The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 11 No 2 - December 1998

11 NOVEMBER 1998
The eightieth anniversary of Armistice Day

by Paul Kilmartin


For the Fallen, Verse 4, Lawrence Binyon


Eleven o'clock on the morning of Wednesday 11 November 1998 marked the 80th anniversary of the end of the First World War (or, as it was known at the time, the Great War of 1914-1918). The official time of the commencement of the Armistice has been marked as the 'Hour of Remembrance' by all nations who fought on the Allied side. More recently the level of commitment to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month has been stronger and more intense than at any time since 1919 and the early 1920s.

In recent years, the Durban Brauch of the South African Military History Society has held a joint ceremony with the MOTHs (the Memorable Order of the Tin Hats) to mark Armistice Day. The Chairman of the Society's Durban Branch, Paul Kilmartin, has given a talk on the history of Armistice Day in the time immediately prior to the 'Two Minute Silence' at 11.00. This article is a lengthened version of his talk on 11 November 1995, when the Society and the MOTHs jointly remembered those who have died in all military conflict, with particular reference to the events of eighty years ago on that day.

Armistice, 1918

On 25 October 1918, the four senior Allied army commanders(1) were invited to attend a conference at Senlis, in France, the Army Headquarters of Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Commander in-Chief of the Allied Forces on the Western Front(2). The purpose of the meeting was to agree to an army position in response to the punitive reparations which politicians from all Allied countries wished to impose on Germany when that country agreed to unconditional surrender following final defeat on the battlefields of the Western Front.

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, had already made his views known at a meeting in London on 10 October 1918, when he reminded the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and his cabinet that 'the British attack of the 17th instant met with considerable opposition and that the enemy is not ready for unconditional surrender'(3) He went further at the Senlis meeting by stating that 'the enemy might not accept the terms being proposed - and it would be very costly and take a long time - perhaps two years - to enforce them, unless the internal state of Germany compels the enemy to accept them'.(4) A further two years of conflict would have extended the Great War to the end of 1920. However, what Field Marshal Haig did not know (although he had hinted at the possibility), and what the German army (which had just been so complimented by Haig) did not know, was that political upheaval and unrest inside Germany was about to cause the immediate and total capitulation of this once great, proud and powerfully disciplined country. It was a defeat from within, by its own people, that was more comprehensive and had a greater impact on both Germany as a country and Europe as a continent than any German military defeat on the Western Front could have achieved. Just two weeks after the Allied army conference, delegates of the French, British and German armies met to agree to terms for the surrender of the German army. On 7 November 1918, the German delegation had gathered at Spa, ironically the town where Kaiser Wilhelm II had his home.(5) They were a party of politicians with Major-General von Winterfeldt (by fate it was his father who had negotiated the French surrender in 1871) as the single military representative.(6) The delegation was led by Matthias Erzberger, the leader of the German Centre Party,(7) who, much later, was assassinated on 26 August 1921 by German nationalists for his part in agreeing to the terms of the Armistice.

The delegates arrived in the Forest of Compiegne early on 9 November 1918.(9) Earlier in the war, a parallel set of railway lines had been laid down as spurs to the main line from Rethondes to provide a flexible base for heavy artillery to fire into the town of Noyon.(10) These would now accommodate two railway carriages - one for the German delegation and the other for the Allies - that were to be used for the final armistice negotiations. The negotiations started as soon as the Germans arrived and continued, without interruption, until the agreed armistice terms were documented and signed off by each delegation. This was achieved by 0510, French time, on the morning of 11 November 1918.

The signed document was passed to Marshal Foch, who studied it, gave his final approval and then sent the following telegram to his army commanders at 06.50: 'Hostilities will cease on the entire front on November 11th at 11.00am, French time.'(12) Similar telegrams were sent by the German delegation to the army commanders of the German army.

The English poet, Thomas Hardy, wrote a poem to mark the signing of the Armistice. In it, he summed up most people's feelings about the war, from the time of the outbreak of the war until the present day, and particularly on Armistice Day, by emphasising a single word. A verse is quoted below:(13)

It was perhaps the synergy of the three elevens (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month) that caught the imagination of people from the participating countries around the world. That moment of Armistice in 1918 became the moment of Remembrance annually thereafter, as the anniversary of Armistice Day was marked with a two minute silence at precisely 11.00.

