“Thoughts on the Armistice”
By J.W.C- James Wilkinson Campbell of the Durham Light Infantry
The spectre which had loosened itself with such ominous intent upon civilisation in the summer of 1914, had for more than four years spread its shadow like a pall over Northern Europe, taking for the most tragic part of its pay, the ever historic Plains of Flanders, which had earned the well-known sobriquet of the “Cockpit of Europe”.
This evil influence had brought into obscurity the natural sunshine in men’s lives, had completely blotted out the once cheerful faces, and had masked in their stead countenances heavily lined by that grim determination which had for its object the combatting of all obstacles in the relentless pursuit of the successful issue of the task set them.
Youth had accepted the Call to Arms in a spirit which held up to them a picture of a glorious adventure, and had chafed in their eagerness at the seemingly unnecessary delays in their early participation of their willingness to go forth and do battle for one’s own Country, and set the seal of honour on their birthright.
As rime wore on, the novelty of a clash of arms had changed into a deeper realisation of the sterner issues of War, the effects of which were being felt very keenly by the people, especially those in England whose insularity had been severely challenged by an apparent unrestricted invasion of the enemy by both air and sea, many people in Sunderland having had personal experience of raids from the air, whilst our neighbours at the Hartlepool’s had been subjected to bombardments from the sea. This, and the many and varied restrictions imposed on the people brought the consequences of wartime much nearer to them than they had ever anticipated.
Under these conditions, the nation began to settle down with a fortitude never before experienced, and any crumbs of comfort which the government of the day carefully and selectively threw out, were gratefully received, adding to their determination to resist the impulse to despair when things were looking their blackest “across the water.”
This War, the greatest of all conflicts known at the present day, dragged remorselessly on. The establishments of the various fighting forces had changed so often that nearing the end, there were hardly any original members left. Those youths who were the pride of their own localities, and the proud sons of their parents, had mostly joined the “Deathless Army” and were now the invisible spectators of an armistice, which to their earthly selves, had come too late.
It is only those of us who have tasted the “bitter-sweet” of a long sojourn in trenches made so unhealthy by the attentions of the enemy and the inclemency of the weather, can picture the scene just prior to the cessation of hostilities. Men drawn from all stations in civilian life, moved like automatons, their souls gradually becoming defunct as the callousness of the whole business crept in. Some of these men were on the threshold of a fourth Winter, aye, and a few the fifth, of continuing their existence in holes in the earth, with an occasional glimpse of the outer world taken when the dawn broke cold and grey, spreading before the watcher, a forbidding panorama of stark desolation.
Rumours of an early capitulation on the part of the enemy came filtering along the war-weary line, which were responsible for the spark which set the thoughts of men on a higher plane than that brought about by a long contact with the surrounding morbidness.
When the magic word “Armistice” was whispered to the troops, the mixed feelings with which it was received was responsible for a kind of numbness of the mind which could not find any coherent expression of thankfulness which was the message carried by that one word.
Our thoughts were naturally a mixture of happiness in an early anticipation of a return home, tinged with a sadness that all those who had embarked with us could not share such a joy, and a bitterness against a flaw in civilisation which allowed the sacrifices of men to be made on the altar of patriotism.
As each anniversary of the Armistice came round, we became more aware that all the misery and strife attendant upon the waging of War only engendered in the hearts of all right-thinking people, a revulsion against national differences being settled by the sword only.
Today, services of Remembrance will be held, not as an opportunity of flaunting the flag of victory of armed might, but as a requiem on those who did not live to see the results of their sacrifices, which they hoped would go a long way towards the attaining of the abolition of War. It is to these Services, in view of the trend of current affairs in several countries of the world today, that we look upon them as a vivid reminder of the aspirations voiced by those who have been in close and intimate contact with the grim realities of War.
Not only is due homage paid to thousands of the “Phantom Army” each year, but efforts are inaugurated by which hundreds of disabled members of the “army that was” are helped in the alleviation of their troubles. Reviewing all this, it is hard to realise that there are some people who today deprecate the continued celebration of such a significant occasion, and one can be excused the thought that they might have been given an opportunity of experiencing a close contact with war of such magnitude.
It is only by a bold declaration for Peace that a wastage of the flower of any nation can be divided. All glory to those, who in all sincerity, endeavoured to attain the success of so worthy a cause.