Today, November 11, Australia commemorates the anniversary of the Armistice that ended the fighting in the First World War.
Every year, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we mark the time and date in 1918 when the guns fell silent on the Western Front after more than four years of continuous bloody warfare.
Australia’s involvement in the First World War began when Britain and Germany went to war on August 4, 1914. Both Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher, who were in the middle of an election campaign, pledged full support for Britain.
For Australia, the First World War remains our costliest conflict. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted. Of them, more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.
In 1919, on the first anniversary of the Armistice, two minutes’ silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony at the new Cenotaph in London.
In 1920, on the second anniversary of the Armistice, the commemoration took on added significance when it became a funeral, with the return of the remains of an unknown soldier from the battlefields of the Western Front. Unknown soldiers were interred with full military honours in Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triumph in Paris.
After the end of the Second World War, the Australian and British governments changed the name to Remembrance Day – an occasion to remember not only those who gave their lives in World War One, but all war dead.
Today’s ceremony includes the reciting of The Ode, from the poem “The Fallen” by Laurance Binyon.
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.
The Ode is followed by the Last Post, One Minute’s Silence, and The Rouse – a short bugle call that was used to call soldiers to their duties.
Then, the traditional response, “Lest We Forget.”
2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the poppy as the flower of remembrance.
Canadian medical officer, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, who died in January 1918, wrote about the poppy in his poem “In Flanders Fields.”
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.
Lest We Forget