At 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918, Germany and the Allies signed an Armistice, ending the First World War and over four years of fighting on land, sea and in the air, from the trenches of the Western Front to the deserts of Mesopotamia. At 11 a.m. on 11 November, we pause to reflect on the sacrifices made by everyone who has served their country since the First World War.
The first Armistice Day (now known as Remembrance Day in the UK and elsewhere) was commemorated on 11 November 1919. Only a year had passed since the end of the First World War, and the day may have been a reminder for those who lost loved ones. For the nation as a whole, Armistice Day was an opportunity for shared commemoration, reflection and grieving. How, then, was the first Armistice Day reported in the press of Britain and other Allied nations?
Reporting Armistice Day
The two-minute silence at 11 a.m. was the main focal point of the day, widely observed throughout the nations we explored: the UK, Australia and Canada. Work and daily activities ceased for a brief moment of reflection, offering an opportunity to remember and commemorate the fallen.
In the UK, The Evening Standard, published on the evening of 11 September 1919, ran with the sombre headline: ‘To Their Immortal Memory’. The article led with the King’s invitation to the whole British Empire to join the two-minute silence at 11 a.m., a poignant first for the Allied nations:
‘The Great Silence was one to touch all hearts, and it moved many to tears. Everywhere it was observed with great reverence, from the King to the humblest of his subjects. All rail and street traffic stopped, pedestrians halted, and men removed their hats while homage was done to the noble dead.’
In Sydney, Australia, crowds thronged to Martin Place, a mall in the business district of the city, as pictured in the Sydney-based paper The Sun. Associated with recruitment drives and patriotic rallies during WWI, it was a fitting place to converge to remember the fallen. It later became the location of Sydney’s Cenotaph memorial, completed in the late 1920s.
The Sydney Morning Herald poignantly reflected on the occasion, with the devastation of the Gallipoli offensive and life in the trenches on the Western Front still vivid in the memories of many Anzacs:
‘The memory of the great war is still so fresh, the more so in Australia, with some thousands of fighting men still to be repatriated, that is something of a shock to be reminded that for twelve months the fighting has been over.’
In Melbourne, The Age reported on the historic nature of the first Armistice Day:
‘It was quite a common site, as the hour drew near, to see men and women adjusting their watches so that when the stipulated time arrived they might be able to play their part. Such a complete stoppage as eventually took place had never before been seen. In a flash, as it were, all sounds ceased. Thousands of human beings wherever they happened to be, stopped instantly…’
In Canada, the Ontario-based newspaper The Brantford Expositor drew comparisons between the celebrations of 11 November 1918 and the silent mourning of 11 November 1919:
While in Alberta on 11 November 1919, The Morning Albertan offered a reminder that one year ago, the Canadian Expeditionary Force was still serving in the trenches with a series of moving photos:
Remaining in Alberta and with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, The Edmonton Bulletin also reflected on 1918, but from a different angle. The publication provided a fascinating account of the final phases of WWI and the vital part the Canadians played. It’s a must-read for military history enthusiasts, containing a timely reminder of the focus of Armistice Day 1919:
This Remembrance Day, we remember all those who served their countries in conflicts and peacekeeping operations since WWI and give thanks for their service and sacrifices.
New South Wales Government, The Cenotaph, Martin Place, accessed November 2023.