This tradition of remembrance (as opposed to celebration) was the first to follow any war and began on the first anniversary of the end of the Great War, at 11.00 on the morning of 11 November 1919. Although the first ceremonial and the first Two Minute Silence did take place on that day, there is substantial historical evidence to prove that the British Government had made no plans for any kind of ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the Armistice until, literally, the very last few days.(14) In London, in early 1919, a temporary structure (identical to the present day Cenotaph) was erected in Whitehall. It was completed in time for the Peace Day celebrations (which included a march through London) held on 19 July 1919, almost four months before the first anniversary of Armistice Day.(15) The date was the earliest possible after the final signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919 - the treaty that ended the war between the Allies and Germany.(16) The word 'cenotaph' is Greek for 'empty tomb' and, in July 1919, as though to emphasise the importance of the day, the structure at Whitehall was already being called the 'Peace Day Cenotaph'. As late as 15 October 1919, Sir Alfred Mond, who as Head of the Board of Trade was responsible for the Cenotaph, made a revealing written comment. The author quotes two extracts from his memorandum:(17)
'I consider the placing of flowers, memorial wreaths etc. at all times on the Cenotaph should be discountenanced,'
'I suggest that permission to lay floral tributes be restricted to one, or perhaps two, days per year - say 19 July, the date of the Peace Procession, and some other day such as Easter Monday.'

Thus, less than one month before the first anniversary of the Armistice, 11 November was not even being considered as an appropriate date for the laying of wreaths or even for an official ceremony. Instead, the arbitrary date of 19 July was being considered as an appropriate date to mark the end of the Great War.

The Two Minute Silence

From many parts of the world, numerous ordinary people had suggested a range of memorial silences, ranging from a daily three minute silence down to an annual one minute silence. It is now accepted that the driving force behind making 11 November the appropriate date for an annual commemoration for the dead of the Great War came from a South African.(18) Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, whose son, Major Nugent Fitzpatrick, was killed at Beaumetz in France on 14 December 1917,(19) was a distinguished South African statesman and author.(20) He had served as the British High Commissioner to South Africa during the Great War. At the beginning of November 1919, he wrote to Lord Milner, asking that his memorandum be considered by the British War Cabinet, which was still in session one year after the end of the War. He wrote:(21)
'In the hearts of the people there is a real desire to find some lasting expression of their feeling for those who gave their lives in the War. They want something done now while the memories of sacrifice are in the minds of all; for there is the dread - too well grounded in experience - that those who have gone will not always be first in the thoughts of all, and that when the fruits of their sacrifice become our daily bread, there will be few occasions to remind us of what we realise so clearly today.'

Fitzpatrick went on to mention that during the War the residents of Cape Town had observed what they called the 'Three Minute Pause', which was initiated daily at noon by the firing of the gun on Signal Hill. Eighty-two years later, that gun on Signal Hill is still fired every day at noon. Describing those three minutes, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick's memorandum continued:
'Silence: complete and arresting, closed upon the city - the moving and awe-inspiring silence of a great Cathedral, where the smallest sound must seem a sacrilege. Only those who have felt it, can understand the overmastering effect in action and in re-action of a multitude, moved suddenly to one thought and one purpose.'

Fitzpatrick was equally clear of the purpose of his recommendation for an annual two minute silence on Armistice Day, 11 November. He wrote:
'It is not [in] mourning, but in greeting, that we should salute them on that day. When we are divided, it may serve to remind us of the greater things we hold in common. When we are gone, it may help to bring home to those who come after us the meaning, the nobility and the unselfishness of the great sacrifice by which their freedom was assured.'

He was equally clear for whom the proposed Two Minute Silence was intended:
'It is due to the women, who have lost and suffered and borne so much, with whom the thought is ever present.
It is due to the children that they know to whom they owe their dear fought freedom.
It is due to the men, and from them, as men.
But far and away, above all else, it is due to those who gave their all, sought no recompense, and with whom we can never re-pay - our Glorious and Immortal Dead.'

