Daily Archives: November 11, 2011

Armistice Day

As the enormity of loss in the Civil War created Memorial Day, the traumatic experience of World War One, the “Great War”, led to Armistice Day, celebrated in Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries as “Remembrance Day” and in the US as Veterans Day after 1954.  Remembrance Day is marked by a two-minute collective silence, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and the placement of poppies, representing both blood (death) and life in Flanders’ fields.

I can understand why Armistice Day was changed to Veterans’ Day in the United States, as the term “Armistice” specifically refers to World War I and a more general name was needed for the national holiday after World War II and the Korean War.  But the wars of the first half of the twentieth century were “total wars” demanding contributions and sacrifice on the part of the entire population, so I think I prefer the even more-inclusive “Remembrance Day”.  The posters below, from 1917-1918 and the Library of Congress, illustrate how the home front supported the war front during the Great War.

Eat less, waste nothing, fill in for the boys, buy war bonds and stamps; even children had their part to play:

The Food Will Win the War message/mission must have been a drumbeat, enforced by ration cards like the examples below.  The second card is from the impressive archive of local collector and historian Nelson Dionne.

Mr. Dionne also sent along this amazing photographic collage by commercial photographer Leland Tilford of the new draftees of Salem leaving for the war, so determined. Many of these young men would be dead within a few years, either from the conflict itself or from some disease contracted on the field, in the trenches, or in a military hospital.  When browsing through the Report of the Commission on Massachusetts’ Part in the World War, Part II:  The Gold Star Record of Massachusetts (1929), it was immediately apparent just how many soldiers from Salem (over half the casualties I surveyed) died from an unidentified “disease”, most likely the deadly post-war flu pandemic.

When the soldiers of the Great War returned, if they returned, it was to a grateful nation, parades, and the first national programs for veterans.  Unfortunately, the Great War was only the first World War, and as the twentieth century produced more wars and more veterans, Armistice Day evolved into Veterans Day, a day of reflection and remembrance.

Scenes from a post-war world:  Department of Labor poster and “Back to the Farm” (with a prostheses) exhibit, 1918-1919 (Library of Congress) and an Armistice Day parade on Tremont Street in Boston, 1929 (Boston Public Library).

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