One hundred years ago – on November 11 1918, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – millions of men laid down their guns.
This was Armistice Day, the end of the first world war.
Armistice Day – later known as Remembrance Day – has since been commemorated every year.
Ending the war
On November 11 1918, aboard Marshall Ferdinand Foch’s train carriage, a few plenipotentiaries of Germany and the main Allied nations signed a short document that ordered a ceasefire, effective from 11am. In doing so, they put an end to the global carnage that had started in August 1914 and had killed more than 10 million combatants and 6 million civilians.
Notably, though this document stopped combat, it did not formally end the war. Indeed, Germany had sought an armistice in order to negotiate a formal peace treaty. This peace was secured eight months later, on June 28 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference.
The Armistice also didn’t resolve localised conflicts resulting from the war. These raged on in parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East through to the early 1920s.
But for most nations involved in the first world war, the armistice of November 11 was the day the fighting finally stopped, which is why it has become a major commemorative event across the globe.
The first Armistice Day
On the first Armistice Day, November 11 1918, crowds cheered on the streets of Allied countries such as Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US, France and Belgium. People rejoiced at the ending of a period of total mobilisation that had affected every aspect of their lives, inflicting unprecedented hardship on soldiers and civilians alike.
But for those who had lost the war, the news of the armistice came as a shock. While some were relieved the conflict had ended, the sudden collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires provided a breeding ground for revolutionary movements and further internal conflicts. For them, Armistice Day was a moment of anguish and bitterness.
The second Armistice Day (1919)
After its first iteration, Armistice Day became a more formal and sombre commemoration, and was often held at war memorials. People were encouraged to remember the dead with respect and solemnity.
A dedicated time for silence became part of the ceremony and has been central to Remembrance Day commemorations ever since. In Britain, King George V requested a two-minute silence, which was observed from 1919 onward across the Commonwealth. In France, the minute de silence was instituted in 1922.
Silence meant time for contemplation, reflection, introspection and, above all, respect. In multifaith empires where atheism was progressing, the gesture could conveniently replace a prayer.
Remembrance Day was deemed a civic duty for many, and the veterans would often take a lead role in its commemoration.
From then on, Armistice Day increasingly became known as Remembrance Day. The focus was no longer on the armistice and the end of the war: it became a day to remember, grieve and honour those who had died.
The notion of sacrifice became central to Remembrance Day, as those still alive tried to give meaning to, and cope with, the deaths of their loved ones. The language of memory honoured the deceased, acknowledging that they had not sacrificed themselves in vain but for institutions and values such as country, king, God, freedom and so on. However, as time passed, this language came to be increasingly contested.
Remembrance Day: the inter-wars and the second world war
Remembrance Day was also used to protest against war in general. Some mourners and veterans refused to attend official commemorations. In doing so, they showcased their anger at the state-sanctioned carnage that the first world war had been. In France and Belgium in the 1920s and 1930s, for instance, large pacifist movements used Remembrance Day and some war memorials to stress the futility of war and nationalism.
Such Remembrance Day protests were of openly political nature, and historical contexts altered the meaning of these demonstrations. Across Nazi-occupied Europe, clandestine Remembrance Day ceremonies were used as a sign of protest against German occupation during the second world war, and to remind them they had been defeated in the previous war.
Remembrance Day now
Today, the commemoration of the November 11 armistice is marked in many countries across the globe (mostly those on the “winning” side of the war) under various names: Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Poppy Day, 11 Novembre, National Independence Day or Veterans Day. For some, the day is a public holiday.
Every state celebrating Remembrance Day grants different meanings to its commemoration. Speeches in France deplore the loss of lives and insist on the value of peace during official ceremonies. In Poland, however, the day marks the rebirth of the nation and a time to celebrate.
In the US, the commemoration is centred on the veterans of all wars, while in Australia few people attend Remembrance Day. The crowds prefer attending Anzac Day on April 25 – a more patriotic service and a public holiday.
As the first world war fades further away in time, one way to keep remembering those who died in this conflict has been to progressively include the commemoration of the dead of more recent conflicts in Remembrance Day ceremonies, as is the case in the US, the UK and France. The commemoration therefore remains relevant to a larger population but also prevents the multiplication of special days for official state commemorations.
