Armistice Day, commemorated on 11 November, marks the date the armistice was signed between the Allies of World War 1 and Germany for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. The armistice took effect at 11am – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Sadly, hostilities did continue right up to the very last minute. The final combatant of any nationality to be killed was an American soldier, Henry Gunther, who was shot in a burst of machine gun fire at 10.59 that morning. The last British soldier to die was George Ellison who was killed whilst on patrol on the outskirts of Mons, Belgium 90 minutes before the ceasefire came into effect.
After the end of World War 2, the United Kingdom moved Armistice Day events to the nearest Sunday and officially commemorated both wars on that day. This year on the 11th of November, there will be a Silence in the Square event in Trafalgar Square led by the Royal British Legion followed by the annual service and parade at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
In the United Kingdom, we also have the National Memorial Arboretum which is a year-round centre of remembrance, not only for veterans of the World Wars. The Arboretum is home to over 300 thought-provoking memorials, each with a story to be discovered. The memorials are diverse in nature, rich in symbolism and collectively represent a broad population of society from military associations, charitable organisations, emergency services, fraternity groups and individuals.
The last surviving British veteran of World War 1, Harry Patch, died in July 2009 at the age of 111. Whilst there are still a large number of World War 2 veterans still living, most are now in their eighties and nineties.
During the course of both World Wars, 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces were killed, meeting their deaths in some 154 countries across the world. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, these casualties are commemorated in approximately 23,000 cemeteries and memorials worldwide.
We end our blog with what is perhaps the most famous and widely read war poem in English and also known, in extract form, as the Ode of Remembrance. For the Fallen written by Laurence Binyon, was first published in The Times on September 21, 1914, just a few weeks after World War 1 began on July 28 that year. Binyon was too old to enlist as a soldier in the Great War, but volunteered in hospitals helping wounded French soldiers, and wrote For the Fallen in Cornwall shortly after the Battle of the Marne.
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.