2014 commemorates not only the 70th anniversary of D-Day, but also the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the WWI. Once referred to as the Great War, it was sadly not the war to end all wars. In many Europe countries, as well as those of the Commonwealth, November 11th, or Remembrance Day, is the date dedicated to commemorating both world wars. With this in mind, we’ve brought together the best sites in or near Paris to pay homage to our fallen and to learn more about these tremendously important historical events.
Musée de l’Armée: Seen from the Front, Representations of the Great War Exhibition
Many museums around France have designed special exhibits on WWI for its centennial, and one of the best is on display right here in Paris at the Army Museum housed in Les Invalides. The comprehensive exhibition focuses on daily life during the war, as well as how those living through the war perceived and depicted the battlefront over its four years. It features a wide variety of archival images, private and official photos, press articles, films, posters and objects in order to evoke the era. The museum itself has a permanent collection of over 500,000 objects on the centuries of French military history and specific collections on WWI. In addition to historic imagery, the exhibits include the uniforms of several important French military leaders (Foch, Joffre and Leclerc), prestige pieces (marshal’s batons and ceremonial swords), documentary films and architectural models. The exhibit runs through January 25th 2015. (Open daily April-Oct 10am-6pm, Nov-March 10am-5pm, museum and exhibit entrance 14.50 euros/adults and 9.90 euros/children).
Faces and Traces of the Great War – Gare de l’Est
Another exhibit commemorating the centennial of WWI is taking place in Gare de l’Est, the station through which most soldiers and supplies reached the front. Displayed in large format throughout the station is a powerful series of photos taken by French photographer Didier Pazery. Over the past twenty years Pazery has been chronically a diverse group of surviving soldiers, each photo having a special connection to the “then and now” of their lives or war experiences. Featured are many of the faces of the war: French, American, British, German, women who took part in the army, as well as several French soldiers from the colonies, one whom Pazery traveled to Africa to meet. A touching tribute to these heros. The exhibit closes at the end of the month (Free entry, open all day in the foyer of the mainline train station).
American War Cemetery Mont Valerien-Suresnes
While the main American cemetery commemorating WWI is located in Belleau several hours east of Paris between Metz and Nancy (the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery), there is an American cemetery right in the Paris suburb of Suresnes. Originally a WWI cemetery, it also holds the remains of U.S. victims of both wars. Peacefully set on Mont Valerien overlooking Paris, it’s the final resting place of 1,541 Americans who died in World War I, and 24 unknown Americans from World War II. Many of these soldiers had been brought to Paris for treatment and a great number passed away when the war was already over, either from their war injuries or from Spanish Flu which broke out in 1918. The cemetery is at 109 Blvd Washington 92150 Suresnes (Tel.: 01 46 25 01 70).
A little further afield is the excellent WWI Museum in the city of Meaux, east of Paris in the heart of the Western Front battlefields. Inaugurated three years ago on November 11th, 2011, it was founded on the immense collection of over 50,000-object artifacts assembled over 40 years by historian and photographer, John-Pierre Verney. The displays include journals and newspapers of the day, maps, photographs, uniforms from most countries involved, weapons and artillery, heavy equipment and objects from everyday life on the front and home front. Indeed it is this last element which is a primary focus of the museum: showing the human side of the tragic war. Nearby there are also some trenches and in the surrounding area other several important battle and commemorative sites, though most require a car to reach. (Open Weds-Mon May-Sept 9:30am-6:30pm and Oct-April 10am-5:30pm, entrance from 5-10 euros).
Context can arrange custom visitors on WWI in and nearby Paris, or if you are interested in WWII history we have a unique walk Light’s Out Paris during the Occupation in addition to an excursion D-Day, Normandy Beaches in Context.