Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence

Lest We Forget
British Legion
The Royal British Legion


Photograph Copyright © Mel Gibbs 2004

These notes from the official brochure:

The idea of honouring a soldier, symbolising all those who fell at the front for the fatherland, arose in 1916 during the First World War, a murderous war which was to decimate the youth of several nations. Shortly after the Armistice of 11 November 1918 that brought the conflict to an end, the chamber of deputies and the Senate decided to bring the mortal remains of an unidentified soldier into the Pantheon. But the associations of former combatants rejected the choice of the Pantheon* and wanted this dead soldier emblematic of the tragedy of the Great War to be honoured instead at the Arc de Triomphe.

In the course of the same ceremony, and transported on the same chariot, the heart of Gambetta was laid to rest in the Pantheon to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Third Republic and the Unknown Soldier was solemnly carried to the Arc de Triomphe on 11 November 1920. The same procession thus brought together the soldier of the 14-18 war and the Republican leader who had organised national defence against the Prussians in 1871.

The Unknown Soldier was buried beneath the Arch in 1921 and decorated with the Legion d’Honneur in the presence of the British Prime Minister, marshals and the entire French government.

The flame of remembrance was lit on 11 November 1923 by André Maginot, war minister, and has never been extinguished since. It is rekindled every day at 6.30 pm by one of the 900 French associations of former combatants.

* Pantheon - A secular temple in the 5* arrondissement of Paris which houses some of the great men of the French nation.

14 February 2004

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