“At 11am on the 11th November 1918 the guns fell silent” is a phrase that has been repeated in some form or another and is one I have heard throughout my entire life. Today is Remembrance Day in Australia (with variations celebrated around the world and through the Commonwealth) and marks the day World War 1 finally ended, after four long years of fighting.
Today, at 11am, at schools, war memorials, and places all across the country, services will be held to honour those who have fallen in the line of battle. During services the “Last Post” is sounded by a bugler and a minute silence is observed. The Ode is also cited.
While slightly eclipsed by the public holiday of ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day has as much significance if not more to not only Australians but all those who fought in World War 1. With 2014 marking the 100th anniversary of the start of Wold War 1 it is important to acknowledge and remember all the brave men and women who put their lives on the line, not just in that war, but for the many that have followed since.
The Australia War Memorial website has a wonderful explanation about why Remembrance Day is important to Australians and why the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is significant.
“At 11 am on 11 November 1918 the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years continuous warfare. The allied armies had driven the German invaders back, having inflicted heavy defeats upon them over the preceding four months. In November the Germans called for an armistice (suspension of fighting) in order to secure a peace settlement. They accepted the allied terms of unconditional surrender.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month attained a special significance in the post-war years. The moment when hostilities ceased on the Western Front became universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the war. This first modern world conflict had brought about the mobilisation of over 70 million people and left between 9 and 13 million dead, perhaps as many as one-third of them with no known grave. The allied nations chose this day and time for the commemoration of their war dead.
On the first anniversary of the armistice in 1919 two minutes’ silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony at the new Cenotaph in London. The silence was proposed by Australian journalist Edward Honey, who was working in Fleet Street. At about the same time, a South African statesman made a similar proposal to the British Cabinet, which endorsed it. King George V personally requested all the people of the British Empire to suspend normal activities for two minutes on the hour of the armistice “which stayed the worldwide carnage of the four preceding years and marked the victory of Right and Freedom”. The two minutes’ silence was popularly adopted and it became a central feature of commemorations on Armistice Day.
On the second anniversary of the armistice in 1920 the commemoration was given added significance when it became a funeral, with the return of the remains of an unknown soldier from the battlefields of the Western Front.
After the end of the Second World War, the Australian and British governments changed the name to Remembrance Day. Armistice Day was no longer an appropriate title for a day which would commemorate all war dead.
In Australia on the 75th anniversary of the armistice in 1993 Remembrance Day ceremonies again became the focus of national attention. The remains of an unknown Australian soldier, exhumed from a First World War military cemetery in France, were ceremonially entombed in the Memorial’s Hall of Memory. Remembrance Day ceremonies were conducted simultaneously in towns and cities all over the country, culminating at the moment of burial at 11 am and coinciding with the traditional two minutes’ silence. This ceremony, which touched a chord across the Australian nation, re-established Remembrance Day as a significant day of commemoration.
Four years later, in 1997, Governor-General Sir William Deane issued a proclamation formally declaring 11 November to be Remembrance Day, urging all Australians to observe one minute’s silence at 11 am on 11 November each year to remember those who died or suffered for Australia’s cause in all wars and armed conflicts.”
The red poppy has become the symbol of Remembrance Day. Mentioned in the John McCrae poem, In Flanders Field, they bloomed across the battlefields in Flanders, becoming symbolic of the blood that spilled across them. You can read McCrae’s poem below.
No matter who you are, or whether you have had family members serve this country, take a minute to thank those who did, and offer a minutes silence to pay respect to those who gave their time and those who never came home.
For those who have fought in our wars, from the ANZACS until now, thank you.