France held its annual Bastille Day celebrations on Thursday (July 14) with a traditional parade down the Champs Elysees in Paris, kicked off by French president Francois Hollande and with dignitaries in attendance.
Guests of honor this year were New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Australia’s Governor General Peter Cosgrove.
About 3,000 men and women from France’s army, navy and air force marched down the Champs Elysees in the oldest and largest military parade in Europe, reports Reuters.
Jets from the aerobatics team of the Patrouille de France performed an aerobatic display, forming the shape of the Eiffel Tower and trailing smoke in the colors of the French flag – blue, white and red.
July 14th is France’s National Day, also known as Bastille Day.
It commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison by angry crowds in 1789, helping kick off the French Revolution. The Bastille prison, where opponents of the monarchy were kept, was targeted for symbolizing royal rule.
In honor of New Zealand’s and Australia’s participation in the First World War as part of the British Commonwealth, Hollande invited an 86-strong contingent of New Zealand troops and 140 Australian soldiers to join Thursday’s parade.
Maori warriors led the New Zealand troops, whose presence, along with the Australians’, were part of centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme, where more than 1 million men were killed.
In 1919, New Zealand soldiers joined a parade to celebrate the armistice, a few days before the Treaty of Versailles was signed to formally end the war.
The parade ended with youths dressed in the tricolor, forming a French flag and singing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.
The annual parade comes as the Euro 2016 soccer tournament ended on a bittersweet note for France, who lost to Portugal 1-0, failing to win the cup on home soil.