A backgrounder on Armistice Day

Armistice Day falls this Sunday.  It's a poignant time when on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month we pause to remember those who have died while serving our country.

Historically it is the 94th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice between the Allies (including New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and France) against Germany which brought the First World War (1914-18) to an end after 4 long years.


New Zealand had over 58,000 troops in the field at this time - mostly in France or England, with 4000 in Egypt, and a further 10,000 troops were training in New Zealand.  Just a week earlier New Zealand troops had liberated the French town of Le Quesnoy, near the Belgium border, which had been occupied by German forces since 1914.

While many of the overseas troops became part of the occupying forces in Germany, most returned home early the following year.  In addition, about 3000 wives and 600 children of New Zealand soldiers who married abroad returned in the troopships during the demobilisation.

For troops in France, the news of the Armistice was reportedly received 'generally in a matter of fact way, totally devoid of any demonstration of emotion.'

Trooper George Tuck from the Auckland Infantry Battalion wrote to his parents the following day saying, 'for the first time since facing the enemy my mind allows itself to really believe that I shall see you all again.'

Meanwhile at home, thousands of New Zealanders celebrated Armistice Day on 12 November with brass bands leading elaborately decorated floats and returned soldiers, schoolchildren and crazily costumed performers marching along main streets carrying banners and flags.  Public officials gave earnest speeches and crowds gathered to celebrate the end of four long years of war donning crazy costumes.  Celebrations in Auckland were postponed until 1919 as a measure to prevent the spread of the influence epidemic.

The following year King George V personally requested all people in the British Empire to stop and observe two minutes silence.  This practice continues today.   After the Second World War, Britain and her dominions, including New Zealand, moved to commemorate those who died in both wars on Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday before 11 November.  But here in New Zealand Anzac Day has become the key day we remember our war dead.

More recently Armistice Day has marked significant events like the interment of the Unknown Warrior in 2004 and the unveiling of the New Zealand Memorial in Hyde Park London in 2006 for those killed in the First and Second World Wars.

New Zealand made a huge contribution to the First World War and paid a huge price.  Just over 100,000 young New Zealand men served overseas from this small country with a population of barely one million.  Of those, about 18,000 died on the steeps ridges of Turkey, the sands of Sinai and Palestine, and in the mud-filled trenches of the Western Front; 41,000 were wounded.  They are remembered in the memorials we can see dotted around districts, towns and cities today.

That's why we take time on Sunday to honour their service and their sacrifice - lest we forget.

New Zealand is marking the centenary the First World War from 2014-2018 as it was of the most significant events of the 20th century and had a seismic impact on New Zealand society.  A number of national projects are underway as well as community events.  Projects include the development of a National War Memorial Park in Wellington, an education centre at the National War Memorial, and heritage trails in Gallipoli and along the Western Front, and a series of new histories.

The centenary is the time to discover the stories - and maybe even new truths - about how this war touched families, communities and workplaces. Through http://WW100.govt.nz you can register and share your initiatives so more people know about them.  You can also see the official programme and projects planned by the Government.  

•    The WW100 Programme office is a joint government initiative made up of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Internal Affairs and the New Zealand Defence Force

•    For images search on nzhistory.net.nz, Timeframes collection - National Library, Grey collection - Auckland Libraries or your local library or museum


- The Aucklander

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