Friday, 11 November 2011

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

'Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!'

February 1918
'Then we walked for miles over the duckboards till finally we got to Glencorse Wood and Polygon Wood. These consist of a few score of torn and splintered stumps only. But the view of the battlefield is remarkable. Desolation reigns on every side. Litter, mud, rusty wire and pock marked ground.... The Passchendaele ridge was too far away for us to reach but the whole immense area of slaughter was visible. Nearly 80,000 of our British men have shed their blood and lost their lives here during 3½ years of unceasing conflict.... Death seems as commonplace and as little alarming as the undertaker. Quite a natural event, which might happen to any one at any moment, as it happened to all these scores of thousands who lie together in this vast cemetery, ennobled and rendered forever glorious by their brave memory.' 

November 1918
'It was a few minutes before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I stood at the window of my room looking up Northumberland Avenue towards Trafalgar Square, waiting for Big Ben to tell that the War was over....  And then suddenly the first stroke of the chime. I looked again at the broad street beneath me. It was deserted. From the portals of one of the large hotels absorbed by Government Departments darted the slight figure of a girl clerk, distractedly gesticulating while another stroke resounded. Then from all sides men and women came scurrying into the street. Streams of people poured out of all the buildings. The bells of London began to clash. Northumberland Avenue was now crowded with people in hundreds, nay thousands, rushing hither and thither in a frantic manner, shouting and screaming with joy. I could see that Trafalgar Square was already swarming. Around me in our very headquarters... disorder had broken out. Doors banged. Feet clattered down corridors. Everyone rose from the desk and cast aside pen and paper.... The tumult grew. It grew like a gale, but from all sides simultaneously. The street was now a seething mass of humanity.  Flags appeared as if by magic. Streams of men and women flowed from the Embankment. They mingled with torrents pouring down the Strand on their way to acclaim the King. Almost before the last stroke had died away, the strict, war-straitened, regulated streets of London had become a pandemonium.'

'I had a walk round and eventually sat on a seat on the Embankment. I must have dozed off because it was dark as I woke up, so I decided to stay put till morning. I woke as the dawn was breaking and what a sight it was. All the seats were full of old soldiers in all sorts of dress - mostly khaki - and a lot more were lying on the steps, some wrapped up in old newspapers. Men who had fought in the trenches, now unwanted and left to starve were all huddled together.'