On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, silence will fall across the United Kingdom for precisely two minutes. Offices will fall silent, car horns in London traffic will cease, and hosts on television shows will encourage their viewers to bow their heads. Whether you learnt about Armistice Day in school many moons ago and are looking to refresh your memory, or you’ve only just heard the term, here’s a guide to everything you need to know about Armistice Day for 2021.
What is Armistice Day?
Also known as Remembrance Day, Armistice Day on the 11th of November is a day for remembering the millions upon millions of soldiers and civilians killed during the First World War.
The First World War began in 1914, with the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. His assassin was the Serbian extremist Gavrilo Princip, and took place in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This assassination led Serbia to declare war on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, because each nation had multiple interlocking alliances with other European nations, it wasn’t long before Europe was divided in two.
On one side, there was the Triple Entente: France, the Russian Empire, and the British Empire. On the other, there was the Triple Alliance: the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. As the war progressed, many more nations would join on either side of the conflict, and for four long years, war would rage across the world.
In 1918, after four brutal years of trench warfare in across France and Belgium, Allied soldiers pushed the German troops back, and the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, abdicated the throne. The German Empire was the last of the Triple Alliance to agree to end the fighting. In November 1918, shortly after the Kaiser stepped down, Germany signed an armistice which ended the war completely.
Is signing an armistice the same as surrendering?
Not quite. The armistice was an agreement – on both sides – to end the fighting, as opposed to one side surrendering. This was chosen, rather than forcing a unilateral surrender, as the quickest way to end the bloodshed.
By 1918, it was very clear who would win the war, should the fighting continue: German resources were running low, and they were running out of fresh troops. It was clear to both sides that, soon enough, the German forces could be pushed back, and Berlin taken by force. However, it was also clear this would cost countless more lives, Allied and German alike. In the end, an armistice ensured no more lives were lost needlessly.
The armistice was extended repeatedly while a peace treaty was worked out. On the 28th of June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, which dealt severe penalties to Germany. These terms included the almost total abolition of Germany’s military, the surrender of the Rhineland (an area of western Germany), and vast sums of money paid in reparations. Many historians count the terms of the Treaty of Versailles as a large factor in the beginning of the Second World War in 1939.
Why does Armistice Day take place on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month?
The armistice that ended the First World War was signed at 11am, on the eleventh day of November 1918. It’s for this reason that we hold this recurring date in our memories.
Though it was known several days in advance that the war would officially end at this date and time, fighting continued up until the very last minute, with Allied shelling of the German lines only ceasing at 10:58am. On the last day of the First World War, there were 2,738 losses.
What’s the difference between Armistice Day, Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday?
Armistice Day and Remembrance Day are one and the same, with Remembrance Day being the preferred name in the Commonwealth nations. Remembrance Sunday is held on the nearest Sunday to the eleventh of November and commemorates those who have served and made sacrifices throughout the military history of Britain and the Commonwealth. This event is marked primarily at the Cenotaph in London, where each year the Royal Family attend, political leaders lay wreaths, and solemn military parades take place.
Where does the word ‘armistice’ come from?
The word ‘armistice’ is far older than the First World War. It comes from Latin and is made up of the Latin word ‘sistere’, meaning to cease, and ‘arma’, meaning weapons. The meaning of an armistice, therefore, is the laying down of arms.
Do other countries commemorate Armistice Day?
Many countries honor Armistice Day beyond the United Kingdom. Commemorations on the 11th of November are held in Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Belgium, France, Germany, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. The 11th of November is also honoured in the USA, however it’s known as Veteran’s Day and commemorates the victims of all armed conflicts.
This year, the eleventh of November falls on a Thursday. At 11am, the nation will hold a two-minute silence. Wherever you are, be sure to take part, and honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Before the trenches and the fields of Flanders, famous war poems were usually focussed on the glories of war and the great honour in battle. Read 5 famous World War 1 poems for Armistice Day.