opinion

100 Years On : Remembering The End Of World War I

8 November 2018 - 167   - 0

 

The First World War ended One Hundred years ago in 1918, starting in Europe and lasting from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918.  In remembrance of the end of the War, 11 November each year is observed by the countries around the world remembering the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

The first Remembrance Day was inaugurated by King George V, in 1919. The day is marked by war remembrances.  On 11 November ceremonies are held recalling the day the hostilities of the First World War was ended.  

In this war, more than 70 million military personnel including 60 million Europeans have been mobilised, making it one of the largest wars in history. An estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilians are reported to have died as a direct result of the war, while it is also considered a contributory factor in a number of genocides and the 1918 influenza epidemic, which caused between 50 and 100 million deaths worldwide. This was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history. It precipitated major political changes in many of the nations involved. Unresolved rivalries at the end of the conflict contributed to the beginning of the Second World War. Despite all the horrors of war experienced, with the passage of just twenty years, the Second World War was started in 1939.

Hostilities of the First World War formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month", in accordance with the armistice (truce) signed by representatives of Germany and the Allies between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. It is remembered at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (11:00 am, 11 November), as that marks the time (in the United Kingdom) when the Armistice became effective. The First World War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919. The memorial evolved out of Armistice Day which continues to be marked on the same date.

The Red Remembrance Poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day and people wear a red poppy on the anniversary. The custom spread to Europe and the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth. Poppies were worn for the first time at the 1921 anniversary ceremony. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War One; their brilliant red colour became a symbol for the blood spilled in the war.

Ceremonies of Remembrance in many countries are held to mark this event including Sri Lanka. Some countries having experiences of the war of special significance to their countries, observe the Remembrance signifying these events. Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Poland are some of the countries among them.

In Australia and New Zealand the Remembrance Day ceremonies are held on this day. However, the memorial ceremonies in Remembering dead in the First World War in these two countries commenced in 1916. In 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of Allied forces and on 25 April 1915 landed in Gallipoli Peninsula in the Ottoman Empire; a German ally during the war. At the end of 1915, the Allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties. The Allied casualties totalled over 56,000, including 8,709 from Australia and 2,721 from New Zealand. The profound impact on Australians and New Zealanders at home; 25 April quickly became the day on which they remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in the war.

The date 25 April was officially named “Anzac Day” (“ANZAC” stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – whose soldiers were known as “Anzacs”) in 1916. Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first campaign that led to major casualties for Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. From 1916 onwards, in Australia and New Zealand, Anzac memorials are held on 25 April. The  Anzac Day became established as a National Day of Commemoration for the 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders who died during the First World War.

With the end of the Second World War, Anzac Day became a day on which to commemorate the lives of Australians and New Zealanders lost in that war as well and in subsequent wars. The meaning of the day has been further broadened to include those killed in all the military operations in which the countries have been involved.

In Germany the anniversary of the Armistice itself is not observed. The German has its own festivals for commemorating the dead, observed in November, the German national day of mourning; two Sundays before the first day of Advent. (Advent commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas – sometimes known as Advent Sunday). It commemorates members of the German armed forces and civilians who died in armed conflicts, to include victims of violent oppression.

In Poland 11 November is called the Independence Day, as the ending of First World War allowed Polish people to regain the freedom and unity of their country after over a hundred years of partitions. Major events include laying flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and other public ceremonies and celebrations.

In France the Remembrance Day; 11 November commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany at Compiegne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at 11:00 am—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." Armistice Day is one of the most important military celebrations in France, since it was a major French victory and the French paid a heavy price in blood to achieve it. The First World War was considered in France as the "Great Patriotic War". Almost all French villages feature memorials dedicated to those fallen during the conflict. In France the blue Cornflower (Bleuet de France) is used symbolically rather than the poppy.

In the United Kingdom wreath-laying ceremonies are organised by on “Armistice Day” at war memorials across the UK at 11 am on 11 November, with two minutes of silence observed; many employers and businesses invite their staff and customers to observe the two minutes' silence at 11:00 am. The beginning and end of the two minutes' silence is often marked in large towns and cities by the firing of ceremonial cannon.

However, in the United Kingdom, the main observance is on Remembrance Sunday, held on the Sunday nearest to 11 November. Poppy wreaths are laid by representatives of the Crown, the armed forces, and local civic leaders, as well as by local organisations. The start and end of the two minutes silence is marked by the firing of an artillery piece. 

 In the United States on 11 November the  “Veterans’ Day” is observed. However, the ceremonies of the observance are more closely matched by Memorial Day in May. Memorial Day or Decoration Day for remembering those who died while serving in the country's armed forces is observed every year on the last Monday of May. In the U S, 11 November was formerly known as” Armistice Day”. It was given its new name, the “Veterans’ Day” in 1954 at the end of the Korean War to honour all veterans. Veterans Day is observed with memorial ceremonies and parades remembering the soldiers died while serving in the country’s Armed Forces.

 

RAJA WICKRAMASINGHE

 

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