Armistice Day 2018
As we approach 11 o’clock on 11 November, so do we approach a remarkable and sombre moment of reflection and prayer. It will, of course, mark that moment when one hundred years ago, the Armistice came into force between the Allied powers and the German Empire, and the guns across the Western Front fell silent for the final time in the Great War.
In Britain as we commemorate Armistice Day every year, just as countries in Europe and around the world do, the special significance of its 100th anniversary will no doubt bring a closer examination not just of the men and women who served in the First World War and other conflicts since, but also the importance of how and why we continue commentate the occasion annually.
- Sunday will mark the 100th anniversary of the guns falling silent at the end of the First World War
For some years now there has been nobody left on the planet that has served during the First World War. Florence Green, who had become the last living veteran of the war died in 2012 at the age of 110. Claude Choules of the Royal Navy and the last living person to serve in combat died in 2011, also at the age of 110. The last veteran who served in the trenches of the Western Front was Harry Patch, who died in 2009 at the age of 111.
Some societies of other times and places might have let their memories fade into the abyss of history, but as that generation finally slipped the surly bonds of Earth, we know as we knew then, that we owe it not just to them or us, but for our children and their children, that their memories must live on. And not just the memories of Florence Green, Claude Choules, and Harry Patch, but the memories of all those who served their country, who risked their lives, and in many cases who made the ultimate sacrifice, so that we may live ours with dignity and with freedom.
As The Parliamentary Review marks this special anniversary, it is worth remembering those in Parliament that gave their lives during that conflict. Nearly a third of British and Irish MPs served in the First World War and 22 of them died in the conflict. Fifteen of those died in conflict; the others died on other circumstances away from the direct battlefield.
They were profiles of courage and death, of humility and desperation as could be attributed to any of the millions of young men that served on the front line.
Major Philip Glazebrook, the Conservative member of parliament for Manchester South, served in the Middle East during the war and won the Distinguished Service Order in February 1918 for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.
He would be killed less than a month later on 7 March in Birah, just outside of Jerusalem.
Will Gladstone, the grandson of William Ewart Gladstone, had been elected as the new Liberal member in the Kilmarnock by-election of 1911. Commissioned as an officer in August 1914 he shipped out to France in March 1915. He was there for just three weeks before he was killed in action near Laventie in the Pas-de-Calais, having been shot by a German sniper. With special permission from George V, his body was bought back to Britain for a funeral that was seen as too lavish and resulted in his being the last body to be repatriated from France.
These men were not the first not were they the last to die fighting overseas but on this particular Armistice Day, we should perhaps hold them, and others just like them, higher in our thoughts more than usual.
On Friday Theresa May visited Belgium to pay tribute to those soldiers with French President Emmanuel Macron and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. She said that the ceremony held in Mons, was a “fitting tribute and poignant symbol [for] every member of the armed forces who gave their lives to protect what we hold so dear. We remember the heroes who lost their lives in the horrors of the trenches. As the sun sets on 100 years of remembrance, we will never forget their sacrifice.”
Mrs. May and President Macron attended a wreath laying ceremony in Thiepval Memorial, home to over 70,000 missing British and South African servicemen who died in the battlefields of the Somme between 1915 and 1918. The prime minister described the visit as an opportunity on the time that countries in Europe spent time fighting one another but also to look ahead to a “shared future, built on peace, prosperity and friendship.”
In modern political life, much is made of the divisiveness which has become to characterise much of our discourse. It would serve us to remember that there are moments, perhaps no more so than at 11 o’clock on 11 November, that all can come together, regardless of their background or political opinions, to remember, in their own way, those that sacrificed their lives so that we may enjoy our freedom to disagree with one another today.
One of the great aspirations at the conclusion of the Great War was to stop countries using war to settle their disagreements. Perhaps humans are too fallible for that. But what the end of that war did give us, was the concept of formal remembrance. Remembrance of those that volunteered, that fought, that sacrificed, that died. Perhaps the most selfless act any human can do; to give their lives for a cause greater than self. Not in the seeking of glory or power, but to ensure that their friends, family, and country might enjoy the same freedoms that they did.
When we fall silent as a nation at 11 o’clock on Sunday, bound together by our shared history as well as our present, you could do worse than to silently recite some stanzas from Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen:
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 not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the gong down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit not more at familiar tables of home;
They have a lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.