The eleventh day of the eleventh month. Armistice Day. The day the guns fell silent on the western front in 1918. Ten million soldiers and seven million civilians dead. Slaughter, on an industrial scale. The world had never seen anything like it. Nobody who lived through it came away unscathed. Nobody who witnessed the return of millions of wounded and mutilated men could ever forget it.
It was the first time the modern world saw what war can be like. The impact was devastating and it marked the psyche of a generation. ‘Never Again’ was the refrain repeated over and over as surely, given the cost, we would never let anything like it happen again. But, of course, it happened again. It’s happening now, somewhere.
My mother’s family always, always kept the day. They would all gather in her aunty Alice’s house and have a meal to mark the date. She would be kept from school for the occasion. It was an important day. Her father, Richard O’Reilly was at Gallipoli. His regiment, the Connaught Rangers, were annihilated by the Turkish guns. His arm split from the wrist to the shoulder by an exploding shell. He barely made it out. His sisters at home in Drogheda worried sick reading the death lists. Watching the results of the horrific attrition unfolding in France and Belgium.
My mother’s aunties Alice and Molly lived long enough to see it all happen again, so did her dad. But they kept the day anyhow. They kept the day and thought of what had happened. They remembered as only they could. They passed that charge to my mother, not in any practical way. We didn’t keep Armistice Day. We didn’t gather and share a meal. But the day never passed unmentioned. My sisters and my brother and I all grew up knowing that the eleventh of November is a significant day. Perhaps the most significant day. It is the day we look at war and say, never again. That can never happen again. Of course, the people who profit from war don’t listen.
After I left home I would always call my mother on November eleventh. Just to talk, just to say ‘it’s Armistice Day today’. But this year, she’s not here. There was no phone call. This year Armistice Day came to me. I have to mark it. So today, almost one hundred years after the end of the first world war, I take my place, I make the stand and I say, never again. This can never happen again. And I will say it, with all those who say it, on this day every year until I can’t and so humanity stands against war.