In a Word: Remembrance

Remembrance Day marks one of the most poignant dates in the calendar

There are few more poignant dates in history than November 11th – tomorrow as it happens. This year it marks the 96th anniversary of the ending of that shocking “war to end all wars”, the first World War.

Sadly and predictably it was anything but. To describe it as such was as idiotic as the title of that trendy but now forgotten 1992 book by Prof Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man. The first World War ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

It left 16 million dead and 20 million wounded; and of the 210,000 Irishmen who fought, between 35,000 and 49,000 were killed. The uncertainty is due to the unknown number of Irishmen killed in non-Irish regiments. This was slaughter on an industrial scale and such as the world had not seen before. It saw the end of four empires: German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish (Ottoman) and left Britain broke. The United States retreated into splendid isolation and the Soviet Union emerged.

November 11th, 1918, was the first day on which all participants could lift their gaze, behold the devastation and without distraction contemplate the enormous slaughter that had taken place. "Sobering" is hardly adequate to describe the effect. It was on November 7th, 1919, that King George V designated November 11th as Remembrance Day for all soldiers in the armed forces who lost their lives while serving in the war. The day is marked all over the world: in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, throughout the British commonwealth and throughout Europe.


Frequently it is marked on the previous Sunday, known as Remembrance Sunday. That was the case yesterday in Dublin, where the annual service of remembrance in St Patrick's Cathedral took place. In London yesterday the Irish Ambassador to Britain, Dan Mulhall, laid a wreath at the cenotaph in Whitehall to mark Remembrance Day there.

All to ensure that, as the Ode of Remembrance, from Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen, put it: "They shall grow not old, as we that are left 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."

“Remembrance”is derived from from the Old French “remembrance”, itself derived from “remembrer”, which can be traced to the Latin “rememorari”: “to recall to mind”. Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left to you.