Saturday, November 11, 2006

the eleventh hour

Oops, I totally failed to notice what day it is today until now, though perhaps one should question the imposition of a day of mourning when the negotiators postponed the declaration of the peace until the symbolic moment of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and people were still getting killed right up until the last few minutes of the war. Wilfred Owen, for instance, was killed on 4 November 1918. News of his death reached his mother just as the town's church bells were ringing to announce the peace. Canadian George Lawrence Price is traditionally regarded as the last soldier killed in the Great War: he was shot by a German sniper and died at 10:58. So, in keeping 11 November as the day of remembrance, we are commemorating the fact that some idiot killed a considerable number of men (on both sides) who might otherwise have survived this tragic and pointless conflict.
The armistice was signed at 5.05 in the morning and the message was sent out from Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig's headquarters at 6.50. It read: 'Hostilities will cease at 11.00 hours today, November 11th. Troops will stand fast on the line reached'. (
Allied Powers:
Military dead:
Military wounded: 12,831,000
Military missing: 4,121,000
Central Powers:
Military dead:
Military wounded: 8,388,000
Military missing: 3,629,000
(from Wikipedia)
And those that were left, well, we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire.
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher.
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead --
Never knew there was worse things than dying.

For I'll go no more "Waltzing Matilda,"
All around the green bush far and free --
To hump tents and pegs, a man needs both legs,
No more "Waltzing Matilda" for me.

So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay,
I looked at the place where me legs used to be,
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me,
To grieve, to mourn and to pity.

-- from The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, by Eric Bogle

a field of poppies


emile said...

Putting symbolism (11/11/11) ahead of concern for human lives is something we didn't leave behind us in 1918. In fact the original 'lest we forget' would seem to have been in regard to the horrors and stupidity of war, while the modern 'lest we forget' is, in countries like Canada, increasingly focused on heroism and nationalistic loyalty and sacrifice. e.g. see Re-Thinking Remembrance Day at

Yvonne said...

I walked past a war memorial and read the list of names, and was then offended to see the inscription "Our Glorious Dead". I bet they'd rather have been alive than glorious.