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Armistice Day

11 November marks the anniversary of the Armistice that ended hostilities on the Western Front of the First World War.

Armistice Day Today

Wreath-laying ceremonies mark Armistice Day at the National War Memorial in Wellington and at many local War Memorials throughout New Zealand. As part of these ceremonies, two minutes silence is observed at 11 a.m. on 11 November in memory of those New Zealanders who died while serving their country.

National War Memorial
From 10.30am
Buckle Street

Auckland War Memorial Museum
From 10.30am
The Auckland Domain
Parnell, Auckland

Contact your nearest RSA for details of the Armistice Day ceremonies local to you.

History of Armistice Day

At 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918, the Armistice marked the moment when hostilities ceased on the Western Front. The "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" thereafter became universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the First World War.

1919: Introduction of the Silent Tribute

On the first anniversary of the Armistice, 11 November 1919, two minutes silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony in Whitehall, London. King George V had personally requested all the people of the British Empire to suspend normal activities for two minutes on the hour of the Armistice. Two minutes' silence was popularly adopted and it became a central feature of commemorations on Armistice Day.

1920: Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

On the second anniversary of the Armistice, 11 November 1920, the commemoration was given added significance with the return of the remains of an unknown soldier from the battlefields of the Western Front. Unknown soldiers were interred with full military honours in Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey attracted over one million people within a week to pay their respects. Most other allied nations adopted the tradition of entombing unknown soldiers in their capitals over the following decade: Washington, Rome and Brussels in 1921, Prague and Belgrade in 1922, and later Warsaw and Athens. However, the New Zealand government rejected a proposal in 1921 for New Zealand to have its own Unknown Warrior on the grounds that the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey represented New Zealand's war dead. During the 1940s and 1950s the NZRSA renewed the call for New Zealand to have its own Unknown Warrior or even Unknown Warriors, one to represent each World War, without success.

1919-45: Armistice Day in New Zealand

While eventually overshadowed by Anzac Day, it was marked solemnly in New Zealand with the traditional two minutes' silence at 11 am, when pedestrians and traffic stopping in the streets to observe the silence. The observance of two commemorative days symbolised New Zealanders' emerging sense of national identity, albeit within the wider context of the empire. Armistice Day was shared with the empire; Anzac Day belonged to New Zealand (and Australia).

1925: First Rose Day

First Rose Day in Wellington, Alexander Turnbull LibraryFirst Rose Day in Wellington, Alexander Turnbull Library

In 1925, Wellington RSA instituted the inaugural Rose Day which raised funds for the Wellington Citizens' Memorial. In later years many RSAs held their own Rose Days in order to raise funds for many community as well as RSA projects (and in contrast to the Poppy Day Appeal that was solely for the welfare of returned service personnel and dependants in need). By 1944, the Dominion Council of the NZRSA was encouraging the holding of Rose Day on a nationwide basis on the Friday before Armistice Day.

1946: Introduction of Remembrance Day

After the Second World War, the British and her Dominions, including New Zealand, agreed to change the name and date of Armistice Day to Remembrance Day, now to be observed on the Sunday prior to 11 November (it was later transferred to the second Sunday in November). Armistice Day was no longer viewed as an appropriate title for a day which would commemorate the war dead of both World Wars. In short, Remembrance Day "Sundayised" the observance of Armistice Day. For the first observance of Remembrance Day in 1946, New Zealanders were requested to attend traditional remembrance services and to observe two minutes' silence at 11 a.m., when citizens and vehicles were to halt in the streets. On the whole, Remembrance Day was observed in this manner during the late 1940s.

By the mid 1950s, however, the public gradually lost interest in commemorating Remembrance Day despite the best efforts of the RSA, including an unsuccessful approach to government to revert back to an observance on 11 November. The RSA believed that the decline of Remembrance Day was a result of its "Sundayisation" and the loss of the association with the eleventh hour of the 11 November.

Armistice Day again

Since the 1990s the United Kingdom and many countries of the Commonwealth have increasingly returned to commemorate Armistice Day 11 November because the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" has so much significance. In 1995, for example, the Royal British Legion embarked on a campaign for the reintroduction of two minutes' silence on 11 November at 11 a.m., which steadily gained momentum to the point where today it is estimated that three-quarters of the population of the United Kingdom participate in the observance. In Australia, meanwhile, the interment of an Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial on 11 November 1993 brought renewed attention to the day and in 1997 Australia's Governor-General issued a proclamation formally declaring 11 November Remembrance Day and urging all Australians to observe one minute's silence at 11 am on 11 November each year.

In New Zealand too, since the 75th Anniversary of the Armistice in 1993 was commemorated throughout the country, the RSA has promoted the observance of 11 a.m. on Armistice Day with remembrance services at the National War Memorial in Wellington and at local war memorials throughout the country.

In recent years Armistice Day has also been used for signficant national war remembrance projects. On Armistice Day 2004 the Unknown Warrior was interred at the National War Memorial following a Memorial Service at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul and a Military Funeral Procession watched by an estimated 100,000 people. Two years later, on Armistice Day 2006, the New Zealand Memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London was dedicated by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Source: RNZRSA Historian Dr Stephen Clarke




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