For once, Government red-tape and officialdom did not intervene. Sir Percy Fitzpatrick's memorandum was received by Lord Milner on 4 November 1919, reviewed and accepted by the War Cabinet on 5 November, subject to the approval of King George V. His approval was immediate and, on 7 November 1919, the press printed a statement from the King, as a personal request, in all the daily newspapers.(22) The King's request read:(23)
Tuesday next, 11 November, is the first anniversary of the Armistice, which stayed the worldwide carnage of the four preceding years and the victory of Right and Freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the meaning of the Great Deliverance, and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.

To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of their feeling, it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice comes into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for a brief space of two minutes, a complete suspension of all our normal activities.'

And so there was, and eighty years later those two minutes are still observed. This marked the beginning of a tradition.

The Unknown Soldier

If 1919 was the first year of tho Two Minute Silence, 1920 saw another important development to this tradition. On 21 May 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission (known since March 1960 as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) had been founded under Royal Charter.(24) The commission was created due to the dedication, perseverance and vision of one man - Major General Sir Fabian Ware, who at the outbreak of the Great War was 45 years old and had had a previously successful career as an educational administrator in South Africa. Two historians wrote of him:(25)
'There are many human beings who have made their mark in history, but none other has left such a profound and lasting memorial to mankind's sacrifice on behalf of democracy as has this remarkable Englishman.'

Maj-Gen Ware was appointed as the first Vice Chairman and given executive control of the commission. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, was appointed as the first figurehead Chairman. By the end of the war, one of Maj-Gen Ware's senior colleagues was Lt-Col Henry Williams (who died as recently as October 1993 at the age of 96).(26) Lt-Col Williams had fought at Neuve Chapelle, in the Somme area and at Ypres, where he was wounded and gassed. At the end of the war, as a member of the War Graves Commission, he was put in charge of a team of 5 000 volunteers to exhume, identify where possible, and then re-bury bodies.(27)
Together, Maj-Gen Ware and Lt-Col Williams came up with the idea of exhuming an unidentified soldier from the battlefields of the Western Front for reburial at Westminster Abbey as the Unknown Soldier.(28) The Unknown Soldier would serve as an ambassador of the dead to the living, and would provide a focal point for all the relatives and friends of military personnel who had died during the war but had no known grave. However, there are also references which suggest that the idea originated from the Dean of Westminster Abbey at the time, the Very Reverend Herbert Ryle, based on a letter which he had received from the then Vicar of Margate, the Reverend David Railton, who had served as an army chaplain during the Great War.(29) Whether the idea came from military or religious inspiration remains a moot point.
Six unknown bodies were chosen at random and exhumed from the main battlefields of France and Belgium - Ypres, the Somme, Cambrai, the Aisne, the Marne and Arras - and, again at random, one of these was chosen as the official Unknown Soldier. The body was brought across the English Channel by the French destroyer Verdun and, at 11.00 on 11 November 1920, two years to the day and hour since the end of the war, the funeral and burial of the Unknown Soldier took place at Westminster Abbey.(30)
En route to the abbey, the procession stopped at the newly-built Cenotaph for its official opening by King George V. The King, walking behind the coffin, then escorted the remains of the Unknown Soldier to his last resting place. As the procession entered Westminster Abbey, it passed through a Guard of Valour lining the nave, formed entirely by recipients of the Victoria Cross. After a simple ceremony the body was buried at the Great West Door, using earth brought from the Western Front. The grave was covered with a single piece of Tournai marble, engraved with the words 'An Unknown Warrior'.(31) On the same day and at the same hour, the French Unknown Soldier was brought to the Arc de Triomphe with what the historian Martin Gilbert has described as 'equal ceremonial'.(32)
Many years after the event, the English poet, W H Auden, wrote a poem entitled 'Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier'. In it he asks the pertinent question:(33)

Thus, on 11 November 1920 the focal points for the Armistice Day parades in Britain and France were formally decreed. In Britain, this was the Cenotaph, especially designed and built for the purpose, whilst in France it was the Arc de Triomphe, a monument built a hundred years earlier to commemorate the victories of Napoleon. They remain the focal points for Remembrance in both countries to this day.

