We will remember Communities around world mark armistice
Just before 7pm tomorrow, Geoffrey Priest will walk to a point close to the top of Saxa Vord, a hill near the northernmost tip of the Shetland island of Unst, armed with some kindling, paraffin and a blowtorch.
“It’s a pretty wild place in the winter time,” says Priest, and a force-five wind is predicted. But as a joiner who “can put my hand to most things”, he is confident he will be able to light the beacon that will be the centrepiece of the island’s commemoration of the centenary of the armistice.
It’s an important thing to do, says Priest, “because there were so many folk that fought in the war from Unst, and quite a few who lost their lives here”. In the first world war 600 Shetland men were killed, a higher proportion of the population than anywhere else in Britain.
The Unst beacon may be Britain’s most northerly tribute, but it will be just one of many thousands of acts of commemoration taking place across the UK – and further afield.
The Queen, Theresa May and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German federal president, will mark the event at the Cenotaph in London tomorrow, and more than 70 world leaders will gather at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. But for many, the most moving ceremonies will be small-scale and local, reflecting the terrible losses experienced by so many communities.
It is impossible to quantify how many such events will be taking place. In Britain alone, the government-backed site Armistice 100 records more than 2,600 ceremonies – bell-ringings, church services, parades, exhibitions – which is likely to be only a fraction of those that are planned.
An initiative called Battle’s Over lists more than 1,000 commemorative beacons and a similar number of churches and cathedrals ringing bells, while it says more than 2,000 individual pipers will play tributes in locations including Denmark, Canada, Australia, Somaliland and Iran.
The War Memorials Trust estimates that there are more than 100,000 memorials in the UK, and expects that the majority of them will be the focus of an act of remembrance, large or small, this weekend, a spokeswoman said.
In Jersey, the torch used to light the beacon at the St Ouen headland will be carried from St Helier by 14 motorbike riders in a “solemn and respectful” tribute. Players at the women’s international football match between England and Sweden in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, tomorrow will take part in a wreathlaying ceremony before kick-off.
The pastor of a church in Olean, in New York state, marked the announcement of the armistice in 1918 by dashing from his house and ringing his church bell 100 times; the town will mark the centenary by repeating this.
New Zealand will hold a commemorative silence followed by a national “roaring chorus” – a jubilant cacophony of bells, sirens and horns, echoing the spontaneous outburst that accompanied the news a century ago.
In Beeston Regis, a small village near Sheringham in Norfolk, the parish council has printed and distributed a booklet about the village’s wartime connections, ahead of services, a beacon lighting and a tea dance.
The village had signed up to take part in the commemorations, “but to be honest with you that was just last post, light a beacon, ring the church bell,” says Roy Beckley, the council’s vice-chairman. “I just said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to get many people out on a dark night in November. We need something to attract them. So we’ll have a tea party’.”
With a population of 1,700, they are expecting 170 at the party, among them families of all ages. The fare, says Beckley, “will be very simple and based on 1914 stuff. I suspect there will be egg sandwiches, tomato sandwiches. For a little parish, we try to do things properly.”
A similar spirit has inspired the residents of Burton-in-Lonsdale, North Yorkshire, which lost 20 men. The village’s organiser, Mike Biles, estimates 70 of the 600 villagers have been involved in planning its commemorations, which include film screenings, an exhibition and a “heritage” football match, followed by a “trench stew” supper.
Note: Map shows approximate borders in 1914 for areas where figures are known. Extent of territories in Africa not shown. Source: World War I Casualties, Robert Schuman Centre at the European University. Thinkquest.