At the precise moment this post is going live, it is 11 a.m. in Belgium and France. This marks 100 years to the minute since World War I’s official ceasefire took effect at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918. After years of constant gunshots and shellfire, the final shots rang out in the same place they began–in Mons, Belgium. The last soldier to fall was American private Henry Gunther, who was killed by automatic fire in the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, France, at 10:59 a.m.
Millions had died from 1914 to 1918–far too many for our minds to comprehend, try though we might. And millions more died when the Spanish flu epidemic swept across the globe in 1918. But on that first Armistice Day, everyone allowed themselves to rejoice–to rejoice in the bloody struggle’s end, and perhaps to rejoice in life itself, fleeting as it was.
If it’s hard for us to grasp the scale of death during World War I, it might also be hard for us to grasp the frenzy of joy that took place when the ceasefire was declared. In cities around the world, cheering crowds poured into the streets. People climbed up light posts and statues and stood on top of cars. In small towns, houses emptied as everyone ran to dance in the streets and march in impromptu parades. Bands played, banners and flags waved. In factories, in shipyards, even on trains, everyone stopped what they were doing to shout and cry and celebrate together.
Every Veterans’ Day is important, but today has a special resonance. Wherever you are, and whatever you may be doing today, please take a moment to remember the immense sacrifices made by so many millions of people–and to remember the wild, fierce, joyful celebration of life that took place in the streets of our cities and hometowns 100 years ago.
~1918 – 2018~
Lest We Forget