Formation of the British Legion

From the end of the War until early 1921 a number of ex-servicemen's associations were founded in Britain, and in all countries that had fought on the Allied side. The purpose of these organizations was to promote the interests of ex-members of the armed services and they represented a wide range of regional, regimental and rank groupings, amongst others. When asked to support the Ex-Officers' Assocciation, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig refused and counselled strongly against it with his words 'Whatever we do must be towards, not against, unity' Haig was determined to form a single and more powerful association which, again to quote his own words, would '... include all who served in His Majesty's service, regardless of their rank and present position.'(34)

Although his concept was not popular at first, Haig was nevertheless able to force it through and in June 1921 the British Legion (later renamed the Royal British Legion) was formed. Haig was the legion's first Grand President.(35) Having succeeded with his idea in Britain, Haig travelled to South Africa later that year and brought about a similar amalgamation of four South African ex-servicemen's associations with the formation of the British Empire Ex-Services League (later renamed the British Commonwealth Ex-Services League).(36)

In 1925, Haig travelled to Canada, where he successfully merged fourteen Canadian associations into the new league. Sadly, he died before he could make his planned trips to Australia and New Zealand for the same purpose.(37) The Memorable Order of the Tin Hats (MOTH) was founded during this time, on 7 May 1927.(38) In 1996, the 75th anniversary of the British Empire Ex-Services League was celebrated with a conference in its founding city, Cape Town.(39) The conference was attended by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, only the fifth Grand President in the long history of the league,(40) and by President Nelson Mandela. The Royal British Legion, with branches in most parts of the world (including South Africa), is a member organization of the British Commonwealth Ex-Services League.(41)

The red poppy

One of Haig's first decisions, after the formation of the British Legion, was to select a symbol of remembrance and to decide on how best to raise funds to meet the requirements of those members and their families who needed financial assistance as a result of their suffering during the Great War. Owing to the peculiar sight of bright red poppies growing in profusion on the destroyed battlefields of Europe (not only in the Great War) and the great success of the poem, 'In Flanders Fields', by Lt-Col John McCrae, the red poppy became the natural choice. It remains as vivid and as distinguishable a symbol today as when it was first worn in the early 1920s.(42)

The main challenge for the British Legion was how to convert their new symbol into a fund-raising effort. Then unexpectedly in August 1921 a Mme Guerin, who organised the production of artificial poppies in France, wrote to Col Crosfield of the British Legion, offering to supply 1,5 million poppies for sale on 11 November 1921.(43) Despite their initial scepticism, the British Legion accepted the offer and raised the substantial sum (for the time) of 106 000.(44) The most successful and most respected charity appeal in Britain, and later around the world, had been born. Seven years later, in 1928, the annual sum raised with the poppy appeal had risen five-fold to 503 000.(45)

In 1922, the British Legion opened its own factory for the manufacture of artificial poppies and so was able to offer employment to severely disabled veterans of the war.(46) A British Legion factory remains in operation to this day.(47)

The Remembrance debate

The infrastructure of Remembrance was in place, not only in Britain but throughout the Empire and in all Allied countries, including France and the USA. The Armistice anniversary on 11 November, the Two Minute Silence, the poppy, the fund-raising process, the British Legion, and the British Empire Ex-Services League were all in place. Field Marshal Haig's request for 'whatever we do must be towards, not against unity' had almost been achieved. The word almost is used here, as in the years 1919-1925, Armistice Day generated an increasingly heated argument which divided the people of Britain into two polarised camps. This dispute centred around whether Armistice Day should be regarded solely as a solemn remembrance of the dead of the Great War, or whether it should also serve as an occasion for rejoicing over the victorious end to the world's 4 year ordeal.(48)

Both sides received major newspaper publicity. While The Daily Mail ran a campaign supporting only the remembrance aspect, The Daily Express supported the right of all people to remember and then to celebrate the end of the war by attending parties, dinner dances and other festive events on the evening of 11 November.(49) All newspapers wrote articles and printed readers' letters on the issue in the build-up to Armistice Day each year, and those who supported remembrance only, held marches and demonstrations outside hotels and other party venues to express their disapproval.

