Nov 11, 2016

Armistice Day

In his autobiography ‘The Day Gone By’ Richard muses on Armistice Day, as it was when he was a child in the twenties:

‘I remember the annual Two Minutes’ Silence on 11 November. I dare say that anyone who hasn’t experienced it as it was kept in those days will find it impossible to imagine. Whatever day of the week 11 November happened to be, the Silence was observed on that day. In London and the other main cities of the country, guns were fired on the stroke of eleven o’clock. Elsewhere, the wireless sufficed, or signals were given by the police, or by soldiers firing blank. Thereupon everything and everybody, wherever they were and whatever they were doing, stopped exactly as they were for two minutes, until the guns fired again. It was more than impressive; it was overwhelming I suppose there can ever have been anything like it: streets, cities full of people standing perfectly still and silent. Anyone who was driving a car, taxi or ‘bus stopped the engine, got out and stood in the road with bowed head and hat in hand. In the shops, the assistant who was tying a parcel laid it on the counter and the lady who was paying for it put down her purse and stood opposite. Often, one saw tears on the faces of grown-up people…

This universal observance (and enforcement) was based entirely on public feeling (and guilt for being alive). I doubt whether most people nowadays realize how enormous and appalling a shock the Great War was - and was universally felt to be. With the possible exception of the Black Death, it was by far the greatest disaster which has ever befallen this country…

My generation grew up in the shadow of the Great War. Before I was nine I knew virtually all the significant place names - Ypres, Albert, Thiepval, Bapaume, Delville Wood, Vimy Ridge and so on. as I grew older I came to realize that the world has not been the same place since that war. In what respect? In a word, a universal sense of insecurity. Before the Great War, British people for the most part trusted their leaders, were proud of their country and believed in progress. Not any more. The general notion that leaders (and experts) are not to be trusted on any account, and that catastrophe is ever at hand, goes back not to the atom bomb but to 1914-18. I absorbed it unconsciously as part of growing up.’

Richard and Elizabeth watching Strictly