Ninety-nine years since the end of World War One and the silencing of the guns

Sydney, NSW, 11 November 1918: a crowd in Martin Place celebrates the news of the signing of the armistice. Picture: Australian War Memorial.
Sydney, NSW, 11 November 1918: a crowd in Martin Place celebrates the news of the signing of the armistice. Picture: Australian War Memorial.

Did the guns actually ‘fall silent’ on the 11th hour of November 11, 1918, marking the end of The Great War? 

What had always seemed a bit of poetic licence on the part of the collective memory appears to have been a factual occurrence: at the designated hour of the armistice on that winter morning in France, there was a measurable and immediate change in the sound of artillery and small arms fire.

As the 99th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities is commemorated across the world, evidence in the form of recording tape from Allied artillery range-finding units shows how there was a general and widespread adherence to the terms of the ceasefire.

The recordings were being used to estimate the distances of barrages fired from behind the lines to their point of impact on or behind the front.

Silence falls: an image of the tape showing the drop in noise post the armistice.

Silence falls: an image of the tape showing the drop in noise post the armistice.

For the troops on both sides of the conflict, the ceasefire was greeted with widespread scepticism and unease. Men were still killed in random conflicts and shellfire in the hours following the armistice, and the four years of unrelenting horror that had turned the western front into a pulped and bloody wasteland would not be erased by the reassurances of senior officers who had just the day before willingly issued orders that continued sending men into the meat grinder of the front.

Colonel Thomas Gowenlock of the American 1st Division wrote that there were no celebrations at the front.

“Many soldiers believed the Armistice only a temporary measure and that the war would soon go on,” he wrote in his memoirs.

“As night came, the quietness, unearthly in its penetration, began to eat into their souls. The men sat around log fires, the first they had ever had at the front.”

In Ballarat, Remembrance Day services will take place at the Cenotaph on the intersection of Sturt and Lyons streets, commencing at 10.30am on Saturday morning.

Council will block Sturt Street: west-bound traffic on Sturt Street will be diverted at Dawson Street; east-bound traffic on Sturt Street will be diverted at Raglan Street. Traffic will not be able to cross Sturt Street via Lyons Street in either direction