In 1918, the world had never seen such killing.
Between 15-19 million people died during World War I, and another 23 million were wounded.
The industrial age had industrialized death and Europe became the factory floor for new weapons and new means of killing from tanks and airplanes to gas and machine guns.
The war had started in 1914, and the killing continued without letup until Nov. 11, 1918, when the Allies and the Central Powers signed an armistice that ended the slaughter.
Just about every city, town and village felt the pain of the war. France alone lost nearly 1.7 million people on the battlefield or by disease. The United Kingdom lost between 860,000 and 1 million. The United States, which entered the conflict on April 6, 1917, lost 116,708 service members.
The Allies had broken through on the Western Front. German forces had been decisively beaten and American, British and French forces were advancing on Germany. The other Central Powers – Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire – had already stopped fighting. Germany signed the armistice in a railroad car in the Forest of Compiegne. It was to take effect Nov. 11, 1918 at 11 a.m.
It seemed like a miracle to a tired world.
‘Bells Burst Forth in Joyful Chimes’
“Bells burst forth in joyful chimes,” began one story in a London newspaper. Big Ben in Westminster tolled long and loud, and its ringing was copied in belfries around the city.
In Paris, people took to the streets with joy and relief. The bells of Paris rang out and people in the city from around the world cheered the end of the fighting that claimed so many.
In New York City, the Armistice was at 6 a.m., but New Yorkers still took to the streets. Again the bells of the city’s great houses of worship rang out and people flocked into the streets.
The same thing occurred across the United States.
Armistice Day was supposed to mark the end of the “War to End All Wars.” It is now called Veterans Day as Americans honor the veterans of all wars and conflicts. In the 100 years since 1918, U.S. service members have fought in the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and operations from Desert Storm to Lebanon to Grenada and Panama. American service members are serving right now in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The United States World War One Centennial Commission wants all Americans to remember the sacrifices of those killed in World War I and participate in the Bells for Peace program on Nov. 11, 2018. At 11 a.m. on that day, retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who’d served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will oversee the bells of Washington’s National Cathedral tolling 21 times in honor of those lost during World War I, said Betsy Anderson, a spokesperson for the World War I Centennial Committee. More than 1,000 communities nationwide will also participate in the program.
Individuals can also participate, Anderson said, by going to the commission’s website and downloading the Bells of Peace application. “As the built-in countdown timer reaches 11 a.m. local time, the Bells of Peace will toll” from all devices, she said.
To download the app go to: www.ww1CC.org.
British Officer, Poet
Bells draw attention to those lost in the war. Wilfred Owen was a British officer and poet who was killed on Nov. 4, 1918. One of his most famous poems mentioned bells:
Anthem for Doomed Youth
By Wilfred Owen
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.