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In 1918, an armistice was signed between Germany and the Allies (namely the British, including Canada and Australia, Russia, France, Japan, and Italy) to end the fighting “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.” (And guess what today is? Coincidence? We don’t think so.)
Signed by representatives of Germany and the Allies between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning in Compiègne, France, it marked a complete victory for the Allies and defeat for the Germans.
This was not the end of WWI, but instead an end to hostilities; even still, Nov. 11, 1918 saw 10,944 casualties and 2,738 deaths.
Fighting continued right up until the appointed hour, when a British corporal reported the Germans emerging from the trenches, bowing to the Allies, and leaving. “That was it… There was some cheering and applause, but the dominant feeling was silence and emptiness after 52 exhausting months of war,” he said.
Fifty-two months; 1,566 days; 40 million casualties, with an estimated 15 to 19 million deaths and 23 million wounded soldiers. (To put that in perspective, the current population of Canada is 37.06 million.)
ON THE BATTLEFIELD
World history scholars spend their entire lives studying World War I, so it’s a lot of history to fit into one email — but we’ll do our best.
WWI was the first official “global war” that lasted, officially, from July 28, 1914, to June 28, 1919. The combination of both military and civilian war casualties, alongside the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, made it one of the bloodiest wars in world history.
It would take us all day to try to explain how it started (and even then, the “reasons” for the start of the war depend on who you’re talking to). Various European wars, like the Franco-Prussian War and the Russo-Turkish War, preceded WWI and a resulting arms race heavily contributed to the tensions and hostilities that eventually culminated in diplomatic action with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (not to be confused with the band) on June 28, 1914, and military mobilization in the resulting turmoil known as the July Crisis.
Translation: Canada was at war when the British were, even though it was a quasi-independent nation. And that meant when conscription called, Canadians were forced to answer.
Conscription was common in European countries, but was significantly less popular in English-speaking commonwealth nations, particularly amongst the Irish Catholics in Ireland and the Francophones in Canada.
The Conscription Crisis of 1917 paved the way for major hostility between Francophone and Anglophone Canadians — Francophones argued that they answered to the Canadian government, not the British monarchy. Which isn’t to say that all Canadian Anglophones were too enthused about marching off to battle, either. (Can you blame them?)
When all was said and done, 619,636 Canadian men and women served in WWI, 424,000 of those overseas. Of those, approximately 61,000 lost their lives and another 172,000 were wounded. Canada has been recognized on the world stage for our contributions to the Allied victory, especially for our roles in the battles at Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele.
“Canadians really did punch above their weight,” said Tim Cook, historian at the Canadian War Museum, when talking about the new two-part docu-drama 100 Days to Victory. (And we’re damn proud of it.)
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
Written by Canadian army doctor Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in 1915, the poem In Flanders Fields memorializes the brave men and women who fought and died during the war. The poem was first published in the London, England magazine Punch on Dec. 8, 1915, and the poppy became a symbol of remembrance for WWI thanks to the poem’s reference to the red poppies that grew on the graves of the fallen soldiers.
John McCrae died in January 1918 of cerebral meningitis, but his legacy lives on.
Following the end of WWI, the poem inspired American professor Moina Michael to wear a red poppy year-round in memoriam, and distributed silk poppies to her peers in a campaign to the American Legion to have the poppy adopted as the official symbol of remembrance. She was supported by French citizen Madame E. Guérin, who was then inspired to sell poppies in France to raise money for the nation’s war orphans.
In 1921, Guérin sent poppy sellers to London ahead of the national Armistice Day, and thus drew the support of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, a co-founder of The Royal British Legion. He continued to encourage the sale of poppies in Britain ahead of Remembrance Day.
You might remember seeing Historica Canada’s Heritage Minute about John McCrae during your weekday commercials back in the early 2000s.
Today, it’s giving us all the feels.
CALL TO THE FALLEN
The moment of silence in most Remembrance Day ceremonies is now preceded by the famous “Last Post” bugle call.
Its original purpose (signalling that the inspection of the final sentry post was completed) is echoed in its Remembrance Day symbolism, which is twofold: first, the call implicitly calls the spirits of the fallen soldiers to the cenotaph; second, the call symbolically “ends the day,” and the moment of silence follows.
After the moment of silence, which is actually two minutes long, is “The Rouse,” which has been popularized in Commonwealth nations such as Canada. The playing of “The Rouse” symbolically concludes the moment of silence with a “night vigil” over the fallen soldiers. Its original purpose was to rouse the soldiers out of bed in the morning.
One hundred years later, its use is a whole lot more depressing.
REMEMBERING ACROSS CANADA
Canada’s National Ceremony takes place at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, drawing tens of thousands of guests every year. The official start time is 10:20am, but arriving at 9am will give you a better vantage point and you can see the Virtual Wall of Honour and Remembrance. Those not able to make it out can watch the ceremony on the Facebook Live Stream.
On a slightly more uplifting note, a tradition that started seven years ago in Edmonton, AB now has a global reach. The No Stone Left Alone campaign invites students across Canada to place a poppy on the headstone of every Canadian who served in the armed forces. This year, which marks 100 years since the end of WWI, No Stone Left Alone ceremonies are as far-reaching as Poland.
Global News will be airing a “No Stone Left Alone” special at 10am locally so that all Canadians can take part in this special example of remembrance.
Remember, lest we forget.