November 11th is a public holiday in France. Schools, post offices, banks and businesses are closed. The day begins with a Mass in the ancient Church of Saint-Denis in memory of the victims of wars. Then comes a parade to the town’s War Memorial led by veterans associations, schoolchildren and the Municipal Band. At 11am, there is a Ceremony of Remembrance with the laying of flowers.
In 1914 when Germany invaded France, a Western Front was established across the north. For almost four years, France and her allies fought against the advancing army. More than 1,400,000 soldiers and civilians were killed, over three million were maimed or injured, Départements were devastated, the mines made unusable and factories destroyed.
The Battle of Verdun resulted in 700,000 casualties, the Battle of the Somme saw a million casualties and the Battle of Passchendaele a further 600,000 casualties.
The steady advance of the Allies in the second half of 1918 meant that defeat was inevitable. The German government was forced to sue for an armistice.
In 1918 at eleven minutes past the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in a siding used by rail-mounted artillery, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France and Matthias Erzberger of Germany met in a railcar in Compiègne Forest in Picardy to sign an Armistice.
In 1919 when The Treaty of Versailles on the 28 June officially ended the war, Germany gave back Alsace and Moselle.
In 1920 the body of an unidentified French soldier was buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on November 11 as a symbol for all those who died. There is an eternal flame on the tomb.
The Armistice was first commemorated on the evening of 10 November 1919 when George V hosted a banquet in honour of the President of the French Republic at Buckingham Palace. The first official Armistice Day was held in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on the morning of 11 November 1919. Those attending observed a two-minute silence at 11 am to respect the twenty million people who died in the war and to those they left behind.