One hundred years ago, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent along the Western Front. It was an armistice. The peace treaties were not signed until 1919 but the fighting had ended. Exhausted Europe heaved a sigh of relief.
It was dubbed ‘the war to end all wars’, the last of the old style of warfare where armies dug in and faced each other over disputed ground. So many deaths, so many injuries. From an Australian point of view, ‘from a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 62,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.’  Drive to any country town in Australia and you’ll find a war memorial that lists the names of those who went to war and died. Listed under the 1914-18 war you’ll find so many with the same surname – brothers, cousins – from the same family. They were all volunteers, making the long journey to Turkey, and then Europe, to fight for Mother England.
If Gallipoli was bad, the mud and slush and gas of Flanders was much worse, if that’s possible. What’s more, the Australian Government expected families to bear the cost of bringing the bodies home, so Belgian, French, and Turkish cemeteries are the final resting places of Australian lads who’d joined up for an adventure. But they’re not all in the manicured graveyards. They’re still finding bodies in the fields of France.
The countryside itself was devastated by years of shelling. Parts of France are still listed as -no go zones’ all these years later. The story of the ‘red zones’ makes fascinating reading.
It’s hard to get one’s head around the fact that not twenty years after the peace treaties were signed, it was on again with a new generation of young men and women pitted against each other.
Lest we forget?
All too easily, I fear.
And it seems the President of the United States who went to Europe to remember the fallen on this one hundredth anniversary, did not attend the ceremony because of the rain. Unbelievable.