Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 11

The initial November 11 was in 1918, when the Armistice was signed on a cold wet day [like today at Gamone] in a railway carriage at Rethondes in the forest of Compiègne, to the north-east of Paris. Towards the end of that afternoon, in the Chamber of Deputies, French prime minister Georges Clemenceau read out the terms of Germany's surrender. The citizens of Paris started to dance in the streets, while watching a parade of captured cannons.

During more than four years of warfare, 1.4 million French soldiers had died, and 600 thousand had been wounded.

At the start of 1916, troops from the other side of the planet had moved to France to take part in the combats.

Referred to globally as the Anzac [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps], they were immediately hurled into the hell of the Somme. By the time the Armistice had been signed, 60 thousand Anzac troops had died on the combined fronts of the so-called Great War. Today, an Australian memorial is located at Villers-Bretonneux, up in Picardy, just to the east of Amiens.

While driving around in my Citroën this morning [looking in vain for a pharmacy, to obtain medicine for a severe cold], I discovered that commemoration services were taking place around the cenotaph of every town and village on my route.

I wish to conclude this evocation of the terrible events of 1914-1918 with this photo of a young Anzac soldier named Francis Pickering who succeeded in returning home safely to the family cattle station at Breeza in New South Wales:

As I've already explained on several occasions, this Pickering lad was the family hero whose nickname "King" (reflecting his prowess in various domains, including sport) was given as an official Christian name, in a spurt of zeal, to my father, born in 1917... who was embarrassed throughout his entire life by this silly regal name. Fortunately, the nurses in the maternity clinic at Rockhampton (Queensland) had a sense of humor, and they associated the new baby with a local Aboriginal celebrity known as King Billy. So, my father ended up being referred to by this nickname, soon shortened to Bill.

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