11 November 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. After four terrible years, the First World War finally came to an end with the signing of an Armistice between the Allied Powers and Germany on 11 November 1918. The fighting ceased at 11 a.m. – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
At the time there were around 58,000 New Zealand troops serving overseas, including more than 24,000 on the Western Front. Some of these men had been in action as recently as the week before the Armistice, famously liberating the walled French town of Le Quesnoy on 4 November. In late December New Zealand troops arrived in Cologne to form part of the Allied occupation force in Germany, but most were sent home between January and March 1919.
On the morning of 12 November, when news of the Armistice was announced in New Zealand, people celebrated enthusiastically in cities and towns across the country: bells rang, sirens sounded and children banged on kerosene tin drums. Communities came together, speeches were made and songs sung. More organised celebrations followed later in the day. Bunting went up and torchlight processions, fireworks and bonfires lit up the night in many centres.
As New Zealanders had recently celebrated the surrenders of the three other Central Powers – Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria-Hungary – as well as premature news of an armistice with Germany, many people anticipated the Armistice and had made plans in advance. However, public events in some centres – notably Auckland – were more subdued due to the deadly influenza pandemic that was then sweeping the country.
Armistice Day was formally inaugurated throughout the Commonwealth on 11 November 1919, when King George V requested that all British subjects observe two minutes’ silence to remember the fallen. Although New Zealanders continued to mark Armistice Day every year, as a commemorative event it was increasingly overshadowed by Anzac Day. After the Second World War the Dominions, including New Zealand, decided to change its name to Remembrance Day and observe it on the Sunday preceding the 11th (later moved to the second Sunday in November).
Public interest in Armistice Day declined in New Zealand in the second half of the twentieth century, but in the 1990s there were signs of a revival. Since its 75th anniversary in 1993, it has been marked throughout New Zealand with services at the National War Memorial in Wellington and at local war memorials.