Friday, 9 November 2012

Remembrance Week - Friday's Five is Armistice Day 1918

Friday’s Five this Remembrance Week is five very different accounts of Armistice Day, 11th November 1918.

Each account is unique and gives a wonderful perspective of that amazing day.

Firstly, from the book “A Stillness Heard round the world by Stanley Weintraub.”

"Dan Walker was in a military hospital in the country, a collection of huts on the edge of the wood, when the matron, trailed by a doctor, entered to make an announcement to the ward. “The War is over,” she said. “This is not a rumor. This is official. An Armistice has been signed. The War is over!” Almost any announcement in the past had been greeted with practical joking and handicaps ignored – “Tippling each other out of bed, bashing at each other with pillows, pushing ourselves along the floor on our bottom, stumps waving….” But what
Walker remembered most sixty-one years later was the “uncanny silence,” akin to the eerie quiet on the line when the shooting stopped.

“Our world, a bloody world, a world of suffering….at time’s close to the ultimate, also a world of laughter, excitement and comradeship beyond description. Our world, and now it was gone – ended – Napoo fini….Now we were just some of the wreckage left behind.”"

Secondly, Christopher Fry was at school in Bedford and 11th November 1918 was a day unlike any other day.

“At Modern School, Bedford, Christopher Fry, restless in the fifth form of the junior school, was being taught by an undersized clergyman known to the boys as “Smuts” when the bells of St. Paul’s Church began to peal massively, a maroon went off, and other church bells joined in the noise. “We cheered and thumped our desks, bouncing up and down in our seats, quite prepared to run out of the building and into the street. We could hardly believe that Shepherd-Smith meant us to go on with our work, as though the world had not been completely transformed. The world was at peace, a state of affairs I could hardly remember and at peace perhaps for ever. There would be bonfires, and flags, and fireworks, and no more death until the time for death….””

Thirdly, also from 'A Stillness Heard round the World by Stanley Weintraub' a story of dancing clergy.

Lincoln, Stanley Downing remembered, he ran home to the sound of pealing bells, past the cathedral. “Two of the Cathedral dignitaries – one with a long white beard and both in cassocks, gowns and mortarboards – met in the middle of the Cathedral lawn, joined hands and performed a little jig of jubilation. In those days the Cathedral clergy were almost as stately as God Himself and the sight of those two elderly dancers is my strongest memory of the day. Knees up, Knees, don’t let the breeze up.”"

Fourthly a soldiers  account of 11th November 1918 from Private Verdi George Schwinghammer,  No. 2639, 42nd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force.

“We could tell by the news in the papers that the war was practically over although we, the Third Division, were told to hold ourselves in readiness to proceed to the line again - the 1st, 4th and 5th Divisions already being on their way to the line.

Monday, 11th November, 1918, the day the Armistice was signed, we marched to Alleray for a hot steam bath and on passing through Airanes found all the houses decorated with tricolours and the church bells pealing and the Frenchies running about like madmen. We wondered what was wrong and halted in the main street for a rest. The Captain then told us that he had interviewed the Mayor who had received a telegram saying that the armistice was to be signed at 11 a.m. that morning - it was then 10 a.m. We gave three cheers and could scarcely realize that the war was over.

When we returned to Warlus, the news that the war was over had reached there and the town was decorated, etc. Next day we had a holiday from drills to celebrate peace. The bells of the old French church chimed night and day for several days. Most of us attended the Victory Thanksgiving Mass at the Roman Catholic Church.

Some of the men broke camp and went to the neighboring cities - some got as far as
Paris. Many were pinched and put in the clink (gaol) as they had no leave passes - others were caught and sent back to the Battalion.

And lastly, a great story of an encounter on a train to Yorkshire between a lady from the Women’s Land Army and an Australian soldier,

"Elinor Pike had changed trains at
Sheffield, travelling from one farm to another as part of the Women’s Land Army. In her compartment was an Australian soldier, as she assumed from his bush hat. As the train sat in its siding, the soldier asked her about her uniform and confided that his sweetheart in Mildura was going to marry him as soon as the war was over.

Then it was over.

The railway carriage throbbed with the sounds of hooters and bells. “We both jumped up,” she recalled, “and shook hands very solemnly, vowing that we would remember that day, even though it was a very chance encounter.”

The train went on through
Yorkshire and eventually they alighted in gentle rain. As they began to move shyly apart, the soldier turned to ask if she would mind giving him her name and address. “When I am married, if my wife has a daughter, I hope she will allow her to have your name.” Although embarrassed by the suggestion, Elinor agreed “and watched him a s he laboriously wrote with a pencil stump on a small piece of paper as we stood on the cold damp platform.”

A few years later she was astonished to receive a letter from
Australia announcing the birth of her namesake, christened in advance on Armistice Day 1918."

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