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Armistice Day.

Eddie Mair | 06:50 UK time, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Our listeners' First World War stories are worth reading. Click here.

On Saturday's iPM, we heard more about The Great War from our listeners. Worth a listen if you have time.


  • 1. At 09:57am on 11 Nov 2008, Big Sister wrote:

    Good morning, Eddie. And, remembering what today is about, may I share with you that my grandfather, who fought in the Great War (as it was often known by that generation), also happened to die, many years later, on 11th November.

    In the last few weeks of his life, he was being treated with increasingly high doses of morphine to help him to cope with the terrible pain of an aggressive cancer. This led him to hallucinate, and I remember visiting him one day when he was particularly bad and kept shouting and waving angrily at the windows of the room where he lay. This was the back room (the 'best' room) of my grandparent's house, which gave onto a small verandah and thence onto the garden. But, in his delusions, the garden was full, in good moments, with London buses, and in bad moments with aggressors who were coming after him. While he was not coherent enough at this stage to find out exactly who were these aggressors, from the things he shouted, and from the fear and anger he demonstrated, our family were pretty sure that he was reliving some of the horrors of his four years at the Western Front. For, although he received two leg wounds and had to leave the front for treatment, he was shipped back there.

    No wonder so many people think of those soldiers as cannon fodder.

    I remember this as I think of Harry Patch in particular, as he, like my grandfather, fought in the trenches. Listening to an old soldier's memories, played on Today this morning, of rats bloated from the dead bodies, from which frothed maggots, I thought of Harry, and my grandfather, and felt very, very humble.

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  • 2. At 11:59am on 11 Nov 2008, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    Today at 10.59 the builders who are stripping the render off my house at the moment stopped their drilling and bashing and fell silent for two minutes. The builders across the road also fell silent, and so did the ones further up the hill. Fewer cars wents past along the main road, too, just after eleven.

    I wonder how many people regard the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month as being the 'real' Remembrance Day, regardless of the church and cenotaph and so on that happen on the nearest Sunday to it?

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  • 3. At 1:04pm on 11 Nov 2008, Big Sister wrote:

    Chris: As a child living in London, on Remembrance Sunday we always stopped stock still to observe the silence, and heard the guns far away in Hyde Park. It is one of my memories of my father, whom I usually stood alongside.

    For some years, in the 80s and 90s, I think the observance was less marked, but in the last five years or so I think there has been a renaissance of awareness of the sacrifices, particularly of the Great War.

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  • 4. At 1:40pm on 11 Nov 2008, The Stainless Steel Cat wrote:

    Chris (2):

    On my way to a class this morning, I met a co-worker who opened his mouth to speak to me. I put my finger to my lips and showed him my watch. It showed 11 o'clock.
    "What? Are you having a minute's silence or something?"
    I nodded and pointed to the watch. He looked blank for a few seconds.
    "What? Is it today? Oh s---"

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  • 5. At 1:42pm on 11 Nov 2008, Big Sister wrote:

    Cat: The encouraging thing is that he clearly felt shamed.

    Good on ya!

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  • 6. At 1:45pm on 11 Nov 2008, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    Big Sister @ 3, I think perhaps the whole idea got seriously misunderstood during the time you are speaking of. During the late eighties I went on buying and wearing a red poppy and observing the silence as I always have, but on one occasion was verbally attacked in a school playground for wearing 'a symbol that glorified war' by a woman wearing a white poppy. She was quite unable to say what money collected by the sale of white poppies was *for*, but obviously assumed it was 'anti-war' in some way and that the red poppy was 'pro-war', which seemed to me so completely wrong-headed that I was lost for words.

    When I was a child my family were honoured to be selected to go round the street from door to door during the week before with poppies to sell to anyone who hadn't already got one. We generally didn't sell many because practically everyone in the street was wearing one when we arrived! They had also been taken into every class at school, with advance warning so that all the children could bring money on the right day, and we ordered ones for cars in advance: they were much bigger. :-) I don't think anyone in the school *didn't* wear one before the half-term break.

    In contrast, during the nineties I sometimes had quite a job finding one at all: I had to hunt around for a shop with a poppy-box on the counter.

    When did the silence move from the actual day and hour to be on the Sunday? I remember from my childhood that it was on the eleventh whatever day of the week that was -- but it always seemed to be half-term, so I don't think we ever stopped doing lessons at school for two minutes.

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  • 7. At 1:56pm on 11 Nov 2008, Big Sister wrote:

    Did you know that you can Listen Again to the silence?


    Now, that is bizarre!

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  • 8. At 2:00pm on 11 Nov 2008, Big Sister wrote:

    Chris: Perhaps not 'misunderstood', but challenged. And I have to say that I also have a problem with wearing a poppy - but the problem arises because of the way it is presented by the British Legion (with whom I have no fundamental problem, incidentally). How do I get round my dilemma? I contribute to the fund, but don't wear a poppy.

    Incidentally, the white poppy (produced these days by the Peace Pledge Union) is not intended as a slight to the fallen. I have, in past years, worn such a poppy myself, but more recently have not wanted that act to be misinterpreted.

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  • 9. At 6:54pm on 11 Nov 2008, The Stainless Steel Cat wrote:

    This has all suddenly taken on a new perspective for me. Earlier this evening my mum mentioned that her dad had served in WW1. This was a complete surprise to me, although I knew he'd had a bad time in WW2 - he spent much of the war in a German prison camp and from the very little he told the family it was more like Tenko than The Great Escape.

    Surfing the web for the past half hour has brought up many links including the battalion diary, so although I have no personal recollections of what he went though, I can follow his battalion through the four years he was there.

    A few extracts from their time at Ypres:

    16 September 1917
    Battalion left BROXEELE this morning at 6.30am arriving here about 12.30pm; a trying march in the heat particularly for the recent drafts who have arrived from England since the battalion left the front line in June. Many of these men are of inferior physique and lacking Resolution. 6 men fell out on the line of march from physical exhaustion.

    24th September 1917
    Ammunition dump for the Brigade is blown up and we have a few casualties trying to locate it. No lines of telephones to front line. Communication entirely by runner. Communication to the rear is by visual and pigeon post.

    19 March 1918 Front line near Passchendaele
    About 1.10am the enemy put down a heavy barrage of gas shells of various kinds on Battalion Headquarters and front line. We had 4 casualties from gas poisoning and 4 from shell fire.
    A quiet day on the whole. Rain has been falling for the most part of the day. The vicinity of battalion headquarters was shelled with 5.9" about 11.20pm until 11.25pm, about two shells per minute.

    9th July 1918
    Nothing doing till evening. At 7pm an enemy aeroplane flew over our front line and dropped propaganda which however fell wide and could not be found in the long grass.

    11 November 1918
    0900: Parade Steady Drill. Subalterns under Adjutant. OR under RSM.
    1100: Commanding Officers Parade. Commanding Officer announces that Germany has accepted our Armistice terms.

    (Sorry for such a long post)

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