Calling the fallen: French veteran mobilisation of the war dead on Armistice Day 1919-2009

Sally Carlton

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Unbreakable links exist between war survivors, war victims and war remembrance which render it almost impossible for veterans to avoid mention of their lost comrades when reflecting on their war experience. However, the annual commemoration of 11 novembre, commemorating the Armistice of 11 November 1918 which ended World War One, provides French veterans with an especially powerful opportunity to 'mobilise' their fallen comrades. Two specific issues prompt ex-combatants to mobilise the fallen on Armistice Day. Firstly, in drawing on the dead, veterans intentionally encourage remembrance of the war experience. Secondly, they use Armistice Day commemoration to not only contemplate their past life under arms, but also to recognise and promote lessons for the present and future. Evoking the dead adds emotional and historic depth to these aspirations and admonitions. There are two methods by which veterans mobilise the fallen: the enactment of rituals designed to facilitate communion between the living and the dead and the use of certain spaces associated with war and wartime death. Through these means, veterans are able to call upon their fallen comrades to add potency to their visions of post-war life. The three primary 'lessons' of war promoted by the veterans are values, unity and peace. This thesis considers each of these methods and motivations. The striking observation of this thesis is the regularity and predictability of veteran discourse in relation to Armistice Day and the fallen. While the persistence of a certain mode of discourse is perhaps not unexpected given the highly stylised and repetitive nature of commemoration, the inflexibility of veteran discourse is still surprising given that the thesis considers discourse published by the press of different veteran associations at both the national and regional levels, and by different generations of fire. This study explains the invariance of discourse through the notion of 'layers' of memory.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011

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