The Unknown Soldier (Le Soldat Inconnu)
The armistice of 11 November 1918 marked Germany’s surrender and the end of the First World War. The date has become a day of remembrance to pay tribute to all soldiers.
Every year, on the 11th November, flowers are placed on the tomb of the “soldat inconnu” (Unknown Soldier) beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and other war memorials. Most shops are closed.
The remains of a single French soldier slain on the battleﬁeld were buried on November 11, 1920, two years after the end of the ironically named ‘War to End All Wars’. His name is unknown but he represents and honours more than a million French soldiers who died during this conflict.
To chose one ‘unknown’ soldier, 8 bodies of slain soldiers across France were unearthed with the permission of the families, placed in caskets and moved to Paris. Here, a local soldier, 21-year-old August Thin, whose father had died on the battlefield, and who himself had been gassed, picked out one of the caskets.
How did August Thin chose one casket over the others?
To pick one coffin out from the eight dead soldiers, Thin walked along the row and placed ‘un bouquet d’œillets blancs et rouges’ (a bunch of white and red carnations) on the sixth in the row .
When asked why he had chosen this particular one, he said, “Il me vint une pensée simple. J’appartiens au 6e corps. En additionnant les chiffres de mon régiment, le 132, c’est également le chiffre 6 que je retiens. Ma décision est prise : ce sera le 6e cercueil que je rencontrerai.“ (A simple thought occurred to me. I belong to the 6th Company. By adding together the numbers of my regiment, the 132th, it is also the number 6 that comes up. My decision is made: it will be the 6th coffin that I come across).
The Unknown Soldier had been chosen.