Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day



World War 1, also known as the Great War and The War to End Wars, ended 100 years ago this day. For us today it is something we read about as history, lacking immediacy. We can relate more to the sadness of a terrorist attack or another mass shooting than to old photographs of WW1 and the people of the time. We forget that these were real people in real circumstances in a real world. 

Green Fields of France 

- Eric Bogle 

Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride? 
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside? 
And rest for a while in the warm summer sun, 
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done. 
I see by your gravestone you were only 19 
When you joined the great fallen in 1916, 
I hope you died well and I hope you died clean 
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene? 

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly? 
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down? 
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus? 
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 

Some WW1 statistics: 

Total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I: estimated at about 40 million, ranging from 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel. 

The total number of deaths includes from 9 to 11 million military personnel. 

The civilian death toll was about 8 million, including about 6 million due to war-related famine and disease. 

Australia: 

Total military deaths from all causes: 59,330 to 62,149 (combat deaths and MIA included in the former number: 61,527) 

Military wounded: 152,171 

Deaths as a percentage of population: 1.19% to 1.24% 

Comparison deaths/as a percentage of population of some of the other countries: 

New Zealand: 16,711 to 18,060 / 1.52% to 1.64% 
United Kingdom (and colonies): 867,829 to 1,011,687 / 1.91% to 2.23% 
France: 1,697,000 to 1,737,800 / 4.29% to 4.39% 
Italy: 1,052,400 to 1,243,400 / 2.96% to 3.49% 
Russia: 2,840,000 to 3,394,369 / 1.62% to 1.94% 
United States: 117,466 / 0.13% 
Austria-Hungary: 1,787,000 to 2,081,200 / 3.48% to 4.05% 
Germany: 2,198,420 to 2,800,720 / 3.39% to 4.32% 
Ottoman Empire (Turkey): 2,825,000 to 3,271,844 / 13.26% to 15.36% 


Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind 
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined? 
Although, you died back in 1916, 
In that faithful heart are you forever 19? 
Or are you a stranger without even a name, 
Enclosed in forever behind the glass frame, 
In an old photograph, torn, battered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame? 

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly? 
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down? 
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus? 
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 

The end of the war, in Sydney: 


Rumours of Germany's capitulation circulated around the world on Friday 8 November 1918. In Sydney and suburbs cheering crowds filled the streets and many businesses closed to allow staff to participate. However, in the absence of official speeches and announcements the crowds dispersed, though the revelry continued into the evening. It was described as an unprecedented display of spontaneous celebration, and foreshadowed even larger gatherings when the official news eventually came.

Finally, on the evening of Monday 11 November 1918 official news was received in Australia that the Armistice had been signed. Church bells rang, trains and ferries sounded their horns, and cheering crowds assembled in every neighbourhood. Despite the late hour, huge crowds poured into the city and choked all major streets for several hours. The Sydney Morning Herald said the next day that 'never in the history of Sydney did a greater flood of passengers flow over the evening service of trams, trains, and ferries.' By 9 pm the crowds in Martin Place, Pitt Street and George Street were so dense that movement was almost impossible. Extra trams were hurriedly put into service to bring people in from the suburbs but were immediately overcrowded. Services in the city centre had to be suspended because the great mass of people made it impossible for the police to keep the tramlines clear.

A public holiday
Tuesday 12 November was declared a public holiday. The bell in the General Post Office tower rang for ten minutes from 9 am and for five minutes every half hour thereafter until noon. Church bells also rang out. Enormous crowds filled the city, waving flags, throwing confetti. Brass bands played and everyone seemed to have a whistle or a rattle – the noise was deafening. The Kaiser was ceremonially hanged and then burned from the AMP Building and the Sydney Mail Building.

The Governor, the Premier and the Lord Mayor spoke at noon to densely packed and cheering crowds in Martin Place. The national anthem – ‘God Save the King’ – and 'Rule Britannia' were sung. In the evening many buildings were illuminated, several with huge signs proclaiming 'Peace' or 'Victory', and special evening performances at the various theatres concluded a day of unprecedented celebration and excitement. Even the prisoners in the Long Bay State Penitentiary were included in the celebrations, assembling in the chapel and singing patriotic songs. The Attorney-General addressed them and announced that, to celebrate the victory, an extra period would be remitted from the sentences of all who earned good conduct marks. 

The sun now it shines on the green fields of France; 
There’s a warm summer breeze that makes the red poppies dance. 
And look how the sun shines from under the clouds 
There’s no gas, no barbed wire, there’s no guns firing now. 
But here in this graveyard it’s still No Man's Land 
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand 
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man. 
To a whole generation that were butchered and damned. 

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly? 
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down? 
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus? 
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 


Some images: 

Peace jubilation in Martin Place 11 November 1918 

Some of the 6,000 returned soldiers who attended the Thanksgiving Service in the Domain on Wednesday 13 November, 1918 

A Typical Street Scene in Sydney following news of the Armistice 

Jubilant office girls 

Celebrating the signing of the Armistice, Sydney, 11 November 1918. 

Armistice celebrations, Moore Street and Martin Place, 1918 

Soldiers ride along Macquarie Street during peace celebrations, Sydney

Ah young Willie McBride, I can’t help wonder why, 
Do those that lie here know why did they die? 
And did they believe when they answered the cause, 
Did they really believe that this war would end wars? 
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain, 
The killing and dying, were all done in vain. 
For Willie McBride, it all happened again, 
And again, and again, and again, and again. 

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly? 
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down? 
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus? 
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly? 
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down? 
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus? 
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 



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. 

For the Fallen 
-Laurence Binyon




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