Armistice Day marks the anniversary of the ceasefire that ended the First World War and commemorates the sacrifice of those who died while serving their country.
Terrible loss of life
The Great War of 1914 to 1918 (the First World War) was one of the most disastrous events in human history. New Zealand, with a population of 1.1 million in 1914, sent 100,000 men and women abroad. In total, the troops provided for foreign-service by New Zealand during the war represented 10% of its 1914 population between the ages of 20-45. By the time the war ended, 16,700 had died and over 40,000 were wounded – a higher per capita casualty rate than any other country involved.
Peace at last
The coming of peace on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 brought blessed relief for all involved. On that day, New Zealand had 58,129 troops in the field, while an additional 10,000 were under training in New Zealand.
Fighting ceased on the Western Front when the Armistice was signed by the Allies and the German forces, but the signs of peace had been evident for several months. The news of surrender by Bulgaria on 29 September, and Turkey and Austria-Hungary a month later, was celebrated across New Zealand with music and speeches.
Politicians and local committees began to plan for the end of the war - a difficult task due to the rumours and false declarations of peace that emerged from Europe. This uncertainty was heightened by an influenza pandemic, which reached its peak in New Zealand in November 1918. The government delayed the drafting of new recruits into training camps and the embarkation of two reinforcement units to Europe.
The Armistice was signed at 11am on 11 November (Paris time) so it was the morning of the 12th when the news reached the New Zealand public. It was almost 9am before Prime Minister William Massey sent the message 'Armistice signed' to post and telegraph offices across the country.
The news of the Armistice was celebrated with spontaneous gatherings, formal events and even the production of commemorative objects. But the influenza pandemic subdued the celebrations in Auckland. By 11 November, schools were closed and the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Joseph Frengley, was advising against public gatherings. His advice was heeded by Aucklanders who were facing high numbers of influenza victims - reported to be more than 1100 during the two month period.
Hostilities after the signing of the Armistice
The public were celebrating the end of the war, but it was not entirely peaceful at the front. Although the Armistice of Mudros was signed between the Ottoman and Allied forces on 30 October, hostilities did not cease until mid-November. News of casualties continued to reach New Zealand after 11 November.
A time of commemoration
Armistice Day has become a universal time of commemoration when we remember men and women who have died in the service of their country.
The significance of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month remains, prompting many nations to later introduce additional days for commemoration.
In New Zealand (and Australia), Anzac Day is a national day of commemoration and remembrance. The Anzac Day Act was passed in November 1920 after petitioning by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association. Anzac Day, 25 April, is marked with a public holiday.
Remembrance Sunday is held in the United Kingdom and many countries of the Commonwealth as a day to commemorate the contribution of military and civilian servicemen and women during wartime. It is held on the second Sunday in November - the Sunday nearest to Armstice Day.
They shall grow not old, as we who are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them.
Fourth stanza of Laurence Binyon's 'For the Fallen'
Cite this article
Armistice Day. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 6 November 2015. Updated: 9 November 2016.