The choice of the unknown French soldier
As from 1916, the president of the French memories suggests that a French soldier, who fell on the field of honour and whose identity will remain unknown, should be buried in the Panthéon. Tabled on 2nd November 1920, the bill which has the aim of "arranging the transfer to Paris and the laying in the triumphal arch of the remains of an unknown soldier, who died for France during the Great War" is approved unanimously by the deputies on 8th November. At the same time they accept the burial place: the triumphal arch.
As from 3rd November, André Maginot, minister of the pensions, announces the directives "to exhume, (…), the body of a soldier who is identified as being French, but whose personal identity cannot be established". The former front is divided into nine sectors: Flandres, Artois, Somme, Marne, Chemin des Dames, Champagne, Verdun, Lorraine and Alsace.
On 9th November the coffins are transported to the citadel of Verdun. One of the casemates is converted into a chapel of rest. But only eight coffins arrive because their remains a doubt about one of the exhumed bodies.
On 10th November, André Maginot leaves Paris to chair the ceremony. At 3pm he arrives at the citadel. He presents a bunch of flowers to Auguste THIN, a young corporal of the 132nd Regiment who has been designated one day before to choose the Unknown Soldier and says these words: "Soldier, you will place this bunch of flowers on one of the eight coffins which will then be the Unknown Soldier (…). It is the highest tribute and it is not too high, when it concerns the one whose anonymous sacrifice and whose superhuman courage saved the fatherland, the rights and freedom."
The young corporal finally stops in front of the 6th coffin. Afterwards, he will explain his choice by maintaining that he wanted to pay tribute to his regiment (132nd) by adding up all numbers (1+3+2).