Armistice Day



I always knew that the war ended in 1918 (on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month), but not until this year did I understand that Armistice meant that the warring parties just agreed to cease fire.  All fighting stops.  But conspicuously missing are the hands raised in surrender.  It is a peace without victory.

Think of a well-matched neighborhood snowball fight.  Each side has fortifications, supplies of snowballs; both sides are getting pummeled but they are both holding their ground.  Then it starts drizzling.  And it gets dark.  Fingers are numb.  No one wants to surrender but everyone wants to stop.  “What’s the point, anyway?”  is the question going through each child’s head.  They agree to stop fighting and go home.  They negotiate an armistice.  

The tide had turned in what has been called a war of exhaustion, and Germany was about to be beaten.  Since the Allies had not yet moved into German territory, the Germans sued for peace before they were forced to surrender.  Both sides fought, shooting cannons, using up their ammunition, until the minute the Armistice went into effect.  Isn’t that crazy?  Hundreds died utterly senseless deaths.  Of course, one could say that about the 9 million that died in the Great War.

Lieutenant Harry G. Rennagel, 101st Infantry wrote:

“Nothing so electrical in effect as the sudden stop that came at 11 a.m. has ever occurred to me.  It was 10:60 precisely and-the roar stopped like a motor car hitting a wall.  The resulting quiet was uncanny in comparison.  From somewhere far below ground, Germans began to appear.  They clambered to parapets and began to shout wildly.  They threw their rifles, hats, bandoliers, bayonets, and trench knives toward us.  They began to sing.  Came one bewhiskered Hun with a concertina and he began goose stepping along the parapet followed in close file by fifty others-all goose stepping…We kept the boys under restraint as long as we could.  Finally the strain was too great.  A big Yank camed Carter ran out into No Man’s Land and planted the Stars and Stripes on a signal pole in the lip of a shell hole.  Keasby, a bugler, got out in front and began playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a German trumpet he’d found in Thiaucourt.  And they sang–Gee, how they sang!”

U.S. 64th Regiment celebrates on November 11, 1918

Beverly Cleary gives the view from Oregon on this morning, ninety years ago, in A Girl from Yamhill

“The morning is chilly.  Mother and I wear sweaters as I follow her around the big old house.  Suddenly bells begin to ring, the bells of Yamhill’s three churches, and the fire bell.  Mother seizes my hand and begins to run, out of the house, down the steps, across the muddy barnyard toward the barn where my father is working.  My short legs, cannot keep up.  I trip, stumble, and fall, tearing holes in the knees of my long brown cotton stocking, skinning my knees.

“You must never, never forget this day as long as you live,” Mother tells me as Father comes running out of the barn to meet us.

Year later, I asked Mother what was so important about that day when all the bells in Yamhill rang, the day I was never to forget.  She looked at me in astonishment and said, “Why, that was the end of the First World War.” I was two years old at the time.”   

from the Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle

(Other posts I’ve written about WWI) 

(An absorbing group of articles on The First World War at The Guardian – thank you dear Laurie)

We began studying The Great War this summer, knowing that we would study the 20th century this year in school.  I never expected it to grab me like it did.  I’ve read a dozen or more books, seen a dozen films, discovered poets and artists, and talked my family to death.  In my mind, I’ve made this day, Armistice Day, the official cut-off of our study of WWI.  The Great War is over.  We have 80 more years of 20th century to cover.  WWII – oh. joy. 


15 thoughts on “Armistice Day

  1. Just back from a lunchtime drive through our new national cemetery.  I just spent a little time contemplating the sacrifices others had made, so that I can continue to enjoy *freedom*It would make quite an aerobic walk as there are steep hills throughout, which also make for beautiful Fall-foliage vistas.

  2. Such a sad yet fascinating time in history, I wonder why we didn’t learn better? We learned, but the things we learned may not have been peaceful things. Sloppy. wet. rainy and snowy here today, thankfully (More thankfulness!) I am not in a fox hole!

  3. That quote from A Girl from Yamhill made me cry, reading it again.If you are looking for a good book about the experience of WWII (not the politics or history), then I highly recommend Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. The mini-series is very good, too – one of my husband’s favorites – but comes with the violence and language expected in a war movie. Brilliantly written and acted, though.Carrie

  4. I know your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek, Hope, but in this context sue = petition.  It is related to the word pursue.  I find it interesting that both sue and pursue can mean to court, as in courting a lady.  Can you imagine”“Johnny wants to sue Melinda.”“Really?  Do you think they’ll get married?”

  5. You know the shame of it is. I didn’t know any of this and the chills are still running down my spine, the tears are still just on the surface. I know traveling throughout the UK there are tributes and shrines everywhere. You had to have a red poppy to wear (I know that came from the field of Flanders) Ed was in London on this day several years ago and the bells were ringing all at once, all over London, the old vets in their uniforms walking the streets greeted passers by. He called me in the middle of it all, he was so astounded.  This post was totally eye opening to me. Thank you for pricking my interest and breaking my heart at the same time.

  6. I remember reading a story about a German woman who took in German and American soldiers on one Christmas during WWI, a sort of casefire for the day, and this reminded me of your post. I had read about this before, but not to the degree you’ve put into this. Thanks!

  7. I cannot believe that you have closed WW I without first reading “Journey’s end” (or reading it and having nothing to say about). Ok. It’s up to you. Go into WW II with that miss. What a miss!

  8. @Alfonso – Alfonso, I can’t bear it.  I’m getting the book from the library and reading Journey’s End this week.  The play is 96 pages.  I can put the Bolshevik revolution on hold.  Missing Journey’s End was an oversight on my part.  It is in our public library, but I lost the slip of paper with the call number on it.  Thank you for the reminder.  I do appreciate it.  And I will report back to you!@sonskyn –  Thank you SO MUCH for the link.  I am dumbstruck!   112, 110, and 108!  These men seem like friends to me, because one of the documentary’s we watched, made in the 1990s, had extensive interviews with them.  I particularly remember Harry Patch and can hear his voice in my head as I type this. 

  9. And may God give you strength and wisdom as you continue through the 20th century, with all its horrors.  I hadn’t the strength to introduce it to my young ones last year, so we re-cycled to Ancient History.For WWII, if you haven’t already, you might watch the Italian (with subtitles) film “Life Is Beautiful”.

  10. @R1R2ish – Ruthie, Collin is 17, so it is a bit different.  I do remember the first time one of my sons understood the holocaust and the horror and pain etched on his face. I  love “Life is Beautiful” and prefer it in Italian with subtitles.  (I’ve seen it dubbed too.)Yep, the 20th century is filled with some of the most wicked leaders ever.

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