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Centenary of the Armistice in Australia and France

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Posted on November 9 2018

The Centenary of the Armistice in the First World War will be commemorated across Australia on Sunday 11 November with the customary one minute’s silence at 11am.

The tradition was the idea of an Australian journalist, Edward Honey, who wrote to King George V and suggested a small period of observance and reflection.

On 7 November 1919, the King issued a proclamation that called for two minutes’ silence at 11am on 11 November.

In the post-war years, Armistice Day gained special significance. The moment when hostilities ceased on the Western Front became universally associated with remembering all those who died in war; and after the Second World War, it was renamed Remembrance Day.

In Australia today, many Australians pause at exactly 11am for one minute of unified silence.

How do other countries observe this historic day of commemoration?

Since 1922, Le Jour du Souvenir (Remembrance Day) has been a public holiday in France, Belgium and Canada.

In France, observers wear the Blueuet de France as a symbol of remembrance. Like the poppy, the cornflower grows wild in the fields of Europe. It has long been associated with memory and solidarity, and blue was the colour of the Poilus’ uniforms.

France, like Australia, does not have any living veterans from the First World War but, on Remembrance Day, people gather at memorials and former battlefields and they attend parades to remember the service and sacrifice their men and women.

In Paris, the President of the French Republic attends a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe and lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Soldat Inconnu).

This is followed by two minutes’ silence: one for soldiers and civilians who died in the conflict and a second minute for those left behind, including widows, orphans, veterans and the wounded.

The day is even more sombre on the former Western Front where several villages ‘died for France’, razed in the final battles that led to the Armistice.

These include Meuse settlements evacuated in early 1916 just before the Battle of Verdun (21 February to 18 December): Beaumont-en-Verdunois, Bezonvaux, Cumières-le-Mort-homme, Fleury-devant-Douaumont, Haumont-près-Samongneux and Louvemont-Côte-du-Poivre.

After the battle, residents returned to home to find nothing remained. A year after the Armistice, the Government of France decided these villages would not be rebuilt but remain as memorials with regular maintenance.

In 2016, the Government of France established a war museum at Verdun, east of Reims, and a tank museum at Flesquières, south-east of Arras.

Like Australia, France has thousands of unknown soldiers who never came home and have no known grave.

France has 265 military cemeteries that contain the remains of some 740,000 soldiers. The unknown graves are marked ‘Mort pour la France’ (‘Died for France’).

On Sunday, Remembrance Day services will be held throughout Australia and televised nationally. To find out more about live streaming click here. For commemorative activities at the Sir John Monash Centre visit this page.

In the Centenary of the Armistice, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has also launched a promotion to encourage Australians to trace the history of their military ancestors. To find out more about Just Ask click here.

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