Sunday is the centennial of Armistice Day, the day the First World War ended. The guns along the Western Front fell silent at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918.
Here, in the United States, we observe Veterans’ Day, and the historical origins of this day are lost in time for many. There are no living veterans of the Great War to remind us of the sacrifices made, and the momentous events of the Second World War overshadow memories of the earlier war.
My paternal grandfather served in the First World War, survived a mustard gas attack, and returned home to Philadelphia to start a family. I never met him, he died during the Second World War, but I have a photograph and his trench diary that recounts his service. From that tiny piece of family history grew a life-long fascination with “the war to end all wars.”
For the past few years I’ve been working on a novel about the Great War, and my admiration for the men and women who served grows with every journal, every news account, every memoir I read.
In Great Britain, Armistice Day is also known as Remembrance Day or sometimes Poppy Day, and there is a two-minute moment of silence observed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in memory of the dead from the First World War and of more recent conflicts.
On this centenary, I propose we do the same to honor both the fallen and those who returned home from war, some wounded in body, some in spirit.
I leave you with this most famous of war poems, composed by a Canadian poet and soldier, John McCrae, on 3 May 1915 at the battlefield of the Second Battle of Ypres.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow