FROM state events to single individual actions, Britain will this Sunday mark the 100th anniversary of the moment the First World War came to an end.
At 11 a.m., at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, members of the royal family and politicians will be joined at the traditional wreath-laying ceremony by the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. It will be the first time that Germany has taken part in the event. At 6 p.m., the Queen will head a congregation of public figures at a service to commemorate the Armistice, at Westminster Abbey. The preacher is the Archbishop of Canterbury.
During the day, a series of co-ordinated events will be staged. At 6 a.m.,1000 individual pipers in the UK and overseas will commence the day’s commemorations with the traditional Scottish lament played at the end of battle: “Battle’s O’er”. It is one of a series of events developed by the pageantmaster Bruno Peek.
From about 11.30 a.m., in a tribute devised by the filmmaker Danny Boyle, soldiers’ portraits will be drawn on 32 beaches, and then left to wash away by the incoming tide.
At 12.30 p.m., church bells will toll across the country, echoing the day in 1918 when they rang to celebrate the moment the guns fell silent. Portsmouth Cathedral’s bell-tower plans to ring 7000 changes over five hours, representing each of the city’s citizens killed in action.
At St Bartholomew’s, in Butterton, Staffordshire, one of its bells is called the “Thankful Bell”, acknowledging the fact that all 15 of its parishioners who fought in the war survived.
For the bell-ringers at St Illtud’s, Llantwit Major, in south-east Wales, the event will be a special tribute to five of their predecessors who died in the conflict. The Ringing Master for Llantwit, David Bounds, said: “In those days, it was a great honour to be a bell-ringer. There were seven or eight in the team, and it would have been devastating to lose five men from such a small group — they would have been a very close team.”
Also at about 12.30 p.m., the centrepiece of the national commemorations — a People’s Procession — will start in central London. Six bands will play while 10,000 people will walk past the Cenotaph to lay their own wreaths.
At 6.55 p.m., 1000 buglers will sound the Last Post, and at 7 p.m. up to 1300 beacons will be lit, linking Unst, in the Shetland Islands, with Cornwall. At the Tower of London, 10,000 torches will be lit for the final evening in the week-long display “Beyond the Deepening Shadow”, gradually filling the moat with a sea of flames.
Events end shortly after 7 p.m., when 100 town criers in the UK and overseas read the declaration “Cry for Peace Around the World”, written by the Newmarket town crier Brenda Willison.
In Scotland, descendants of four brothers killed in the war will join a congregation of 1000 people, including the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Princess Royal, at a service at Glasgow Cathedral. Robin Scott-Elliot, a great-grandson of one brother, said: “The impact of their deaths was felt in the family for years: their parents never recovered, and my grandfather, who was a toddler at the time, had to go through life without a father — an experience shared by many.”
Several churches have organised cascading poppy displays based on the 2014 “Weeping Window” at the Tower of London. One, at St Peter’s, Sudbury, Suffolk, is made of 21,000 knitted poppies sent from as far afield as Australia and Denmark, after a Facebook appeal. At Selby Abbey, in North Yorkshire, townsfolk staged a “knitathon” to make 35,000 poppies for a “waterfall” dropping more than 100 feet from its central tower into the churchyard.
On Saturday of last week, Westminster Abbey hosted a service of Remembrance by the Network of Christian Peace Organisations, organised by the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship. It recalled the 17 million deaths that resulted from the war, seven million of which were civilians.
Sunday’s service at St Werburgh’s, Wembury, Plymouth, is dedicated to the South African Native Labour Contingent, which built defences around Plymouth dockyards. The Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Martin Kirkbride, said: “They were kept in prison-like conditions, and were not allowed to mix with the local white population”.
One, Pte Jeremiah Siyabi, fell to his death from the cliffs, and was buried in a war grave, but records simply noted him as “Kaffir”. The South African High Commissioner in the UK, Nomatemba “Thembi” Tambo, will unveil a memorial plaque honouring him as a “Son of Wembury”. Mr Kirkbride said: “We can’t delete the word ‘kaffir’ from the historic documents, but we do believe that ‘adopting’ Jeremiah as a ‘Son of Wembury’ goes a little way to addressing a big wrong.”
Some churches are screening the film Journey’s End, based on R. C. Sherriff’s play, set in the trenches in 1918. At St Paul’s, Howell Hill, in Cheam, Surrey, the Vicar, the Revd Martin Wainwright, said that Journey’s End was “one of those movies you need to watch but don’t necessarily want to watch. It’s about the reality and the cost of war.”
A video celebrating the part played by the Bible in soldiers’ lives during the war will be shown in many churches on Sunday. During the war, the Bible Society distributed more than nine million copies, in more than 80 languages, to allied soldiers and prisoners of war.
“The Bible played such a significant role in the lives of British servicemen during the war,” the society’s head of media and communication, Rachel Rounds, said. Some were quite literally saved by the book when it absorbed the impact of a bullet. One, George Vinall, wrote home to say that the bullet stopped at Isaiah 49.8, “which caught my eye directly I saw it, ‘I will preserve thee.’ May this be true of future days until I see you all again, is my heartfelt prayer.”
A commemorative video is being projected on to the outside wall of St Mary’s, Whitchurch, in Cardiff, as part of a project to document the churchyard, which contains 45 war graves. The Rector of Whitchurch, the Revd John Davis, said: “Remembrance is something that we do at every eucharist, but this act of remembrance really touches the heart of our society, and connects us with the wider community.”
Sunday will see the end of a 350-mile walk by Will Parsons, a co-founder of the British Pilgrimage Trust, from Southampton, where the British Expeditionary Force departed in 1914, to the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, in Westminster Abbey. Along the way he has placed soil from the battlefields of Ypres, Somme, Arras, and Aisne at 100 war memorials. At each, he recorded “one-minute silences” — the sounds of wind in the trees, birdsong, and distant noise for people to listen to on the Trust website.
“The suffering this war caused is beyond comprehension,” he said. “These soldiers fought and died for their children and grandchildren, which is us. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
Read our special supplement of archive material to mark the 100th anniversary of the moment the First World War came to an end
Remembrance on TV & Radio this week
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