Lest we forget. Remembrance Day 2013

The below post is kindly re-posted on behalf of Adam Matthew.  The blog was originally posted on Adam Matthew’s blog site on the 6 November 2013.

Sophie Smith, Adam Matthew

British Legion Official Poppy Seller Certificate. Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

It is that time of year again, when poppy sellers fill the streets and shops and even cars begin sporting the distinctive red flowers. In our First World War resource, the second module of which, Propaganda and Recruitment, has recently been published, there is a wealth of material to be explored regarding the armistice of 11 November 1918, from both the joyful celebrations of peace, to the commemoration of and mourning for those who had fallen.

Whilst working on this resource I have been keenly interested in how the armistice and the end of the war were experienced, reported and discussed, both by those close to the action and those on the periphery. The progress of peace can be followed in the pages and photographs of The Daily Mirror, from the collections of Mirrorpix, as each belligerent nation gradually agreed to the armistice.
Front page of the Daily Mirror, 11 November 1918. Image © Mirrorpix. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Image © Mirrorpix. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Personal reactions to the huge shift from war to peace can be read in the many diaries and personal accounts featured in the resource, such as R. Cude’s “Diary of My Wanderings Both at Home and Abroad in the War of 1914-1918”, which describes guns firing right up to 11am and his fervent desire to survive the final hours of the war:

“[…] although I would not miss the sport I am as nervous as a kitten. If only I can last out the remainder of the time. It is everyone’s prayer. I am awfully sorry for those of our chaps who are killed this morning”.

The tragically real possibility of this is highlighted in the account of William Dann, a British private who served on the Western Front from 1916-1918. In an interview for the Imperial War Museum in 1985 he recalled the moment of the armistice. A dispatch rider arrived at 10:30am to warn the officer that the armistice would be signed at 11am, and by some awful twist of fate a man William knew from a different platoon, stopping to hear the news, was caught by a stray bullet and killed within the final thirty minutes of war.
Souvenir matchbox holder. Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Other audio accounts highlight different reactions to the armistice among civilians. Whilst pleased that the fighting had ceased, Mrs Bird, a nurse, confesses that she wondered what her role would be in the new, uncertain post-war world. Vera Waite, who was a schoolchild in Bristol at the time, remembered her mother being allowed a port and lemon at the local pub to celebrate, and the building of a war memorial and the celebration service. For those celebrating peace back home in Britain, there was a whole host of memorabilia available for purchase. The Robert Opie Collection features decorative handkerchiefs, mugs and souvenir matchbox holders, all produced to commemorate the war.
Decorative mug. Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permissionDecorative mug. Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Images © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Vera Waite’s interview, recorded in 1988, ends on a thought-provoking note. When asked by the interviewer if she feels that commemoration of the war has changed over the years, she replies:

“Oh yes, most definitely. […] people working, they would stop. They really would stop and think about it. Don’t now do they, no, no it just, it’s just something that some people think about, some people don’t. Just an ordinary time, goes by. But at that time they did, they respected it and they thought about it.”

Twenty-five years later we are still commemorating the end of the First World War at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and with preparations for the centenary next year it is clear that there is still a desire to show respect for the 1914-1918 generation, to remember the part they played, their achievements and the sacrifices they made for their families and their countries.
Souvenir handkerchief. Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Image © The Robert Opie Collection. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

You can read R. Cude’s diary and listen to the interviews from the Imperial War Museum, as well as explore other personal accounts of the end of the war, in The First World War: Personal Experiences. You can read The Daily Mirror and view these items from the Robert Opie Collection amongst other fascinating documents in The First World War: Propaganda and Recruitment.

 

     
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