Today, as in the past, protests continue to be a component of Remembrance Day. Recently, a man was fined £50 in the UK for burning a poppy on Remembrance Day to protest against current deployment of British forces. The commemoration has also been mobilised by different far-right movements across Europe to advance their agendas.
A centenary of remembrance
A hundred years after the event, Remembrance Day and first world war memorials still provide a time and place to remember those who fought and fell in the conflict. For the most senior citizens among us, this is their parents’ generation; a past they still live with.
On November 11 2018, to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of one of the world’s deadliest conflicts, you may choose to attend a Remembrance Day service. You may choose not to, or not even notice that it is Remembrance Day.
During the minute of silence, you may reflect on the meaning of war and its long-lasting impacts, its futility or its glory, think about a family member, or the weather. This degree of versatility partly explains the endurance of Remembrance Day. An official and public event, but also a personal gesture that everyone can embed with their own meaning.
As we commemorate the centenary of the Armistice, it is appropriate that we pay tribute to the thousands of largely forgotten people who formed a significant social and political coalition at the time of the first world war: those who fought against conscription, and against the war, including a significant number of conscientious objectors.
Military registration and training for all Australian men aged 18 to 60 was compulsory from 1911. But there was no provision in Australian law that required men to enlist for active service overseas. Signing up for such service was voluntary, and with the promise of a short war, there was no difficulty for recruitment officers finding their men.
However, as news of the horrendous losses at Gallipoli from April to December 1915 and the slaughter on the Western Front from mid-1916 filtered back to Australia, enthusiasm for overseas duties began to wane.
Australia was not meeting its recruitment target. Only about a third of eligible men were volunteering.
Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes determined that the only way to increase enlistment numbers was to impose conscription. He decided to hold a plebiscite (sometimes referred to as the “conscription referendum”) to carry out what he saw as his obligation to the Empire, and to do so with the consent of the Australian people.
But there were many vociferous voices from the trade union movement, the Labor Party and an active women’s coalition campaigning for a “no” vote. Religious adherents, too, found themselves well represented in the “no” campaign, with many Catholics, Quakers, Christadelphians, Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses in the forefront of the pacifist movement.
Archbishop Daniel Mannix was a leader in the Catholic Church in Melbourne. He took a strong stand against conscription, adding that the war was “just an ordinary trade war” driven by trade jealousy. Conscription, he maintained, would simply reinforce “class versus class” social injustices.
Remember, too, that the British had, in April 1916, put down with force the Easter Rising in Ireland. Almost 2,000 Irish were sent to internment camps. Most of the leaders of the Rising were executed in May 1916. Mannix was Irish-born.
Margaret Thorp, a Quaker, was another strong voice in opposition to the war, and critical of the support for the war by the mainstream churches. A member of the Anti-Military Service League, she later joined others to inaugurate a branch of the Women’s Peace Army in Australia and, later, a branch of the Sisterhood of International Peace that supported the international No-Conscription Fellowship.
On October 28, 1916, Prime Minister Hughes put the conscription ballot to the vote. It was defeated by a margin of 3%.
The following year, Britain sought a sixth Australian division for active service. Australia had to provide 7,000 men per month to meet this request. But voluntary recruitment continued to lag behind requirements. On December 20, 1917, Hughes put a second conscription ballot to the people. It, too, was defeated, this time by a larger margin (7%). The war continued to the Armistice with volunteers only.
By the end of the war, over 215,000 Australians had been killed, wounded or gassed. Only one out of every three Australian men who were sent abroad arrived home physically unscathed.
During the 20th century, Australian law developed a variety of positions on conscientious objection. Such status today relies on an applicant meeting the requirements of the Defence Act 1903 as amended in 1939. Conscientious objectors need not have deeply held religious beliefs. But they must be able to ground their objection in moral beliefs, and be able to articulate them.
People who were not able to be officially recognised as conscientious objectors in Australia during the first world war were prosecuted when they failed to register. While historical records are impossible to collate accurately on this subject, some 27,749 prosecutions had been launched across the country by June 30, 1915. Stories of the tragic social consequences for these men, and for conscientious objectors, are legion. Objectors particularly were often maligned as cowards and self-seekers. But the historical records illustrate that theirs was not an easy path. They did not lack courage. In many respects, the choices made by conscientious objectors required a greater determination and certainty of belief than was needed by the men who enlisted voluntarily.
