The eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, is marked by nations around the globe, usually as part of Remembrance/Armistice/Veterans memorial day, but in particular to mark the end of fighting on the Western Front of The Great War on the time and date that the peace accords were signed in a railway carriage at Compiègne, France. I’m deliberately referring to WW1 as ‘The Great War’ in this context, because its Armistice marked the end of devastating fighting and massive mortality amongst the military and civilians that literally changed the world, politically, socially, economically and, most of all, psychologically.
Although WW2 exceeded the total number of global fatalities in The Great War, in Europe it was rightly seen as ‘the war to end all wars’ because 60 of the 70 million of the military personnel killed were Europeans. It literally wiped out a generation of young men in continental Europe and Great Britain, where even the surviving military suffered from the effects of biological weapons and debilitating, often fatal diseases in the trenches and by ‘battle fatigue’ and ‘shell shock’ before they were recategorised as PTSD in recent times.
For civilians where the fighting was fiercest, there was also starvation and, just after the fighting stopped, pandemic influenza to contend with. The latter caused nearly as many deaths as the war itself worldwide.
At 11 o’clock today, I had a medical appointment. I had my two minutes silence in the car, so arrived slightly late. We do owe a debt of gratitude and remembrance to those who died defending the freedoms of their nations down the years from that first cataclysmic conflict in 1912-1918. In the UK and other parts of the Commonwealth, our Remembrance Days are times when we honour the dead of all the wars since then. One of the most popular charitable fund-raisers in the run-up to the actual day is the Poppy Appeal. In the UK it’s run by The British Legion and in recent years has had mixed popularity, because of complaints from anti-war and human rights campaigns. However, since the centennial of the outbreak of The Great War in 2012 and the widespread media coverage of significant battles, such as Ypres and Paschendale, and their impact at home and in the war theatres, seems to have re-established the popularity of the poppy as never before.
The poppy was adopted as the symbol of Remembrance Day because of the poem ‘In Flanders Field’ by Canadian war poet, John McCrae. This year, in my hometown of Plymouth, they have had a special display of ceramic poppies to mark the end of The Great War at the war memorial on the Hoe. I’ve quoted the poem below and some of the photos that have been taken of this stunning memorial display.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918
A Canadian surgeon, poet and artist who died of pneumonia in Boulogne, France
I haven’t visited the memorial myself and it’s going to be taken down in a few days time, so I thought I’d share some images taken by various people who did make the effort and posted online. It’s a wonderful tribute and I’m sure will be remembered for a long time to come. 😀