Quiet re­flec­tion marks mile­stone


To­mor­row as the clock hits 11am, all across the Bri­tain, swaths of Eu­rope and across the At­lantic to the US, there will be si­lence.

Ex­actly 100 years on from when the mor­tar shell ex­plo­sions, dread­ful gas at­tacks and gun­fire of the Great War abruptly stopped on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the quiet will al­low con­tem­pla­tion for two min­utes.

And then across the lands, the bells in vil­lages and towns will toll, re­cre­at­ing the pal­pa­ble re­lief in 1918 that peace had been de­clared.

On the West­ern Front at Villers-Bre­ton­neux, where Anzacs con­sol­i­dated a hard-won rep­u­ta­tion for un­re­lent­ing courage, there will be a memo­rial ser­vice re­flect­ing the bru­tal price: 10 mil­lion peo­ple died in the war, more than 60,000 of them Aus­tralians. In Paris, some 80 heads of state will gather for a com­mem­o­ra­tion. Gover­nor-Gen­eral Sir Peter Cos­grove will rep­re­sent Aus­tralia.

Over the past few weeks there has been a groundswell of Ar­mistice Day com­mem­o­ra­tions: from the tens of thou­sands of hand­knit­ted red pop­pies that dec­o­rate churches and town rail­ings in Bri­tain, Bel­gium and France, to Prince Wil­liam light­ing sev­eral of 10,000 torches in the Tower of Lon­don’s Be­yond the Deep­en­ing Shadow in­stal­la­tion and Prince Harry ob­serv­ing West­min­ster Abbey’s Field of Re­mem­brance.

At St Paul’s Cathe­dral in Lon­don there will be a choral even­song ser­vice to­mor­row specif­i­cally for a 4m piece of em­broi­dered silk cloth that has spe­cial con­nec­tion to Aus­tralia.

Thirty-eight Aus­tralian Dig­gers, all of whom had lost limbs on the French bat­tle­fields, learned to em­broi­der while re­cov­er­ing from their am­pu­ta­tions at the 2nd Aus- tralian Aux­il­iary Hos­pi­tal, Southall, south­west Lon­don, from 1917 through to 1919. Their stitch­ing helped pro­duce the al­tar frontal, fea­tur­ing bright rosel­las of Aus­tralia and a mys­tery bird some think is the hoopoe, a pi­geon or per­haps crested lark. Bri­tish ca­su­al­ties at other hos­pi­tals also con­tributed and the hand­i­work was first used on St Paul’s al­tar dur­ing the Na­tional Thanks­giv­ing Ser­vice for Peace in July 1919.

Vol­un­teer church his­to­rian Jane Robin­son says Aus­tralians of­ten drop by: “When they see the work they are very emo­tional be- cause they know their grandad or great-un­cle or a rel­a­tive made it, and while do­ing so they would have been cop­ing with los­ing limbs and re­flect­ing on friends who didn’t make it. I al­ways take a deep breath when rel­a­tives come, there are of­ten tears.”

Among the em­broi­ders was Pri­vate Fran­cis James Allen of the 27th Bat­tal­ion. He was a 100-yards sprint cham­pion at Esk, Queens­land, but had both legs am­pu­tated af­ter be­ing wounded at Pass­chen­daele. His fam­ily re­mem­bers his stitch­ing skills when he re­turned home, and they still have a Ris­ing Sun piece of work.

Mil­i­tary Cross re­cip­i­ent Cap­tain Fred­er­ick Brooke Dar­ling of the 8th Reg­i­ment, Aus­tralian Field Ar­tillery, the nephew of Aus­tralian cricket cap­tain Joe Dar­ling and BHP chair­man John Dar­ling, also helped, as did Pri­vate Con­rad Tin­dall, 4th Bat­tal­ion, the son of the artist Charles Tin­dall.

An­other em­broi­der was Pri­vate Wal­ter Smith of the 42nd Bat­tal­ion, who lost the lower half of his left leg. He re­turned to Queens­land and the English nurse who had cared for him, Har­riet, fol­lowed him. They mar­ried on New Year’s Day 1920.

To­mor­row’s com­mem­o­ra­tions will re­mem­ber those sur­vivors, some of the five mil­lion in the con­flict left with de­bil­i­tat­ing in­juries.


Prince Harry hon­ours the fallen dur­ing his visit to the Field of Re­mem­brance at West­min­ster Abbey, Lon­don

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