There is a permanent memorial for conscientious objectors in Tavistock Square, London, and one is planned for Edinburgh, Scotland. There is a tribute at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City for the pacifists Joseph and Michael Hofer, who died in Leavenworth Prison in 1918 while incarcerated for refusing military service.
It is regrettable that Australia has no public memorial to our forebears who campaigned against compulsory military service, and the war itself, for reasons of conscience and faith. As we commemorate the centenary of the Armistice, there is no better time to remedy that oversight.
War is often seen as a death knell for the arts, but during the first world war the Australian government mobilised some of the country’s most renowned expatriate artists to paint the conflict. Hired essentially as eyewitnesses to war, these men were stationed at the front and tasked with creating art on the battlefield.
The idea of using art to interpret and commemorate the war was first raised by Will Dyson, an Australian expatriate cartoonist working in Britain, who went to the Western Front as Australia’s first official war artist in late 1916. Dyson drew candid studies of Australian soldiers. In images such as Coming Out on the Somme (1916) he deftly captures the glazed detachment and vacant stares of the men who had just returned from, as he described it, “gazing on strange and terrible lands”.
Perhaps sensitive to the public at home, most Australian official artists avoided sketching the graphic violence of the war. But there were some exceptions. Will Longstaff’s sketchbook, for instance, contains an image of a dismembered leg, bone protruding from a mess of flesh and cloth. His composition shows the severed limb in the centre of the sketch with a grassy field of poppies in the background, an arrangement at odds with the human evidence of the impact of war.
By 11 November 1918, the Australian art collection consisted of an eclectic array of images of the battlefield. But it represented a very narrow view of the Australian war experience. Most official artists had been sent to France and Belgium. The eyewitness role of artists – a position they did not challenge – meant they painted only what they observed at the front. As a result, the collection was dominated by paintings of the soldiers and battlefields in Europe. Other theatres of war, such as the Middle East where only George Lambert had been stationed, were represented by much fewer images.
The focus on the Western Front meant the army was privileged over other services, such as the Navy and Flying Corps. The absence of the Navy was particularly criticised by members of the Australian press at the time, who complained that while Britain and Canada had employed their best artists to paint naval pictures, the Australian Government had done nothing.
The Canadian and British art schemes also made concerted efforts to include the home front in their collections. And they employed women artists, albeit to paint women’s wartime labour, such as workers in factories. Additionally, the Canadian art scheme hired painters from a range of Allied countries, embracing diverse styles and interpretations of the conflict.
The Australian collection was more nationalistic in tone, employing only Australian artists. While some of the nation’s most eminent artists of the day painted for it, lesser known artists, many of whom had served in the Australian Imperial Force, were also commissioned.
Often images that less skilfully portrayed the war were included because of their eyewitness value, such as works by Ellis Silas, who had served as a signaller on Gallipoli in 1915.
The Australian collection also stood alone in its neglect of the war experience at home and of women artists. Missing from the collection were images of the preparations for conflict, the training camps, the embarkation of troops, women’s wartime efforts and experience, (including their roles as nurses and volunteers in the warzone and as paid or unofficial workers at home), and of the bitter political disputes that divided Australia during the war.
These lacunae in the collection were addressed to some extent in the decades after the war. But even then, the focus remained largely on a battlefield narrative – more narrowly defining “war experience” than either the British or Canadian art.
George Lambert’s iconic painting of the Australians climbing the cliffs on Gallipoli at dawn on 25 April 1915 is a fascinating example of post-war mythologising. Despite travelling to the peninsula in early 1919 to study the battlefields and create as accurate a representation as possible, he took some artistic liberties with this canvas.
Veterans complained that the soldiers should be depicted in the peaked cap of the early uniform they had actually worn in 1915. But Lambert painted all the men wearing the slouch hat, which had become synonymous with the Australian soldier, consolidating the painting’s distinctly Australian character.
Other images also show an emerging national mythology. Dyson’s cartoons and sketches, many of which were a powerful indictment of the conduct of the war, represent ideas about an Australian type.
He portrayed the humour associated with the larrikin soldier in images such as Small Talk (1920). Depicting two soldiers in conversation in a bomb crater, he captures their droll joking: “No Brig., I says send me back to the boys – the transport’s no good to me I never joined the war to be a mule’s batman!”
