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