There are probably some people alive today who were born before the Armistice was signed at about 5:10am on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 in a converted railway dining car parked in a wood at Compiegne near Paris. (The Armistice directed the combatants to cease firing at 11:00am on that morning.) But there is no one alive who remembers the events of that day. Just as well, perhaps, because the signing of the document that ended WW1 was in some ways almost a non-event, because the Germans did not want to continue the fight, and the French and English, with their various allies, were tired of war, exhausted in spirit, and heart sick over the appalling slaughter that had taken place over 4 years, for no particular purpose. No matter how you look at it, WW1 was an horrendous disaster that decimated a generation of young lives, ruined thousands of hectares of land and destroyed beautiful cities, towns and villages. If the war had continued, there is no doubt that the Allies would have won the war militarily, but following the Armistice, they won it by proxy through ridiculously onerous reparations demanded from the German nation in the Treaty of Versailles. These reparations so crushed the Germans that out of it emerged the Nazi movement, led by Hitler and others, who eventually forced the whole world into WW2. It is sobering to speculate what the outcome might have been if the allies, particularly the French, had taken a more conciliatory approach when drafting the Treaty.
Not often mentioned is the fact that gung-ho American (mainly), plus British and French officers, ordered attacks on the morning of 11/11/1918 that resulted in the needless loss of thousands of lives and the maiming of the many thousands who were wounded. Without exception, the attacks were on territory that the soldiers killed and wounded could have walked into after the Germans had evacuated their positions. What made this even more appalling is the fact that the implementation hour of the Armistice was known to most of the senior officers.
In post war enquiries in USA about Armistice Day casualties, one embarrassing fact emerged – not one officer from the rank of Colonel upwards was killed that day. I wonder why?
So why do we celebrate, 100 years on, a messy, bungled end to an appalling war which resulted in around 40 MILLION casualties (including civilians) - about 17 MILLION of whom were killed, and the toll of wounded, who often were unable to take up normal civilian life again because of their wounds, reached in excess of 23 MILLION? Well, I guess that despite mankind's abject stupidity in thinking that war is the way to solve international disputes (and oh dear, certain idiots, remarkably called World Leaders, still think that), war often brings out the best in people. It has the effect of uniting people in firm resolve to right wrongs. It also brings to the surface that ethereal thing called Heroism. For the tiny new dominion called New Zealand, half a world away from Europe, but still blindly following where Great Britain went, strangely, through the disasters of war, grew into a genuine, united nation. I, for one, do not believe that we had to sustain the highest casualty rate among all the allies to be forged into a united nation. I have to ask the question – what if those thousands of young New Zealanders who were killed or wounded had stayed home, and used their strength and determination to start the new Dominion on its way to strength and self-sufficiency? Of course we will never know, but here is a disturbing thought – do we deep down, do things like ANZAC Day or 11/11/2018 REMEMBRANCE Day celebrations to justify our questionable national actions and the decisions of successive governments? Yes, it is true that we were on the side of right in WW2, but you do have to wonder about WW1. The reasons to justify that war are few, and sketchy. Another question: what is it within us that makes us rally to the flag, take up arms, set out to kill our fellow man, knowing that a lot of people on the other side are doing exactly the same? If the French, British, German and Russian nations had not been colonial powers, all prepared to fight for as much territory as possible, would there even have been a war? I know - speculation will not give us the answers, so back to the question, why should we celebrate the centenary of the Armistice?
The obvious answer is that the awful war was over. The world, and Europe in particular, could get on with the business of living in relative peace. Stories of courage, humanity, self-sacrifice, fortitude and dedication can now be told against the background of terrible times. But most importantly, we are given another opportunity to consider that we should do all in our power to help make a world where events like this are at worst rare, at best history.
So to our show: A Kiwi Armistice celebrates the bravery of colonial boys who either volunteered or were conscripted to fight in the Great War. It celebrates soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, and doctors. It celebrates civilians who went and worked in rehabilitation and refugee centres; others who sacrificed much to ensure that warm garments were sent to the troops, shipped food by the boat load, and provided a few of the comforts of home to men living in dire conditions.
In the programme we take a uniquely Kiwi view, skewed toward the Bay of Plenty. We track our troops from basic training, to troopships, to battlefields like Gallipoli, the Somme, and Passchendaele. We show the gung-ho turn of the century world, full of pomp, pride and bluster that brought out the attitudes and national stances that caused the war. We sing anthems and music hall songs. We bring trench humour and unbearable pathos, we sing marching songs and hymns that fearful soldiers and their parents sang. We salute bravery, whether it is on the battlefield, or the bravery of grieving family.
Several songs have been written by our Musical Director, Nigel Williams. Most are being sung worldwide. The 70-strong choir will be accompanied by the Tauranga City Silver Band, Leon Gray on piano, Philip Smith on organ, Jeremy Thompson on trumpet, and Elaine Wogan, soprano, with Tom Bradley and Elizabeth Price providing continuity. The music and commentary will be accompanied by more than 300 images of the turn of the century NZ; soldiers in training and on troopships, at Gallipoli and in Europe; nurses and doctors; the civilian war effort back home; trench scenes; war machines; soldiers on leave; wounded; music halls, and Bay of Plenty volunteers . All this is at Holy Trinity Church, Tauranga, on 11/11/2018 at 7.15pm. There are 866 seats. Make sure one of them is yours. This is going to be a spectacular evening with proceeds going to Waipuna Hospice.
Written by John Wanhill