The debate reached a peak in 1925, when popular opinion moved against the celebration of the end of the Great War and, in particular, against the Victory Ball which was being planned for the Royal Albert Hall on 11 November l925.(50) One veteran, who wrote his autobiography many years later, wrote the following:(51) 'The first Armistice had been a carnival. The second Armistice Day after its solemn pause for the Two Minute Silence... was a day of festivities again. For some years I was one of a group of friends who met every Armistice Day at the Café Royal for no end of a party, until we found ourselves out of key with the new age... Imperceptibly, the Feast Day became a Fast Day and one could hardly go brawling on the Sabbath.'

The change in public opinion was best summed up in a letter that Margot Asquith, the second wife of H H Asquith (the British Prime Minister from before the Great War to the end of 1916) wrote to The Times on 6 November 1925:(52)
'I think in the interests of well wishers, it should be clearly understood that in the future, Armistice Day should be kept as a day of mourning and reflection... I hope that the aftermath of this... will not prevent people attending the balls which, in deference to public opinion, have been postponed from the 11th to the 12th of November.' (Margot Asquith had lost her favourite step-son, Captain Raymond Asquith, during the battle of the Somme in September l916).(53)

The Victory Ball was delayed by a day and replaced by a religious service. This major shift in public opinion was reflected in an editorial in The Daily Express, the main supporter of the commemoration and celebration approach. One year and one day later, on 12 November 1926, the editor wrote:(54)
'The really astonishing feature of Armistice Day this year was its pronounced seriousness. As time passes, the sense of jubilation on this day of memory decreases. There was a marked difference, oven from last year. There were many dances then, and the restaurants and night clubs were full to overflowing. Many people who danced last Armistice Day felt that they could not do so last night.'

This change in the public attitude led to the first British Legion Festival of Remembrance, held in the Royal Albert Hall in 1927.(55) This festival has run annually to the present day, although it now has the variable date of the Saturday before Remembrance Day, the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day. The first festival was historic for another reason - it was the first BBC broadcast made to the whole Empire, enabling all veterans around the world to share, by wireless, the ceremony attended by 10 000 veterans in the heart of London.(56)

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Two Minute Silence was more than might be implied by its name - it was two minutes of silence and non-movement. Visitors to London on 11 November, riding though the city on a Hansom Cab or a bus, would find that even their mode of transport would stop at 11.00. The driver would climb out, the passengers would get off and they would all join the pedestrians and passengers from all other vehicles and stand still and in silence for two minutes. All offices, shops, factories, schools, hospitals, in fact everything and everyone with the rather strange exception of express trains and water transport, came to a standstill for two minutes in remembrance of those who had died during the years of the Great War.

In 1945, the moment of Remembrance was extended to include those who had died in the Second World War. However, the world had changed. It was no longer the slow-moving and laid-back time of the 1920s and it was no longer as easy or even possible for the 'world to stop in its tracks' annually at 11.00 on 11 November. As a result, in June 1946, the British Parliament agreed to the use of the nearest Sunday as Remembrance Sunday.

Eventually, in 1956, to avoid the confusion between Armistice Day on 11 November and Remembrance Sunday (the closest Sunday to Armistice Day, a variable date), the decision was taken to formally move the date of commemoration to 11.00 on the nearest Sunday. With this move away from 11 November and Armistice Day, Remembrance Sunday became Remembrance Day, and the occasion which started in remembrance of those who fell in the Great War was re-designated as a moment to remember all those who have fallen and suffered in all military conflict.

Remembrance Day is held in many parts of the world. In Australia and New Zealand it is known as Anzac Day and the date was changed to 25 April to mark the anniversary day of the Anzac landings on Gallipoli in 1915. In the USA, it is known as Veterans Day. In France, the country with the highest measurable Allied casualties in the Great War, it is still known as Armistice Day.

After the official change of the date of Remembrance in 1956 to the nearest Sunday, the memorial services held on those Sundays went through a difficult phase, particularly in the 1960s. Left-wing priests, with a strong anti-military leaning, tried to convert the Remembrance Day services into 'peace' rallies. Those who had died in the service of their country, instead of being honoured and remembered, were either criticised or ignored. At the same time, some historians spoke out about the futility of war, re-writing history by attempting to convince their readers and listeners that it had not been necessary for countries like Britain and her Allies to participate in the First and Second World Wars, that every life lost had been a needless waste, and that, had Britain and her allies remained neutral, neither war would have happened. Fortunately, the priests and historians of the time lost their momentary support. They were proved wrong by historical fact and rebuked by public opinion.

