Armstice, 100 Years On

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armstice on the 11th November 1918 between the Allies and Germany, bringing the First World War to its end after four years of fighting and casualties numbering over 41 million worldwide.

Known as as the Armistice of Compiègne from the place where it was signed, it came into force at 11 a.m. Paris time (“the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”) and marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although not formally a surrender.

The actual terms, largely written by the Allied Supreme Commander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, included the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of German forces to behind the Rhine, Allied occupation of the Rhineland and bridgeheads further east, the preservation of infrastructure, the surrender of aircraft, warships, and military matériel, the release of Allied prisoners of war and interned civilians, and eventual reparations. No release of German prisoners and no relaxation of the naval blockade of Germany was agreed to. This would serve as the basis for the final peace deal negotiated and concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June 1919.

Although the fighting officially ended with the signing of the armstice, most of the soldiers still stationed on the Western Front would remain there until early 1919, due to the sheer number of men to be demobilized. There was little in the way of celebration; much like today, the 11th November 1918 was largely given over to contemplation over 52 months of conflict and the scale of death and destruction it had left in its wake.

“They shall not grow old as we that are left shall grow old; age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn”

“At the going down of the sun, and in the morning…we will remember them”

So It Begins…

Today is a significant day in the Household Cavalry’s calendar, for today sees the beginning of a month’s worth of rehearsals for the celebration of the Queen’s official birthday (more commonly known as Trooping the Colour). The soldiers of the Household Division have just over a month to prepare themselves for the role they’ll play in the pageantry and spectacle you may see on Saturday 17th June this year.

Although Her Majesty The Queen’s actual birthday is April 21st, her ‘official birthday’ is marked by Trooping the Colour, a ceremony which is always held in June. This was a tradition begun by Her Majesty’s great-grandfather, King Edward VII, who elected to set it in June to compensate for the vagaries of British weather, particularly given that his own birthday was in November! However, the history of Trooping the Colour is much older; on the battlefield, the principal purpose of a regiment’s Colours was to provide a rallying point in the chaos of battle. Given how easy it was for troops to become disoriented and separated from their unit during conflict, it was the habit to have the colours of the Regiment displayed for the troops so they could familiarise themselves with the colours. This was done by having young officers march in between the ranks of troops formed up in lines with the Colours held high. So, what today is a great tradition began life as a vital and practical parade designed to aid unit recognition before a battle began.

The Trooping of the Colour has been a tradition of the Royal family since 1748, becoming an annual event since 1820 (barring exceptional circumstances). The Queen has attended Trooping the Colour in every year of her reign, except when prevented by a rail strike in 1955. Formerly mounted herself, typically on the back of Burmese, a black horse gifted to Her Majesty by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police when they came to perform at the 1969 Windsor Horse Show, she began riding in a carriage in 1987.

During the ceremony, The Queen is greeted by a Royal salute and carries out an inspection of the troops. After the massed bands have performed a musical ‘troop’, the escorted Regimental Colour is carried down the ranks. The Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry then march past Her Majesty, and The King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, rank past.The Queen rides in a carriage back to Buckingham Palace at the head of her Guards, before taking the salute at the Palace from a dais. The troops then return to barracks and Her Majesty then joins other members of the Royal Family on the palace balcony for a fly-past by the Royal Air Force.

If you happen to be in the vicinity of Horse Guards Parade over the coming weeks, you may be able to catch a view of the guards practising on the parade ground if you watch from within St. James’s Park, which should give you a glimpse into the workings of the Household Division and a closeup look at their ceremonial duties here in London.

 

©MOD 2013