Armistice Day, 1918

My grandfather’s notebook, written in the days following the Armistice on November 11th, 1918.

This is an edited repost of my first post on Substack one year ago on November 11, 2022.

Veteran’s Day in the US is Remembrance Day in the UK and Commonwealth member nations. Both holidays originated as Armistice Day, remembering November 11th, 1918, when the armistice ending hostilities in the Great War was signed. It’s also my mother’s birthday. She would have been 102 this year.

My grandfather, Richard Lovie, seated, and a friend.

Looking through a box of photographs while clearing out my late parents’ house, I found my grandfather Richard Lovie’s notebook from the time of the Armistice. He was serving in the British Army in France at the time, and soon received orders to march to Germany. Born in 1896, he would have been twenty-two when he wrote this.

Here’s the text from the notebook. In three and a half pages, written in pencil, he listed the places they stayed. I’ve corrected the placenames to make them easier to find.

Places visited and remarks
Nov 11th 1918 Armistice signed working on pontoon bridge at Louvroil lots of flags and arches put out. Started our march to the Rhine from Sailly au Bois on Nov 16th 1918 and were at Surfontaine (Belgium) on Nov 17th. we went from there to Leers et Fosteau Nov 18th Fontenelle on Nov 20th Acoz Nov 22nd 1918 Mettet Nov 24th 1918 from there we marched to one of the largest of the Belgian Monasteries at a place called Denée Abbey Maredsous where the bells were very well chimed the first time for 4 years, and we were taken round. Houx Nov 26th 1918 Cinery Nov 27th 1918 I was on guard. on from here we marched to the Chateau Fontain Lihon. (Haversin) Dec 7th 1918. Bavaux-Condoz 10th Dec 1918 Dec 11th Benda 1918. Ferrières 12 Dec 1918 Forges 13 Dec 1918 Grand Halleux 14th Dec Ville Du Bois (Vielsalm) Dec 16th 1918. Deidenberg our first night in Germany on Dec 17th 1918 I was corporal of the first guard in Germany. Wirtzeld in the office to work. Arrived at Hellenthal Dec 21st 1918. leaves to England started again. Moved to Riefferscheid Eifel (Riverside Tower) billeted in a schoolroom at the top of a hill Dec 22nd 1918 We arrived at Call on Dec 23rd 1918 and were billeted in a room in a hotel where we had a piano. On Dec 24th we marched to a place called Louvenich where we were billeted at a farm, our section in four billets. Christmas day at Louvenich and we had a good dinner given to us by the people where we were staying. Still in the same place, joined the section again. Dec 27th.

From: Richard Lovie, notebook

My grandfather didn’t have Strava, so I’ve helped him out by recreating the route of his march from France through Belgium into Germany. It was a foot slog. 324 miles, and over 18000 feet of elevation.

Tucked in the back of the notebook were a few pieces of paper and some newspaper clippings. Among them was a copy of the Fourth Army’s Marching Orders for the march to the Rhine.

The Fourth Army’s orders to march to the Rhine

Also tucked in the back was a yellowed typewritten copy of the words to “Peaceful Night”, better known as “Silent Night”, or in the original German, “Stille Nacht”, the words adapted to the reality of life in the trenches.

Peaceful Night

During the Christmas truce of 1914 in the trenches of the Great War, British and German soldiers would shake hands, exchange cigarettes and even play football, soccer for my American readers. The truce started on Christmas Eve, a moonlit frosty night. British and German troops took turns singing carols, joining together to sing “Peaceful Night/Stille Nacht” in English and German.

Perhaps my grandfather’s platoon sang it with their German hosts on Christmas Eve, 1918. I choose to believe that they did. I’m glad my grandfather chose to keep that piece of paper. This year more than ever.

Thank you for reading.

4 thoughts on “Armistice Day, 1918

  1. The notebook was a treasure. I knew about the Christmas truce. It’s an often-told story in the UK around Christmas, often as an introduction to that song, and I can’t hear the song now without thinking of it. So, to find those lyrics… Well, I’m normally pretty composed, but that got me. That song must have been special to my grandfather too.
    As I updated this, I was put in mind of your recent essay on the silence in words of violence. Another word derived from arms is armistice, an agreement to stop fighting, a cessation of hostilities. Armistice Day was a celebration of peace.
    The name was changed to Veteran’s Day in the US, and Remembrance Day in the UK and Commonwealth, during World War II. A celebration of war, then, more than of peace. After the war, the rebranding stuck.
    And now, the UK government is imploring marchers for Palestine – for a ceasefire, for an armistice – to stay away from the Remembrance Day ceremony, and the police are threatening to use force. The rebranding is complete. The language of violence for sure.
    My comment on your piece was short because I hadn’t posted this yet! I’ve been holding space for it, thinking we would connect on it.

  2. That it became Peaceful Night, celebrating the peace after four years of war. I’m seeing his platoon singing those words from that sheet, put together and typed up for the occasion, in their billet in a German farmhouse that Christmas Eve. That what he chose to leave was a record of the peace, not of the war. Or perhaps it’s what my father chose to keep from what my grandfather left behind. Things I didn’t know about them when they were alive. Words, Freya. Words matter.

  3. Hundreds of thousands of people calling for a ceasefire in Gaza marched in London today. At least one banner read “105 years later armistice in Gaza”. The only violence was from right wing counter protesters.

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