Present day commemoration

The wheel has turned a full circle. In 1996, as South Africans stood in silence and remembered, they were being matched around the world. In the UK, the weekly Spectator magazine stated on 16 November 1996 that 'The country has been marking Armistice Day. Millions of people bowed their heads in silence as a tribute to the war dead.'(57) The significance here was that the article referred to Armistice Day, a working Monday, and not Remembrance Day, the Sunday.

In the same week, The Economist reported:(58)
'Millions came to a standstill in silent tribute to the nation's dead. It was the first time that the silence commemorating the end of World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, had been held on a working week-day in London since the end of the Second World War. LIFFE, the financial futures market in the City of London and the noisiest trading floor of all stopped trading and all the dealers stood still, in silence, and remembered.'(59) Meanwhile, at the author's daughter's office, a small but busy public relations company in the west end of London, the switchboard had been disconnected temporarily as the staff had stood still, in silence, and in remembrance.(60)

All of this, and much more, happened on Armistice Day in 1996. For the Durban Branch of the Military History Society, that date is remembered as the day that Major Darrell Hall passed away.(61) At the time, his fellow members had said that, had this distinguished soldier and historian been asked to choose a date on which to die, he would almost certainly have chosen 11 November. That he did die on the very day that marked the great resurgence in Britain of remembrance of the millions who had died in armed conflict, and most so very young, adds poignancy to the early end of a life that had so much more to give.

In 1997, the International Daily Telegraph reported on 19 November that forty million had observed the Two Minute Silence at the eleventh hour:(62)
'Much of Britain was at a standstill as an estimated 40 million people observed the Armistice Day two-minute silence. Operations were suspended at airports, railway and bus stations, most radio and television channels, shopping centres, law courts, universities and the Stock Exchange. Many local authorities followed tradition by firing maroons. Officials of the Royal British Legion said an early assessment pointed to at least seven out of ten in the population having taken part, exceeding last year's.'

Eighty years ago - 11 November 1918

It is one of the coincidences of the Great War, that the residents of the Belgian town of Mons only suffered from the impact of fighting in their town at the beginning and at the very end of the war. The British Expeditionary Force began its campaign at Mons on 23 August 1914(63) and the residents of Mons were not to be part of the fighting again until the early morning of 11 November 1918, when the town became the very last to be liberated from German control. Canadian and British forces entered Mons at dawn, and in the cemetery at Mons, where 330 British soldiers who died on 23 August 1914 lie buried, there are also 57 Canadian graves which bear the date of 11 November 1918. Those Canadian soldiers died within the closing hours of the Great War.(64)

Just after 11.00 on 11 November 1918, minutes after the official end of the war, a British officer, Lt J W Muirhead, entered Mons and saw the bodies of three British soldiers, each wearing the medal ribbon of the 1914 Star.(65) Most ironically, those three soldiers may have fought in the opening battle on 23 August 1914. Thus they may have survived four years, two months, and nineteen days of war only to be machine gunned to their deaths during the final four hours and ten minutes between the signing of the Armistice and the official end of the war. They should be remembered along with the 57 Canadians who died at the same time and at the same place.

It is estimated that close to 9,5 million soldiers, sailors and airmen of all sides died in the Great War. Of that figure, the official number of Canadian deaths is given as 60 661. Amongst these was a Private George Price of the 28th North West Battalion, Canadian Infantry, who is remembered today as having been the last allied soldier to die in action during the war.(66)

Just before that final eleventh hour on 11 November 1918, Private Price had been standing in a house at 71 Rue de Mons. He had just received a bouquet of flowers from the residents of the house, who were grateful and happy for their freedom. Holding the bouquet, he had been talking to them when he was suddenly shot dead by a German sniper. He was officially declared to be the last allied soldier killed during the Great War. The time, officially, was 10.58, just two minutes before the end of the war. His death was the classic example of a wasted life, but just one of so many in all wars.

