Armistice Day11th November 2020 by Michele Auborn
Our_featured card this time is a trade card by Wilbur-Suchard Chocolate Co. (USA) from a set called “Soldiers of the Allies”. If you look closely you can see it was designed as a cut out, to be folded at the “score” points given so the soldier stood alone with no background.
Today marks one hundred and two years since The Armistice of World War One. Surprisingly the word Armistice does not mean permanent cessation of fighting, it technically only means a temporary break.
It was signed at 5.45 am and was to take effect later that day, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of the eleventh day of 1918. This was supposed to allow enough time for the news to be passed along the front on both sides, but sadly it did not stop more lives being lost, and a study of dates on graves has found that 863 soldiers, sailors and airmen died on that day alone, though some of these had been injured beforehand. https://www.questmedianetwork.co.uk/news/tameside-reporter/almost-as-he-fell-the-gunfire-died-away-and-an-appalling-silence-prevailed/#
Our card here is by Martin`s of Piccadilly in London. The image was drawn by Bert Thomas and used for fund raising for the “Weekly Dispatch Tobacco Fund” which sent cigarettes to soldiers. It was issued in 1915.
In addition many more members of the forces would die in the year immediately after, as a result of wounds, unsanitary conditions, disease, unidentified minefields, other weaponry related incidents, and even snipers who had either gone rogue, or, as a lone survivor of their unit, simply had not received the message of surrender; and all these things would also affect civilians, who would go quite unrecorded in lists of forces casualties. One of the main problems that caused the delay was the logistics of bringing all the service personnel home. They had been sent out in batches, but there was no system in place to ship them all home at once. Also many were severely injured, and others were still prisoners of war, while some had disappeared, either fallen into the mud, received a fatal blow by bullet or bomb quite unseen, or whilst on lone patrol, or simply lost their identity discs, paperwork, or memories. Human remains still appear on the former frontlines at ploughing time, and are being identified and given proper burials. Read this heart warming story https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48610168
This card is by Bewlays, and you can read more about it at https://card-world.co.uk/newly-identified/
Despite the repeated mantra that it would all be over by Christmas, many of them would not be home within 1918, or 1919; in fact my grandfather landed in France in 1914, shortly after his 16th birthday, and did not come home until 1920. When they started coming home, or did not, it was a shock. Many villages saw their male populations plummet, calamitous for rural regions which relied on heft to bring in harvests. In addition some areas had formed “pals” Battalions so all the men of the area could go and fight together, but the nature of modern warfare meant these led to heavier than normal regional casualties, so much so that such regiments started to fall from favour with recruitment offices from 1916 onwards, and were not allowed at all in WW2. https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-pals-battalions-of-the-first-world-war
This card is John Player “Counties and Their Industries”, card no.7 – it is very sobering to realise it was issued in 1914.
Many returnees were shocked at how they were expected to return to their everyday lives as if nothing had happened; especially those who bore the scars of war, externally and internally – a relative of mine went into London in the 1920s and always spoke of how they saw more men with only one leg in that one day than in all their life before.
And if the infrastructure of large towns was not equipped to handle these returnees, think of the villages.
For the unvarnished truth read these thought provoking articles : https://www.forces.net/news/troops-whose-hardship-continued-after-ww1
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Another problem was Spanish Flu, which started late in 1919 and feasted on the malnourished and worn out populations of the world, but also infected the King of Spain. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/1918-flu-pandemic
Our featured card is from Faulkner “Military Terms” second series – an un-numbered set
The large image above, W.D. & H.O. Wills` “The Reign of King George V 1910-1935” (1935) card no.11 shows King George V serenely laying his wreath on the Cenotaph in 1919. This is a very important image, it was taken on the unveiling day of the permanent version of the Cenotaph, the one in 1918 being only a saluting point made of plaster, and it was the first wreath ever laid on the structure. What you may not know is that the image was widely used; it appears on an anonymous postcard currently on eBay at https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/52675426-Georg-V-Kranzniederlegung-Cenotaph-Adel-England/193686728407?hash=item2d18a0eed7:g:rK8AAOSw2WBfcaaM – anonymous, but it must have been part of a series as there is a number bottom right. There is also another listed, which is number 221 of the Excel Series, that can be seen at https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/CPA-AK-King-George-V-first-wreath-on-the-cenotaph-BRITISH-ROYALTY-678982/293509697163?hash=item44568a8e8b:g:MCoAAOSwv8Fea5b8
By comparing all three you can see how the figure so prominent in the background of the postcard behind the King has been obscured on the cigarette card. You can also see something more exciting though, that being that the wreath on the postcards does not appear to have poppies on it, even though it is black and white, it is all the same shade, which would be broken up by the poppies. Here is a greyscale version of the image : https://www.mediastorehouse.com/p/164/king-george-v-places-first-wreath-cenotaph-14187956.jpg Yet on the Wills card you can clearly see the red poppies. Now many have said that this makes this card a picture of the first ever poppy wreath to be laid for the First World War. In fact it is more likely that the image used was off the black and white original, and the printers of the card have made a mistake, or rather not looked back into history, as by 1935 when this cigarette card was produced, it would have been the norm for the wreaths at the Cenotaph to have carried red poppies; however, using the poppy as a symbol of the Armistice did not actually start until 1921, so before that time the wreathes would have been green leaves, often laurel.
You can read the entire and fascinating history of the poppy at: https://www.history.com/news/world-war-i-poppy-remembrance-symbol-veterans-day
Just before King George had unveiled this monument, he had laid a wreath on the passing coffin for the most romantic burial of WW1. Knowing that many men had no known grave, and therefore many families were left with nowhere to visit or think of, he had a wonderful idea and ordered a body at random from the unidentified masses not to be interred in a Foreign Field, but instead to be brought home and buried in Westminster Abbey with no details ever being released. And this Unknown Soldier has been the focus of much attention ever since, thanks mainly to the human need to believe, to make him become the relative that everyone in the family so missed. And someone, somewhere must be right. Even today he is forever festooned with flowers from grieving relatives, and many Royal brides give him their bouquet as they pass. https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/unknown_warrior.shtml and
Our image here is from Ogdens Ltd. ‘Infantry Training’ (1915). We will never know who this soldier was; perhaps it is he who lies at rest in the tomb of the Unknown Warrior
In closing, it may seem like Armistice Day is now irrelevant, especially as it has seemingly been superseded by Remembrance Day, which remembers all personnel and all conflicts, but it is not. It is important in its own right, as a turning point after which nothing would ever be the same. Before it, wars were mostly fought out of the view of the public, and on a smaller scale; after, thanks to private cameras, newsreel, and newspaper coverage, the awful truth of war was finally revealed. Having both days following on in such quick succession really drives home the message that, above all else, wars are supremely wasteful of lives and of talents.
Here are two general websites we found interesting, plus several related to WW1 smokiana
We also have a visual treat for you. Here are films, from newsreels, of the three earliest Armistice Days
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