Pro­fes­sor Hew Stra­chan is Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of All Souls Col­lege, Ox­ford and the author of The First World War: A New His­tory (Si­mon & Schus­ter UK, 2nd re­vised edi­tion, 2014)

Belfast Telegraph - - REVIEW -

To­mor­row, many cities across Bri­tain and fur­ther afield will mark the end of the First World War. They will do so with solem­nity, mind­ful of the 880,000 Bri­tish and im­pe­rial ser­vice per­son­nel who lost their lives. This, af­ter all, is Re­mem­brance Sun­day and, al­though that day is now as­so­ci­ated with the com­mem­o­ra­tion of all wars since 1914, its sym­bols — the poppy, the Ceno­taph and even the tim­ing — are the prod­ucts of how the na­tion de­cided to mourn in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the Great War.

We should not, how­ever, be too po-faced. For us, Re­mem­brance Sun­day is about the dead. But this year it co­in­cides with Ar­mistice Day, when the Ger­mans signed the terms of sur­ren­der in 1918. It was a day of cel­e­bra­tion. It was more about the liv­ing than the dead. Over the war’s cen­te­nary, we have done more to com­mem­o­rate the lat­ter than re­call the for­mer.

They were the vast ma­jor­ity: 88% of those who put on uni­form came home. Men who had given up hope of see­ing the war’s end now re­alised that they would sur­vive, that they would be re­u­nited with their fam­i­lies and that ci­ti­zen sol­diers could be­come cit­i­zens once again.

Beatrice Webb, the Fabian and so­cial­ist, writ­ing her di­ary in Lon­don on Novem­ber 11, 1918, could hear “a pan­de­mo­nium of noise” out­side. A New Zealan­der, John Lee, who had won a Dis­tin­guished Con­duct Medal at Messines in 1917 and lost an arm in the Ger­man of­fen­sive the fol­low­ing spring, was con­va­lesc­ing at Brock­en­hurst in Hamp­shire. Hear­ing of the ar­mistice, he caught a train from Wey­bridge to Water­loo and par­tied for three

Heroic im­age: a statue of a sol­dier from the Great War on a me­mo­rial in Shildon, Co Durham

days. Dur­ing the 1920s, the na­tion was di­vided on how best to mark the end of the war. Many vet­er­ans thought the ap­pro­pri­ate way to re­mem­ber their fallen com­rades was to live life to the

full. In con­trast, griev­ing moth­ers and bereft wives were anx­ious to in­sti­tu­tion­alise mourn­ing. Mourn­ing came to pre­vail over cel­e­bra­tion, partly be­cause the First World War did not end

at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month. What ended were hos­til­i­ties be­tween Ger­many and the Al­lies fight­ing on the Western Front. The ar­mistice was a tem­po­rary ces­sa­tion in the fight­ing, ini­tially fixed for a pe­riod of 36 days, and not a peace set­tle­ment. On land, the terms were de­signed to give the Al­lies the power of strate­gic ma­noeu­vre, through the con­trol of rail­ways


Evening Stan­dard

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