Allies, armistice, Armistice Day, barbed wire, Belgium, Christmas Truce of 1914, Eisenhower, Evermind, flamethrowers, France, German Government, Guy Fawkes Day, John McCrae, machine gun, maxim gun, military, military rifle, Paris, poisoned gas, poppies, Remembrance Day, Simbelmyne, tank, The Lord of the Rings, Theoden, Tolkien, truce, Veterans' Day, Western Front, Woodrow Wilson, Word War I, WWI Trenches
Welcome, as always.
“At the foot of the walled hill the way ran under the shadow of many mounds, high and green. Upon their western sides the grass was white as with drifted snow: small white flowers sprang there like countless stars amid the turf.
‘Look!’ said Gandalf. ‘How fair are the bright eyes in the grass! Evermind they are called, simbelmyne in this land of Men, for they blossom in all seasons of the year, and grow where dead men rest. Behold! we are come to the great barrows where the sires of Theoden sleep.’ “ (The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter 6, “The King of the Golden Hall”)
Like our bonus posting last week, for Guy Fawkes Day, this one is tied to a specific day, now called “Veterans’ Day” in the US, and “Remembrance Day” by our linguistic cousins around the world.
November 11th here was originally called “Armistice Day” when it was first declared by Woodrow Wilson in 1919. The change to “Veterans’ Day” came in 1954, but, to us, it would be good if it had remained as it was, both its name and what it commemorated, and President Eisenhower had chosen to add another holiday to the calendar, instead.
The armistice was, of course, the truce which marked the beginning of the end of World War I, the date and time—the 11th hour of the 11th day of 1918—agreed upon by commissions of the Allies and the Imperial German government who met in a railway car outside Paris in early November, after over a month of on-again-off-again negotiations. This was only a truce—the actual peace treaty was not agreed upon and didn’t come into effect until 10 January, 1920—but it did stop the fighting in the west almost immediately.
The war to which it gave a permanent pause had been appalling in its losses: over 17 million people had been killed and 20 million wounded and the weapons used to kill 11 million soldiers had gone from the ordinary military rifle to the machine gun to barbed wire to poisoned gas to flamethrowers to the tank—and that was just on land.
In the process, it had driven men to dig 500 miles of trenches on the Western Front, where they lived a life of perpetual misery.
Thus, the news, even of a truce, was the best of news to soldiers and civilians on both sides.
The price for that truce and for the eventual peace was almost too much to bear: all over northern France and southern Belgium seemingly endless, but necessary, cemeteries had gradually sprung up and, with the coming of peace, had been rationalized and formalized so that they looked like militarized civilian graveyards. To visit that area today is to understand, in some small way, what a horror that war was for those caught in it. And this is just the Western Front: there are many more burial places to be.
In 1921, people in the US began to wear little artificial poppies as a symbol of remembrance on 11 November and the custom was adopted abroad and still continues in Canada and Britain, at least. It is said that the custom was inspired by this poem, written by a Canadian soldier on the Western Front, John McCrae, in 1915. He had noted that poppies seemed to grow more quickly on ground which had been freshly turned—in the fighting and in the burials afterwards. And the image of the flowers, bright red as fresh blood, scattered across the fields was too powerful for a poet not to use, particularly a soldier-poet.
We here at Doubtful Sea want to commemorate all of the soldiers on both sides in this posting and wish that the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 had seen the end of the war, instead of four years and millions of deaths later.
And we offer, as Tolkien fans, not only the poppy, but the Evermind, the Simbelmyne, in remembrance.
Thanks, as always, for reading.