After four years of bloodshed and bombardment, peace descended eerily on Europe’s Western Front at 11am on November 11, 1918.
It was the moment the armistice came into effect – an agreement among Germany and the Allied Powers of France, Great Britain and the USA to end the First World War.
More than 10 million soldiers, sailors and airmen had died since the war began four years earlier.
As a loyal bastion of the British Empire, more than 416,000 Australians volunteered to serve in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and Royal Australian Navy – including 57,000 Queenslanders.
Outdoor group portrait of D Company, 53rd Battalion on Armistice Day. This image is from the collection of 363 Lieutenant William Waite MC and bar, 4th Australian Light Horse Regiment and later of the 53rd Battalion.
Image Source: Australian War Memorial (P11190.004)
But more than 61,000 of Australia’s volunteers never returned, laying down their lives on foreign fields as far flung as Palestine and Pozieres in a war defined by bloody and brutal trench warfare.
Across the world, the warring nations were left numb with grief as the guns fell silent.
In Europe and America, however, there were no comparable public occasions to mourn the lost generation.
The first Remembrance Day service took place at the Cenotaph memorial in London on the first anniversary of the war’s end and it was called Armistice Day.
The commemoration was instigated by King George V and soon spread across the British Empire, as well as France and the USA.
But it was Australian Edward Honey, a journalist who had fought with the British Army before being medically discharged, who first suggested the custom of holding a minute’s or two minutes’ silence at 11am. He had been angered by seeing people joyously celebrating the armistice in London in 1918 and argued a ‘bitter-sweet silence’ would be a more fitting tribute to the dead.
In Australia, Anzac Day had already been established in 1916 to honour the Australians who had died at Gallipoli and other campaigns.
After the Second World War, the name Armistice Day was changed to Remembrance Day as it was decided the day should honour all Australia’s fallen, not only those from the First World War.
Queen Street, Brisbane at 1:45 pm on 12 November, 1918, with people celebrating the end of World War One
Image Source: State Library of Queensland
The other custom most associated with Remembrance Day is the wearing of red poppies.
Poppies were often the only sign of life across the blasted battlefields of the Western Front and in 1915 they inspired Canadian doctor Lt Col John McCrae to write the poem In Flanders Fields. It begins with the lines:
In Flanders' fields the poppies glow
Between the crosses, row on row.
A century later, those little red flowers remain a powerful symbol of lives lost through service to our country. In the lead up to Remembrance Day each year, the RSL Poppy Appeal sees millions of Australians pin colourful replicas of the flowers on their chests in honour of the brave and fallen.
All funds raised through the Poppy Appeal go towards supporting current and former ADF personnel and their families through emergency housing, counselling, financial advocacy and more.
Illustrated page from a book containing the poem In Flanders Fields (1921)
Image Source: Wikipedia
Each year, RSL Queensland hosts dozens of services and commemorations in cities, towns and rural areas across the state, the largest of which is held at Anzac Square in Brisbane. A minute’s silence is observed at 11am on November 11 every year to remember those who served for the freedoms we enjoy today.
Go to our Events page to find services in your suburb.
Lest we forget.