Armistice Day: 11 November
‘We will remember them’
by Revd Alan M. Barker (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To consider the significance of Armistice Day, particularly with 2018 marking the centenary of the end of the First World War.
Preparation and materials
- Note: please be sensitive to students whose families serve in the armed forces or who have been recently affected by the issue of war.
- It may be helpful to display the words ‘Armistice Day’ and the Latin words from which the word ‘armistice’ is derived: arma (weapons) and sistere (to stop).
- Have available the short poem ‘The cherry trees’ by Edward Thomas. A copy is available at: https://tinyurl.com/yc2any6l
- This assembly could be used on or prior to 11 November in preparation for the observance of two minutes’ silence.
- Remind the students that 11 November is often referred to as Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day.
Explain that the word ‘armistice’ comes from two Latin words: arma (weapons) and sistere (to stop). An armistice is a truce, an agreement to stop fighting.
- The eleventh day of November is known as Armistice Day because this was the day, in 1918, when the First World War ended. It was agreed that the fighting should stop on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
- The First World War started in 1914. In a little over four years, 20 million people had died and over 20 million had been injured. Such was the loss of life that in almost every village and town, many men never returned from the fighting.
- This tragedy is reflected in a short poem called ‘The cherry trees’ by Edward Thomas.
Read the poem and invite the students to respond.
Thomas was one of those eventually killed in the war. In this poem, he imagines the lovely sight of springtime blossom scattered along a country road. The fallen petals look like wedding confetti. However, a feeling of sadness dims the joy of spring. This is the road along which men had marched as they left to fight in France, and now they have been lost. One of the consequences of the First World War was that large numbers of women were unable to marry because so many men had died.
- In 1919, King George V asked that people should remember and honour all those who had died in the service of their country. Two minutes’ silence was held at 11 o’clock on 11 November. A year after the war ended, it was not gunfire, but busy streets and traffic that stood still on Armistice Day.
- Today, almost 100 years later, Armistice Day continues to be a time to remember those who have died in war.
Sadly, the First World War was not the ‘war to end all wars’ as some people had described it. On this anniversary, we also remember all of the people who have died in wars since 1918, including the Second World War and continuing conflicts throughout the world.
- Outline how the two minutes’ silence will be observed in school.
It will be a time for everyone to stand still. What will members of the school community feel and think during that time? Suggest that they may experience various thoughts and emotions.
– The sadness and sorrow that war brings.
– Gratitude for the work of those who serve in the armed forces.
– A feeling of pride and of belonging.
– A strong sense of the need to work and pray for peace.
- Church schools may wish to refer to a verse from Psalm 46.10: ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Being and standing still can help us to think about things that are important.
Time for reflection
A time of silence could be introduced by a reading of ‘The cherry trees’ or by saying simply: ‘Let us be still and remember.’
Conclude the time of silence with the traditional words from Laurence Binyon’s poem, ‘For the fallen’:
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.
(All affirm) We will remember them.
You may wish to use the Prayer for Peace, which was announced by Mother Teresa in 1981. Her intention was for the prayer to be used around the world, with people praying for peace at noon every day.
Lead me from death to life,
From falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope,
From fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love,
From war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart, our world, our universe.
You may wish to play a range of songs that were popular during the First World War. Examples are available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsynSgeo_Uo
‘The prayer of St Francis (Make me a channel of your peace)’, (Come and Praise, 147)