World War One ended at 5-00am on the 11th November 1918, when three German government representatives accepted the armistice terms presented to them by an allied commander, General Foch of the French Army. The demands of the armistice included the withdrawal of German forces to the east bank of the Rhine within 30 days; immediate cessation of warfare; and surrender of the German fleet and all heavy guns with no further negotiations until the signing of the peace treaty.
The armistice became effective at 11-00am the same day, and as the guns fell silent on the Western Front in France and Belgium, four years of hostilities ended. The cease-fire was made permanent the following year when members of the Commonwealth and the League of Nations signed the Treaty of Versailles. People across the world celebrated the war’s end – celebrations tempered by thoughts of the enormous suffering and loss of life resulting from the war.
London, with all its history of pageantry and processions, of coronations and investitures, with all the dignified splendour of the State occasion, has never witnessed a more moving spectacle than that provided by the ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, on 11th November 1919.
This was the date which had marked the first anniversary of the Armistice that had brought to an end the most terrible war the world had then seen. The cost to the British Commonwealth alone had been a million dead – the bravest ‘and the best of a particularly outstanding generation.
On the occasion of the Armistice on the 11th November, 1918, the boisterous behaviour of the public and the noise of tin trumpets, crackers etc., appalled Edward George Honey, a journalist from Melbourne working in London, because those who had made the supreme sacrifice seemed to have been forgotten.
On 8th May, 1919, a letter in the ‘London Evening News‘, under the pen-name ‘Warren Foster‘ appealed for silence in memory of the war dead on the next anniversary of the Armistice. The letter was written by Edward George Honey.
Some months later, the suggestion was transmitted to His Majesty King George V by Lord Milner at the instance of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, a South African Member of Parliament and author. It was adopted and has been observed ever since on the anniversary of the Armistice, or Remembrance Day as it is known now, and by Service Organisations throughout the world when remembering departed comrades.
Few Australian families were left untouched by the events of World War One – “The War To End All Wars” most had lost a father, son, daughter, brother, sister or friend. At 11-00am on the 11th November we pause to remember the sacrifice of those men and women who have died or suffered in wars and conflicts and all those who have served during the past 100 years.
More than 416,000 Australians volunteered for service in World War One. Of these, 336,281 served overseas and 61,919 were killed, including 45,000 who died on the Western Front in France and Belgium and more than 8,000 who died on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. 116,000 of those volunteers were Victorians who served overseas in the Navy and in the Army (which incorporated the Flying Corps). Casualties were heavy and approximately 18,000 of these Victorians did not return to their homeland and many thousands were wounded or rendered unfit.
As a permanent reminder of the service and sacrifice given by the men and women of Victoria to their country, memorials were erected in almost every town throughout the State.
It is right “To Keep Refreshing Our Memory�. For, despite the changing days in which we live, there are in fact some decisive events of the past which it is ruinous to forget.
We are living in a period of intense and deliberate forgetfulness and, in a way; this is understandable in a time of breath-taking acceleration of scientific and technological progress.
To our ancestors, the moon was a familiar compass – not a target. There is today a sense of isolation from the world of 1914, even of 1939. Commemorations are not in style.
The “NOW” generation tends to turn away from historical ceremonies, from the remembrance of the fallen in war, saying in effect: “Let The Dead Bury Their Dead. We are concerned with justice NOW, with freedom NOW, with peace NOW.” This attitude, however, reveals a quite unreal reading of the ‘Then And Now’ situation.
The men and women who laid down their lives in 1914-18 and 1939-45, were just as concerned with justice, freedom and peace as their counterparts of the 70s and there was nothing imaginary about the nature or the magnitude of the threat posted by Germany and Japan. The causes of conflicts of 1914 and 1939 were extraordinarily complex and must not be oversimplified.
But, if war comes again – and it could – the confluence of events leading up to it will be just as complex and probably strikingly similar. To ‘Keep Refreshing Our Memory‘ is, for most people – whether they realise it or not – the surest way to reinforce our own passion for justice, freedom and peace.
Remembrance Day, rightly understood, is no glorification of war. This is the last thing either the dead or the living of the two World Wars, and the later campaigns in Malaya, Korea, Borneo, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan would want.
Remembrance Day, rightly understood, strengthens in us the resolve to live for the things for which they died. Let us ever be mindful that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends“.
Top Left: An example of one of many many newspapers announcing the end of World War I
Middle right: Painting depicting the signatories of the Armistice in the railway carriage. From left to right are German Admiral Ernst Vanselow, German Count Alfred von Oberndorff of the Foreign Ministry, German General Detlof von Winterfeldt (with helmet), British naval officer Captain Jack Marriott, and standing in front of the table, Matthias Erzberger, head of the German delegation. Behind the table are two British naval officers, Rear-Admiral George Hope, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, and the French representatives, Marshal Ferdinand Foch (standing), and General Maxime Weygand.