One hundred years ago, on the very first Remembrance Day, 11 November 1919, the Daily Herald, a socialist newspaper, published this article on its front page.
It was one year after the Armistice, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s promise of a “land fit for heroes” rang bitterly around a country in which many conscripted soldiers had still not been demobilised, and many of those who had lived in poverty. These were the days before poppies, when there were different ex-services organisations for rank-and-file soldiers and top officers because they had very different class interests.
Socialists both remembered the war dead and spoke out against those who sent them to their deaths.
You are asked to be silent for two minutes to-day, to be silent and to pause in your labours, to remember this day and this hour last year.
At 11 a.m. a year ago this day the guns that had made the days hideous and the nights hell ceased firing along all the western front. The war that seemed endless had come suddenly to an end. The Peace that seemed beyond hope came suddenly within reach. Men who for four years had lost touch with living, saw life blossom gloriously at their feet. And men who had given themselves up for dead came abruptly back to life.
All this at 11 o’clock in the morning of November the Eleventh one year ago.
And to-day, at the same hour, you are to be silent for two minutes; you are to stand bare-headed wherever you be; you are to remember the Glorious Dead.
What will you remember and what will you forget? You will remember, mothers, the gay sons you have lost; wives, you will think of the husbands who went out in the mist of the winter morning – the mist that sent cold chills round the heart – never to come back. And brothers will think of brothers, and friends of friends, all lying dead to-day under a tortured alien soil.
But what will you forget? The crime that called these men to battle, or the fond, glorious and tragic delusion under which they went. The war that was to end war, and that in bitter reality did not? The lies, the hatred, the cruelty, the hypocrisy, the pride; and the agony, the tears of the innocent, the martyrdom of the weak, the hunger of the poor?
Make the most of this day of official remembrance. By the sacred memory of those lost to you, swear to yourself this day, at 11 o’clock, that never again, God helping you, shall the peace and happiness of the world fall into the murderous hands of a few cynical old men; that never again shall you, or your children after you, be set in arms against a brother man; that never again shall the fair face of the earth and sky be shaken and devastated by the hate and terror and the torture of a fratricidal war.
Else it were better for you that to-day you lay dead in your grave, and for your children that they had never been born!