Whanga¯rei marks the hour that ended the Great War
Every year on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month New Zealanders celebrate the peace that limped into history after four terrible years of war. ”Celebrate” might be the wrong word — because although the event commemorates the end of what was called The Great War, there is very little party atmosphere associated with it.
Not so much about the coming of peace as the end of war, Armistice Day is a little like Anzac Day but with a much later morning start and fewer wreaths.
It’s the day when the people of many nations stop for one minute and bow their heads in silence to remember those who didn’t return from World War I.
Tomorrow it will be 100 years ago since leaders of shattered nations made the declaration that put an end to”the war to end all wars”.
The signatures may well have been written in the blood of 16 million who died or were wounded — soldiers and civilians, political marionettes, martinets and martyrs, 16 million fates decided in war rooms, backrooms and battlegrounds.
More than 18,000 New Zealand soldiers died in or soon after World War I, out of 100,000 New Zealand men who signed up and went overseas to fight. More than 41,000 New Zealanders were wounded.
All up, it was a huge toll from a national population of just over one million people.
Back in 1918, sometimes later depending on when the ships came in, there were some parades and services, public outpourings of relief, along with
There was no Armistice Day street parade in Whanga¯rei until late in January, 1919. Celebrations were muted because of the outbreak of the Spanish Flu pandemic, which very soon killed many New Zealanders on home soil.
pent-up grief, ways civilians could finally stand alongside the troops who had fought thousands of miles away, welcome them home and help them dream of a future.
But in general, the armistice was not greeted with public jubilation — this was not the same public party as seen at the end of World War II.
Families and communities were too depleted, too many young men were maimed, too many dead.
There was no Armistice Day street parade in Whanga¯rei until late in January, 1919.
Armistice celebrations were muted, too, because of the outbreak of the Spanish Flu pandemic which arrived around the same time as war ended, and very soon killed many New Zealanders on home soil.
In two months, between October and December 1918, New Zealand lost about half as many people to influenza as it had in the whole of the war.
By the time the pandemic eased in December, the death toll had reached 9000. Ma¯ori suffered particularly heavily, with about 2500 deaths.
Throughout New Zealand, some communities were decimated and others escaped largely unscathed. Military camps were struck with great severity.
World War I had ended, but the dying did not. For former generations of New