Today, the 11 of the 11 of the 11 is the anniversary of the end of the Great War and memorial services are held all around the world including here in Australia and New Zealand.
11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 is when the Armistice to come into effect. All was signed off and the war continued right up to the armistice time. There are a number of television series which detail the last soldiers that were killed before the 11th hour of the armistice.
How the Great War began, in my view, is best depicted in the television drama ‘37 Days’. This was a three part series showing no war action, rather looking at the political figures of the era of the 37 days prior to the commencement of hostilities.
The British, French, German, Serbia, Austrian and Russian leaders and their cabinets are presented discussing the affairs of the time and how each in their turn confirmed decisions that had the inevitable end result in war. The Archduke of Austria - his assassination was the well spring for nations to draw up sides.
The following years - 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918 - became blood baths - as one of the British cabinet members exclaimed – You pit 1 million men against 1 million men – there can be no victor. Such wisdom fell on deaf ears.
The French placed huge pressure on the British to come to their aid as Germany was poised on their borders. There were two issues at stake, the first was an agreement that the British would guard the English Channel and the French in exchange would guard the Mediterranean. This agreement in effect had the British guaranteeing the French. It was an agreement signed by the two Foreign Ministers, yet never properly approved by Cabinet. Many politicians in the British Cabinet were in uproar.
The other issue was that all the great powers of Europe signed a protection of Belgium. While ever that held, peace in Europe was assured. The Kaiser tore it up and German troops crossed the Belgium border. Belgium called on all the other nations to protect her from the German aggressor.
The German military power house rushed into Belgium but found themselves in a stalemate trench warfare situation – remember that 1 million men against 1 million men scenario – that is exactly what occurred.
Two things occurred that changed the balance of the military situation. The first was in 2017 when America came into the war with over a million fresh troops. The second was that the Germans made one last push to fight through to Paris which came to a stand still – the Australians held them off in one critical battle.
At home, the German economy began to fail without plentiful food and supplies, and the German institution recognised victory was never going to be in sight and they decided to make an armistice. The Kaiser abdicated and was sent into exile. The eventful Treaty of Versailles of 1919 saw Germany humiliated.
This was the seed that saw the rise of nationalism in Germany – right and left – and ultimately Adolf Hitler coming to power in 1933 on the back of the rejection of the Treaty of Versailles and the claim of being stabbed in the back at home - capitulating to the Allies - while the war was not lost on the Western front. The Jewish Banking Houses in Germany were targeted for this which resulted in wide spread anti-Semitism, the rise of the NAZI, WWII and the Holocaust. It’s like a time line.
Gallipoli 1915 is widely claimed as the real birth ‘bathed in blood’ of Australian nationalism. But the Western Front was where the real blood bath was with on one battle multiple thousands upon thousands Australians were killed. Australia had a population of 6 million and 60,000 Australians lost their lives in WWI.
Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes was at the Treaty of Versailles. US President Woodrow Wilson pointed at him as he was making a fuss (as was his custom) - and asked - who is this man. Billy Hughes in his usual gruff and loud uncompromising voice, exclaimed he was here on behalf of the 60,000 young Australian volunteers who died for our freedom.
There are a thousand stories and more of the valour of Australians during WWI. William Bean the War Correspondent on his return home detailed the logistics for every rural community who put their hand up to have a Great War Memorial.
The Great War is seared into the collective memory of Australians as the losses were so severe to a young country. In the late Patsy Adam Smith’s book ‘The Anzacs’ has a chapter on the Padres in which one Padre is cited as exclaiming ‘War is about writing letters to mothers, and wives and sweethearts’.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html