On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns stopped.
That was one hundred years ago today.
Out of a population of one million, New Zealand sent nearly one hundred thousand (100,000) men—and a few women, mostly nurses—to serve in World War I. (In proportional terms, that is as many men as fought in the American Civil War.) 80% of those New Zealand troops were volunteers. Given that the population of eligible men was around a quarter of a million (250,000), this means that one out of every three eligible men volunteered, and for a war fought on the far side of the world, not one defending their own homes.
To those of us who haven’t experienced an all-encompassing war, that is a mind-boggling statistic. Every family in the country would have been affected; if they hadn’t watched their own sons, fathers, husbands, or brothers march away, they would have known friends and neighbours who did.
16,000 of those men are buried in places with names like Gallipoli, Passchendaele, and Somme. Many more were wounded but survived. Even the ones who returned home physically undamaged would have been irrevocably changed by what they experienced. Some of them would have been near strangers to their families after years away.
Whatever we call this Sunday—Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Remembrance Day—let us not forget its purpose. It’s such a small thing to take an hour or two from our lives to honour those men and women who have been called to serve, and who have sacrificed so much in the line of duty.