Private Price is buried in the St Symphorien Military Cemetery, due north of Ypres on the road to Dixmude. It is one of the most unusual and historic of all the cemeteries of the Great War, in that it contains both Allied and German graves and, in addition, a memorial, erected by the Germans, which honours 53 members of the Royal Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Expeditionary Forces. Included in the cemetery is the grave of Private Parr of the Middlesex Regiment, who died on the evening of 21 August 1914, when the BEF was preparing its march from Mauberg towards Mons. Private Parr is recognised as the first soldier in the BEF to die in the war. Also buried there is the last member of the British Army to die before the 11.00 deadline on 11 November 1918, Private Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. Lt M J Dease of the 4th Royal Fusiliers is buried in Plot 5, Grave B2, just one row in front of and two graves along from the final resting place of Private Price. Whilst on the bridge at Nimy on the eastern salient of the Mons front on the BEF's first day of battle, 23 August 1914, Lt Dease had won the first VC (and sadly the first posthumous one) of the war.(67)

Perhaps the next time we stand in front of graves of soldiers killed in battle, we should remember these words by an anonymous poet from the Great War:(68)


1. Duff Cooper, Haig, Vol 2 (1st edition, 1934), p 400. The officers present, in addition to Marshal Foch, were: Field Marshal Haig, General Petain, General Weygand and General Pershing.
2 John Terraine, Douglas Haig - The Educated Soldier (1st edition, 1963), p 478.
3. Cooper, Haig, p 395.
4. Cooper, Haig, p 400.
5. Martin Gilbert, First World War (1st edition, 1994), p 494.
6. Gilbert, First World War, p 497.
7. Gilbert, First World War, p 497.
8. Gilbert, First World War, p 530. Erzberger was assassinated by two Nationalists, whilst walking through woods near Baden on 26 August 1921.
9. Gilbert, First World War, p 497.
10. Rose E B Coombs, Before Endeavours Fade (7th edition, 1994), p 166.

11. Coombs, Before Endeavours Fade, p 166. The Armistice was signed on Wagon Lits Company Coach No 2419D. In 1927 this coach was put on show in Compiegne in a special shed with the interior laid out exactly as it had been on 11 November 1918. In 1945 the German SS destroyed the coach at Jonastal in Thoringia, and today a replica is on show in Compiegne.
12. Gilbert, First World War, pp 497, 498, 500
13. Thomas Hardy, Collected Poems (1931).
14. Adrian Gregory, the Silence of Memory (1st edition, 1994), pp 8-11
15. Penelope Curtis, 'The Whitehall Cenotaph - an accidental monument' in the Imperial War Museum Review, Vol 9 (1994), pp 31, 32.
16. Michael L Dockrill & J Douglas Goold, Britain and the Peace Conferences 1919-23 (1st edition 1981). p 80.
17. Public Record Office. PRO CAB 24/OT S335, 15 October 1919.
18. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, p 9
19. Kanthan Pillay, 'Remembering their sacrifice' in the 'Pillay's Perspective Series , The Saturday Paper, 15 November 1998.
20. The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, Vol 2, 1901-50 (3rd edition, 1967), p 150. In addition to initiating the Two Minute Silence on Armistice Day, among many other achievements, Fitzpatrick presented Delville Wood to the nation as a memorial.

21. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, pp 9, 10.
22. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, pp 10, 11.
23. The message was carried by all British newspapers. This example is taken from the Daily Express, 7 November 1919, p1.
24. Gilbert, First World War, pp 325-6.
25. G Kingsley Ward & Major Edwin Gibson, Courage Remembered (2nd edition), Chapter 7, pp 43-8. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is now responsible for maintaining cemeteries and memorials for over 1 750 000 war dead in 140 countries and territories.
26. The Independent (of London), Obituary, 14 October 1993.
27. Gilbert, First World War, p 528.
28. Gilbert, First World War, pp 528-9.
29. Ward & Gibson, Courage Remembered, pp 89, 90.
30. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, pp 24, 25.

31. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, p 25. See also the photograph of the scene in Whitehall, and the crowds around the Cenotaph, after the Peace Day Celebrations on 19 July 1919, in Curtis, 'The Whitehall Cenotaph: an accidental monument' in the Imperial War Museum Review, Vol 9 (1994), p 35.
32. Gilbert, First World War, p 529.
33. W H Auden, Poems (1930).
34. Gerard de Groot, Douglas Haig 1861-1928, (1st edition, 1988), p 403.
35. De Groot, Douglas Haig 1861-1928, p 404.
36. De Groot, Douglas Haig 1861-1928, p 404.
37. Terraine, Douglas Haig - The Educated Soldier, p 403.
38. Charles Evendon, Old soldiers never die (1952).
39. British Commonwealth Ex-Services League, 1996 Annual Report, 75th Anniversary Year Conference, Cape Town.
40. British Commonwealth Ex-Services League, 1996 Annual Report p 3.
The full list of the five grand presidents is as follows.
1921-1928: Field Marshal, The Earl Haig
1927-1936: Admiral of the Fleet, The Earl Jellicoe
1936-1946: Field Marshal, Lord Milne
1946-1974: Admiral of the Fleet, The Earl Mountbatten of Burma
1974- : His Royal Highness, The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

41. The full list of member organisations is printed in the 1996 Annual Report of the British Commonwealth Ex-Services league.
42. Col O Baker (Retd). For a more detailed history of the development of the poppy as the 'flower of sacrifice and remembrance', see the supplement to the October/November 1993 Bulletin of the South African Military History Society. Cape Town Branch, pp 2, 3. A copy of the complete poem, 'In Flanders Fields' in the original handwriting of Lt-Col John McCrae is reproduced in John F Prescott, In Flanders Fields, The Story of John McCrae," (2nd edition, 1985), inside front cover.
43. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, p 99.
44. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, p 100.
45. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, p 107.
46. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, p 101. This suggestion was proposed by Major George Howson.
47. De Groot, Douglas Haig 1861-1928. Between pp 202 and 203, see the photograph of Field Marshal Haig visiting the British Legion Factory at Richmond on 27 January 1928. Haig died two days later on Sunday 29 January 1928.
48. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, Chapter 2, pp 51-92.
49. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, Chapter 2, pp 51-92.
50. Correspondence in The Times, October 1925, initiated by a letter from Canon H R L Sheppard, published on 20 October, 1925.

51. Charles Carrington, Soldier From the War Returning (1st edition, 1965), p 258.
52. Margot Asquith, letter to The Times, published 6 November 1925.
53. John Jolliffe, Raymond Asquith: Life and Letters (1st edition, 1980) various pages, Margot Asquith, Autobiography (Abridged edition, 1962), various pages.
54. Editorial in The Daily Express, 12 November 1926, p 4.
55. Curtis, 'The Whitehall Cenotaph - an accidental monument' p 40 The first festival was called 'The Empire Festival of Remembrance'.
56. Gregory, The Silence of Memory, p 79.
57. Editorial in the weekly Spectator magazine, entitled 'The Just War - 16 November 1996'.
58. A short article in the weekly Economist magazine, 16 November 1996. This article also includes a photograph of two policemen, amongst others, observing the Two Minute Silence in Parliament Square.
59. A short news item in the weekly Spectator magazine, entitled 'Hush on the Close - 16 November 1996'.
60. Rowena Kilmartin, in a private letter to the author, 20 November 1996.

61. Major Darrell Dickon Hall, 5 April 1928 - 11 November 1996. Major Hall was a regular soldier in the British Army (retired), an author, South Africa's most respected authority on artillery, a businessman and a former National Chairman of the South African Military History Society. He wrote a number of articles for the Military History Journal.
62. A J McIlroy, 'Forty Million Honour the Fallen in Silence', an article in the Daily Telegraph, 12 November 1997, and re-published in the Weekly Telegraph, 19 November 1997.
63. John Terraine, Mons (2nd edition, 1960), Chapter 5 pp 86-108.
64. Gilbert, First World War, pp 501-2.
65. Gilbert, First World War, p 501.
66. Coombs, Before Endeavours Fade, pp 113,115.
67. Coombs, Before Endeavours Fade, pp 113,114.
68. 'The Program for The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance', November 1997, p ii

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