The eleventh day, of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour: Armistice Day. The last day of the First World War is a date deeply embedded in European culture. The day, which will celebrate its ninety-ninth anniversary this year, commemorates the signing of the armistice by the Allies and Germany to end the war. The armistice essentially ended four years of fighting as a precursor for the Treaty of Versailles. The armistice was signed during a clandestine meeting held just north of Paris, in the Forest of Compiegne. The mutual agreement for ceasefire was reached by representatives from France, Great Britain and Germany. The cessation of hostilities was agreed and the armistice was signed at 5:00am.
The news reached the capital cities such as London and Paris by 5:40am; however, due to the constraints of communication, actual ceasefire was not scheduled until 11:00am to allow the news to reach all areas of the Western Front. This meant that sadly causalities occurred on the front line while many back home were celebrating. Even when the news did reach the front line, celebrations were very different. Many soldiers remained sombre and quiet, they were exhausted from the perils of a long war which took more than 17 million lives in total. The way is the past is commemorated, or ignored, often reveals a lot about the present and Armistice Day is no different. Several countries in Europe, and across the globe, come together on Armistice Day to remember all those lost in the Great War.
In 1918, when news of the armistice reached London the historic moment was marked as Big Ben was rung for the first time since the outbreak of the war in August 1914. In 1921, poppies began to be made and sold to raise money for the ex-service community, an act which was inspired by John McCrae’s famous poem, In Flanders Fields. Since 1919, the tradition in Britain has been to pause for a two-minute silence to remember all those killed in the war. A ceremony is held every year at the Cenotaph in Trafalgar Square which the Royal family attend; this has been televised since 1946. Poppies became the symbol of the Royal British Legion which was formed in 1921. Every year the selling of poppies is now known as the ‘Poppy Appeal.’ In the wake of the Second World War, Armistice Day became Remembrance Day, the silence held includes all the fallen servicemen from both world wars and other subsequent conflicts since. However, no matter how people wish to commemorate, in the words of Robert Laurence Binyon, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”