By the time an armistice between the Allied Forces and Germany was signed on November 11, 1918, more than 18,000 New Zealanders had died. During the four years leading up to that day, WWI – the ‘Great War’, the ‘war to end all wars’ – claimed lives and injured many thousands, physically, psychologically and in some cases, both. The devastating effects on their families lasted for generations.
In a country whose burden was amplified by an influenza epidemic, those at home celebrated the end of the war. There was festivity, there were speeches, songs, bonfires, parades and church bells ringing, but according to the New Zealand Division official history, those fighting in France received the news of the armistice “generally in a matter-of-fact way, totally devoid of any demonstration of emotion.” It’s not unreasonable to expect that those who lost loved ones didn’t find much to celebrate at the time either.
For years afterwards, returned servicemen did not want to talk about their experiences, and no one wanted to ask them. While the end of the war was celebrated each year, many servicemen, not wanting to be reminded of a horrific time in their lives and of the loss of comrades, refused to attend.