One the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918, the First World War came to an end. Right up until the last minute the guns stayed firing.
You can listen to the final seconds of the conflict and the moment the guns fell silent in this recording
The commemoration of the conflict in Ireland has always been a touchy subject. There was certainly a perception that the memory of the Great War had been overshadowed by the events such as the 1916 Rising and the Irish War of Independence. In recent decades, the inevitable distance of time has allowed for more recognition of the role played by Irish men and women in the conflict. We will likely never know exactly how many from Ireland lost their lives in the war. As well as the Irish regiments, there were Irish serving in British, American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand armed forces, along with any number of civilian organisations involved in the war.
This weekend I was fortunate to attend a number of commemorative events in Cork to remember those who died 1914-1918. On Friday night there was an Evening of Remembrance in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This has become an annual event, organised by members of the Cork Branch, Western Front Association. This is always an especially poignant ceremony, featuring music, poetry and songs to commemorate not just those from Cork, or the Allied forces, but all of those who died in the war. The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Mick Flynn and the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, delivered particularly moving speeches, reflecting on the impact of the war on their own families. They recognised also that even those who survived the war, often came back with physical and psychological wounds. Bishop Colton made an especially valid point about the impossibility of grasping the magnitude of those who died during the war and it’s immediate aftermath. Instead he advocated for focussing on the personal, of remembering those who died as individuals.
Bishop Colton and the Dean of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Very Reverend Nigel Dunne, have also been engaged in a project the last four years in gathering together pictures of those from the diocese who died in the war.
Today there were a number of events held at the Cenotaph in Cork, to mark Armistice Day. There was a civic ceremony organised by the Lord Mayor and members of Cork City Council. This was followed by a mass in St Francis Church and a wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph by members of the Royal British Legion and relatives of those who died. The ceremony also includes members of the current Irish Defence Forces, veterans of the United Nations and even the British Armed Forces. Bishop Colton also delivered another address and there was a later Ecumenical service in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.
The act of commemoration itself cannot help but be political and likely there will always be those who feel that by commemorating a conflict we are signalling approval. However, I would disagree with this. We may not agree with why WW1 or any other conflict is fought but that doesn’t mean we should simply forget it and those who fought. Commemoration doesn’t have to be about approval or condemnation. As the events in France today have shown, where the French President and German Chancellor stood side by side at Compiègne as they marked the centenary of the armistice signing, commemorating the end of the war can also be about present unity and learning from the mistakes of the past.
Regardless of how we feel about conflicts past and present, we should never forget those who have lost their lives, no matter how complicated their motives. If you are looking to trace your own relatives who served during WW1, most of the major genealogical websites such as Ancestry, Findmypast and MyHeritage have made their military collections available for free this weekend.