France had consequences for the Battle of the Marne. Fort Leveau, one of the six forts around Maubeuge, depicts aspects of life at the time and recounts the tragic destinies of the Great War.

“In Fromelles, not far from Lille, you will discover the battlefield described as the worst 24 hours in the military history of Australia and the last WWI cemetery created by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In November 1917, the Battle of Cambrai saw the first use of tanks on a massive scale in a combined arms operation. In March-April 1918, during the Georgette offensive, the towns of Armentières, Bailleul and Erquinghem Lys were totally destroyed. On the 4th of November 1918, just a few days before the Armistice, the poet Wilfred Owen was mortally wounded on the banks of the Sambre-Oise canal, while the town of Le Quesnoy was being liberated by the New Zealanders.

“Today, reminders of the conflict are present in the memories of local inhabitants and along walking trails, and memorials and museums pay homage to those who fought for our freedom…”

The French commemoration site offers a selection of accounts in English, of lesser-known events.

One such was the mountain war in the Vosges: “In the spectacular setting of the Massif des Vosges, Germans and French fought it out between 1914 and 1918 in a mountain war which was very different from that which was waged in the other regions of the western front. The close proximity of the enemy lines, the trenches, the sapping, the shelters, everything here was governed by the limitations imposed by the climate and the terrain”.

Massif des Vosges where Germans and French fought it out between 1914 adn 1918

The Sources de la Grande Guerre website in French is a rich and growing depositary of information, references and links about the First World War.

People and countries from across the globe are participating in the centenary. According to Wikipedia: “Countries planning official commemorations include Australia, New Zealand, France, the UK and Turkey. In Australia, the occasion is known as the Anzac Centenary. In France, the government will carry out a policy of national remembrance. An early start was made in 2011 with the opening of Le Musee de la Grande Guerre in Meaux on Armistice Day. In the United Kingdom, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) is leading a national programme of commemorative events. New Zealand government agencies and other organisations are working together on commemorations to mark the centenary, which is being identified as WW100. Official Anzac Day commemorations will be held at Gallipoli Turkey on 25 April 2015 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.”

The New Zealand government has dedicated a website to the remembrance programme: “The First World War (1914–1918) was one of the most significant events of the 20th Century and had a seismic impact on New Zealand society. Ten percent of our then population of one million served overseas, of which more than 18,000 died and over 40,000 were wounded. Nearly every New Zealand family was affected”.

The official Australian website Centenary of the First World War, 1914-1918 notes: “From 2014, the world will be commemorating the 100 years since millions of soldiers lived, died, and fought in the First World War. For Australians this is a momentous occasion. Every Australian was affected by the First World War either directly or indirectly and it is from this devastating event that Australia became the nation it is today. For these reasons it is essential to commemorate, remember, and learn from those who sacrificed their lives during those four years, 1914 – 1918”.

Importantly the 2014 remembrance is not restricted to the terrible sacrifices of the Great War. It is simultaneously a commemoration that embraces the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Some of these planned D-Day events are described here: “D-Day – June 6, 2014 will mark the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings and the Liberation of Europe. The French Village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise will host the D-Day 70th Anniversary Parade and the American Musical Salute to Liberation. The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach will host the opening ceremony. Each group will learn of the war that forever changed the world. A feature performance will be scheduled in Paris to help celebrate the 125th Anniversary of the dedication of the Eiffel Tower”.


The 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings at Normandy take place in 2014

More details of events focused on Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first village to be liberated by American paratroopers, are provided by the American organisers on the D-Day70 site “On June 6, 1944 Allied forces crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France to liberate Western Europe from the occupation of Nazi Germany. With 176,000 troops arriving by landing craft and ships as well as nearly 14,000 aircraft, the Allied forces were able to secure Northern France within 3 months despite a vicious effort by Nazi forces. D-Day June 6, 1944 – the day the Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy France and only after a heroic effort and sacrifice by thousands of valiant men representing the “greatest generation” The German held villages throughout Normandy were Liberated. This marked the beginning of the defeat of Nazi Tyranny throughout Europe.

Sainte Mere Eglise – Host Village of the Parade
On June 6, 2014 70 years after the event, Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first village to be liberated by American paratroopers, will host an historic parade. Military units, Marching Bands, Cultural and Civic groups will march down the same streets that were lined with American troops in 1944. The town has since named their streets after Allied Generals including General Eisenhower. They have also preserved WWII era artefacts in their WWII museum in the centre of town”.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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