On Sunday, the world marked the 100th anniversary Armistice Day – a day which brought to end the bloodshed of World War I. On the 11th of November 1918, the Armistice was signed between Germany and the Allied Forces and this brought an end to the four and a half long years of war. This was the 100th Anniversary of the end of an enormous disaster. New Zealand sent 100,000 troops in support of the war. Incredibly, this was 10% of our 1,000,000 population at that time. 18,227 New Zealanders died during the Great War. A further 41,000 were wounded.
On the Field of Remembrance opposite the museum’s cenotaph in Auckland, a cross was placed for each of these 18,277 New Zealanders who perished in battle. Those who attended Sunday’s commemoration were encouraged to take time to walk through the crosses and reflect on the impact of their sacrifice. While we don’t have this opportunity, I want you all to reflect now in silence on this image and the scale of this sacrifice by our countrymen it represents.
There are no words to describe the scale of this calamity. No hyperbole is too much. One hundred years later, in the serene surroundings of our peaceful and prosperous country, it is difficult to comprehend such horror.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns famously fell silent. People all around the world celebrated with a sense of enormous relief, but also with a sense of grief on this day. Even as they celebrated some asked whether the cost had been worth it, and the debate has never really stopped. It’s an impossible debate. It means weighing the unweighable – balancing wholesale disasters like Gallipoli against the freedoms and values we now enjoy, all the while counting the currency in human lives.
In this month of November, the month of All Saints and All Souls, it is most appropriate that we remember them and pray for their eternal rest. We commemorate the courage, character and memories of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom we enjoy today.
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.