Word for Wednesday: Armistice

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On November 11th every year, Armistice Day is commemorated to mark the Armistice (a truce to suspend hostilities) signed at eleven o’clock on eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918, ending the First World War. However, despite the armistice several hostilities continued in other regions.

The commemoration has widely been re-dubbed Remembrance Day or in the U.S All Veteran’s Day due to subsequent conflicts. This ceremony honours all veterans, living, dead or still in action and a separate day is observed solely to honour the war dead ‘Memorial Day’, a commemoration more akin to Armistice Day.

The word Armistice is yet another Latin compound, ‘arma’ meaning arms and ‘stice’ coming from ‘stitium’, literally stoppage. As a sign of respect, it is common practice to observe two minutes of silence at 11 am local time, one minute to remember those who died in battle, of whom there are around 20 million. The second minute is to send our thoughts to people directly affected by conflict - families and friends and veterans.

The red poppy that has become the emblem for Remembrance Day alludes to the McRae war poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. A couple of years ago I had the chance to visit Flanders. Seeing the devastation first hand was a shatteringly affecting experience – walking through such a terrible history was overwhelming, there was total silence.

Although Remembrance is technically over, our respect and awareness of those affected by terrors of war will always be relevant.

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Hugh MacDermott

13 Nov 2013
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