On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, in 1918, the guns ceased. This day is honored all over the world, albeit in different ways. It is honored here, and we will not be publishing today. Instead, we have a quick backgrounder, a very personal essay from my colleague, and The Last Post played by… Mark Knopfler.
During Remembrance Day, the British Commonwealth countries remember those who came before, and those who came after, and all who have given in their nation’s service. John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” is a common accompaniment at ceremonies, where the wearing of poppies is customary (on the left lapel, or as close to the heart as possible). The poppies are sold as a means of support by organizations like the Royal British Legion, Royal Canadian Legion, et. al.
A number of European countries know November 11th as Armistice Day.
Americans celebrate it as Veteran’s Day, which differs from other countries around the world in that it honors military service generally, instead of focusing only on those who gave their lives. That purpose happens earlier in the year for Americans, on Memorial Day.
After a decade and more of non-stop conflict, these days have taken on a far more personal meaning to a new global generation of current and former military personnel.
Armistice: A Personal Remembrance
My colleague Olivier Travers sent this to me as an email in November 2011. This is the public version.
Some personal history. My great-grandfathers fought WWI. My two grandfathers fought WWII in the Somme for one (like his father before him), North Africa and Monte Cassino for the other. They came back and got kids, but were broken inside. The house in Lorraine where my mother and her siblings grew up is 30 miles south east of Verdun. Drive a little north and you find what used to be whole villages where all that is left is rolling hills, moon landscapes but hey at least grass is growing again. The heavy metal pollution will take 10,000 years to decay. The government left entrance and exit signs on the roads, so these places don’t go entirely forgotten.
Almost a century later, people in the region still dig out unexploded ordnance.
I’m the 5th generation in a row to have worn a uniform in the family. Thankfully, my father and I are the two lucky chaps who weren’t shot at, unlike our forefathers in 1870, 1914, 1939 (leaving aside my grandfather’s 2 years in Indochina since that one was a war of choice). My mother was born in Metz two years after we got it back from the Germans. On my father’s side, they probably fought the French too before Savoie was annexed in 1860, since they liked to invade us a couple times a century.
Anyway, the two sides of my family have been living for centuries in the buffer zone between France and its competitors to the East. Pretty much an ongoing stream of the worst human butchery. It’s in the history of the soil, cities and people more than, fortunately, most other places on earth.
The lyrics of the French national anthem are telling. In a different context from how the Canadian-born know this phrase:
“Je me souviens.”
The Last Post
Traditionally played on this day. Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler, who also has a song called “Remembrance Day,” did this as part of The UK government-sponsored Last Post Project, which will continue until Nov 18/14.
We hope our readers have a meaningful day this Tuesday at the commemorative event of their choice.
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