Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris at Arc de Triomphe – #Travel

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You cannot be in Paris without experiencing L’etoile. You will in the middle of the Arc de Triomphe where 12 streets converge and a huge roundabout take Parisians from one place to another. It is also a solemn place as the home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris. We went during the busy evening traffic to find a great adventure. It’s best to get advanced tickets and take the elevator to the top. You will find more than a great view in the Arc the Triomphe as a hidden gem is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier museum. 

Interred on Armistice Day 1920, it has the first eternal flame lit in Western and Eastern Europe. It is always moving to see this respectful tradition be it in Ottawa or here in Paris.

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

A unique view of the Champs-Élysées, by day and night, it is the compass for the world’s most beautiful avenue. The Arc de Triomphe was begun in 1806, on the orders of Napoleon I to honour the victories of his Grande Armée. Inspired by the great arches of antiquity, the monument combines the commemorative with the symbolic and it has always played a major role in the national republican consciousness. Every evening, the flame is lit on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the Great War.

The hidden gem, however, is the small museum which holds uniforms from a war which happened more than a century ago. It is amazing that soldiers were slaves to fashion wearing heavy, cumbersome uniforms in the First World War. The beauty of these uniforms is not lost years later on us. We were mesmerized at the details in each national uniform, the belts, hats (not helmets yet), buttons, and sashes. It is also interesting to see how simple the uniforms were of colonial nations where the money for these uniforms would have been harder to finance.

An infantryman in the 60th Regiment, France

In August 1917 the 60th Infantry Regiment launch an assault against Cote 344 in the Verdon sector. The silhouette of the Poilu – an informal term for a French infantryman – has become a figure of legend, with his Adrian helmet and double-breasted greatcoat issued from the second semester of 1916. This grenadier is the assault uniform, having the left his cumbersome haversack behind, and is armed with a Lebel rifle with VB (Viven-Bessieres) grenade launcher that could fire cast-iron grenades – which were carried in the larger haversack worn slug to one side – up to 190 meters.

Infantryman in the Otago Regiment (3rd Battalion, 14th South Otago Company),
New Zealand, 1917

When Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, New Zealand decided to send a contingent. It was called the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and, together with the Australian troops, comprised the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. On 25 April 1915, the New Zealanders arrived alongside Franco-British troops on the peninsula of Gallipoli, to open the maritime route to the Black Sea. From April 1916 they fought in France and Belgium, in particular, Messines and Passchendale in 1917 as part of the New Zealand Division.

Infantryman in the 27th Infantry Regiment, France, 1914

In August 1914 the uniform of French soldiers called up into the infantry was no longer suitable for modern warfare, due to the invention of smokeless gunpowder in 1884 (by the engineer Paul Vieille). The most visible part of the uniform, the striking red ‘madder’ wool (or garance) trousers, adopted in 1829, had become a national symbol. The red madder dye had been replaced in 1890 by Alizarin, made by the German chemical industry, and so the French troops marched off to the front wearing trousers dyed with a colour produced by the German firm BASF.

Skirmisher in the 3rd Skirmisher March Regiment, France, 1914

In 1914, wearing the traditional uniform that they had adopted under the July Monarchy (1830-1848), comprising a chechia, a sky-blue jacket and waistcoat, a red belt, and trousers made from light summer fabric, the Algerian Skirmishers of the 3rd March Regiment fought in Belgium, in the Marne, and in the Oise, as part of the 37th Infantry Division. They subsequently saw action in Champagne and Verdun. By 1918, over 25,000 of the 170,000 Algerians who had come to fight in Europe had fallen at the front.

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Sergeant in the 3rd Zouave March Regiment, France, 2015

From 1914 African troops (Zouaves and Skirmishers) were issued with a khaki uniform to replace their “Oriental” uniforms which were non-suited to fighting in France. This sergeant, whose chechia is covered by khaki fabric, is wearing the standard tunic adopted by the entire French Army in 1914, together with cycle panties made from khaki corduroy, whilst awaiting the delivery of khaki serge clothing made from 500,000 meters of imported English cloth. Khaki became generalised only on 6 November 1921.

This tiny museum was so very interesting and drew our attention to the plight of soldiers in WWI. It was sobering to see each and every uniform and know that at one time or another, courageous men wore them to fight in the ‘great’ war. Uniforms provided a means to identify the nationality of the soldier.

Today’s soldiers wear camouflage, baggy pants and helmets. They are made both for women and men to keep them ‘uniform’ looking as one unit and keep nationality vague. It may not always be easy to discern the nationality if not for their national flag on a sleeve.

Arc de Triomphe -Tomb of the Unknown Soldier - unique Uniform Museum @DownshiftingPRO
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Panorama of the small museum in the Arc de Triomphe in Paris Uniforms of WWI
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Museum
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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for and other online media outlets.