Today is November 11th – Remembrance Day. It’s the 98th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War — the war that was supposed to end all wars. It is also the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The first world war — what people of the time called The Great War, not realising there would be another, just a couple of decades hence — was fought at huge human cost. The cemeteries on the Western Front and elsewhere bear witness to the awful loss of life, and many more carried physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives.

Many served, suffered and died in that war, and in all of the wars that followed, in which Australian service personnel fought.

“On 10 November 1918, thousands of Australians, men of the First and Fourth Divisions, First Australian Imperial Force, were plodding wearily along the roads near Le Cateau, France. They were to relieve the British 32nd and 66th Divisions in the front line. Two months previously, these same Australians had fought their way across the Somme in some of the most fierce battles of the war. They did not, however, go into action again.

“At 11.00 am on 11 November 1918 the guns fell silent as hostilities ceased on the Western Front, ending four years of death and destruction. Earlier that day, at 5.00 am, the Germans signed an armistice in a railway carriage at Compiègne. In the following year, the Treaty of Versailles made the cease-fire permanent.

“People celebrated across the world. Others reflected with great sadness the extraordinary losses and suffering from many nations. More than 60,000 Australians had been killed. More than 45,000 died on the Western Front in France and Belgium and over 8,000 on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. Over 416,000 Australians volunteered for service in World War I, of which 324,000 served overseas.

“In Australia and in those countries with whom Australia was allied between 1914 and 1918, 11 November subsequently became known as Armistice Day. It was a day on which to remember those who died in the Great War.

“After the end of World War II, the Australian and British governments changed the name to Remembrance Day. Armistice Day was no longer an appropriate title for a day which would commemorate all war dead.”

Source: Returned and Services League of Australia

Since then, Australians have served in many campaigns in many theatres across the world, including Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Iraq, East Timor and Afghanistan, as well as in many peacekeeping roles in our region and around the globe.

Remembrance Day has been observed since 1919 – the first anniversary of the armistice that ended the Great War.

At 11:00 am on the 11th November each year, we stop to remember those who served, suffered and died in the service of our country and her allies in all wars and war-like conflicts.

“The Flanders poppy has long been a part of Remembrance Day, the ritual that marks the Armistice of 11 November 1918, and is also increasingly being used as part of ANZAC Day observances. During the First World War, red poppies were among the first plants to spring up in the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium. In soldiers’ folklore, the vivid red of the poppy came from the blood of their comrades soaking the ground.

“The sight of poppies on the battlefield at Ypres in 1915 moved Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to write the poem In Flanders. In English literature of the nineteenth century, poppies had symbolised sleep or a state of oblivion; in the literature of the First World War a new, more powerful symbolism was attached to the poppy – the sacrifice of shed blood.” 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark o
ur 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
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872–1918)

Source: Australian War Memorial

A few years ago I had the solemn privilege of visiting some of the battlefields and countless war cemeteries of the Western Front. The scale of devastation and sheer number of those who perished – many without known graves and whose names adorn the Menin Gate at Ypres – is staggering. Fittingly, Flanders poppies still grow in the fields and along the roadsides of the Western Front – a poignant reminder.

Many more have served, suffered and died in our name and in our service in the conflicts since, most recently in Afghanistan, including 41 who did not return.

I will be observing one minute’s silence at 11:00 am today; it is a personal choice, but you may wish to consider doing the same. Many ex-service associations and war memorials will also be holding Remembrance Day ceremonies around Australia and internationally. And veterans’ organisations will be selling poppies to raise funds. They can use your support.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Lest We Forget

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