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Remembrance: An assembly for Armistice Day (11 November)

To consider the meaning of Armistice Day.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To consider the meaning of Armistice Day.

Preparation and materials

  • Download images of the Flanders battlefields and of the war cemeteries (Google has some excellent images).
  • For the reflection, you will need some poppies and a candle.

Assembly

  1. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the First World War ended in Europe. It was then that the Armistice, the agreement to cease hostilities, was signed, and four years of total war, centred on the trenches in Belgium and northern France, came to an end. Ever since, this day has been called Armistice Day.

    The First World War had been characterized by enormous numbers of casualties, a result of the combination of traditional battle tactics and advanced new technology. Huge numbers of men were killed in attacks which achieved little. Hours of bitter fighting would bring about a gain of a few miles of territory, only for it to be lost in a counter-attack.

    The German ceasefire was ultimately not caused by a brilliant military victory but simply through attrition: the German army was running out of men and materials.
  2. The news of the impending end of the war was given to the soldiers early in the morning of 11 November but, even so, war continued until the signing at 11 o’clock. On the final day, 2,738 soldiers were killed. And many of these deaths were caused by truly appalling decisions.

    Allied forces continued to shell German positions so that the Allies wouldn’t have to haul their heavy ammunition back with them.

    Henry Gunther, an American soldier, charged a German position at 10.59, surprising the soldiers, who knew that peace was one minute away. The Germans tried to warn him, but were forced to return fire, fearing for their lives. Gunther had been demoted for trying to persuade a friend not to enlist, and this had preyed on his mind. His friends recalled that he had wanted to ‘make good before his officers and fellow soldiers’.

    The final casualty of the war took place after the Armistice signing. Lieutenant Tomas, a German officer, walked towards some American troops to inform them that his men would be vacating houses they had been billeted in. The Americans had not been informed about the ceasefire and they shot him.
  3. The details of the peace were hammered out at various treaty congresses in the months following the Armistice. Historians are widely agreed that the harsh terms dealt out to the defeated nations, particularly Germany, contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War. The desire for revenge is understandable in those who had fought under appalling conditions or suffered severe shortages and tragedy. The determination to remove the power of the defeated nations is also understandable. But the punitive peace terms were a major cause of an even more terrible war to follow.
  4. Although 11 November is widely celebrated as the end of the First World War, conflict continued, particularly in Russia. A terrible civil war was fought between the new Communist rulers and the old elite. This war was to drag on until 1921, and led to the rise to power of one of history’s most brutal dictators, Stalin.
  5. For these reasons, the Armistice should be celebrated for what it is – an end to a dreadful war. It does not stand for the triumph of good or a moral victory. Rather, it is a testament to the sufferings of those affected by war, and to the great value of peace.
 

Time for reflection

Light a candle, place it by some poppies and hold a two-minute silence in the traditional way to honour the dead of the wars since 1914.

Music

‘O God our help in ages past’ (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 366)
‘For the healing of the nations’ (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 139)
Or listen to Elgar’s Enigma Variations (widely available to download)

Publication date: November 2012   (Vol.14 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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