Arthur Streeton painted the battlefields where Australian soldiers fought. He saw in soldiering life a deeper and more meaningful example of the development of a particularly Australian masculinity: “It[̓s] extremely novel and exciting over here and it’s the only way in which to form any idea of Australian manhood.”
Many official artists drew on the devastated landscape of the battlefield as an allegory for the destruction wrought by war. Taming the Australian bush, a trope popular with Australian audiences before the war, became survival on the battlefields of Europe and the Middle East.
George Lambert was the only official artist stationed in the Middle East during the war. He interpreted this theatre in terms of his experience painting the Australian landscape. The light and colours of Australia permeated much of his wartime work, framing the experience of the soldiers and their environment in familiar imagery that made the conflict appear more immediate for audiences at home.
Australia did not employ any women as official painters during the war, but female artists created numerous images of their wartime experience, and their images show what the collection might have gained had they been commissioned. Australian born artist Iso Rae’s painting of the military camps in France was later acquired for the collection.
Australia’s first world war art collection has been revised and reshaped across the last century and now represents a broader experience of the conflict from a more diverse range of artists. But the works created during and immediately after the war fed into a national mythology that privileged a narrative of the Australian soldier on the battlefield, coming at the expense of a more nuanced story of Australia in the war.
The Australian war art collection is held at The Australian War Memorial.
The word “monster” was coined from two Latin verbs “monere” (to warn) and “demonstrare” (to reveal). In tandem, they create a sense of warning, or a portent. The figure of the monster signals what threatens society.
Monster Anthropology combines the interdisciplinary field of Monster Studies, which explores the meanings of monsters, with anthropology, which is concerned with understanding how different peoples see and experience the world in their own specific ways.
Less focused on fictional monsters in literature and popular culture, (such as ghosts, zombies, vampires, aliens, dragons, and elves) it considers the monsters who haunt the people anthropologists work with.
These monsters are more than characters in myths, songs, and stories from around the fire. They are “out there” on the prowl, lurking in the shadows, lying in wait, going about their monstrous business in the real world. They appear in all kinds of shapes, and for all kinds of reasons. Some are cheeky and mischievous, some are mysterious, others are downright evil.
But all monsters make their mark on the communities they haunt.
Fears come to life
In central Australia, for example, many Aboriginal people are terrified of jarnpa. These monsters may look like humans, but they possess superhuman powers. They can fly as fast as a bullet and make themselves invisible. They love to kill and do so with ease, using either sorcery or brute force.
Jarnpa have existed in the Tanami Desert since time immemorial. In the past, when local people moved across the desert in their seasonal rhythms, jarnpa were held responsible for otherwise inexplicable deaths. A person and a jarnpa must have crossed paths, and the jarnpa did what jarnpa do: it killed.
Nowadays, Aboriginal people live in permanent communities dotted across the desert. It is believed these small towns have become magnets for jarnpa, who flock to them to kill. Interestingly, they kill only Aboriginal residents, while non-Indigenous locals are not even afraid of them.
We can interpret jarnpa as providing insights into prevailing inequalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people – in particular the fact that Indigenous Australians have a life expectancy of around 10 years less than those who are non-Indigenous.
Another compelling example of monsters who exert a distinct influence over the people they haunt are the Anito, spirits of the Indigenous Tao people on Lanyu Island, Taiwan. Their presence on the island and in the Tao’s lives is all-encompassing.
As the Anito take great joy in spoiling people’s plans, the Tao will not discuss their intentions out loud. For the same reason, the Tao are taught to keep their emotions hidden.
Anger, for example, is said to draw the Anito in, enabling them to detach the soul from one’s body. To ward off this danger, children are taught to suppress anger from an early age. Through these and more examples, anthropologist Leberecht Funk illustrates how the Anito shape every aspect of Tao life.
Other monsters are less intrusive, but this does not mean they are any less potent of meaning. Take the Latharr-ghun, for example. This is a big, black, scaly dragon said to live in caverns and underground tunnels in and around Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory.
The traditional custodians of the land under which the Latharr-ghun roams, the Mak Mak Marranunggu people, told anthropologist Joanne Thurman how it can pop up through soft soil and pull you down with it.
The Mak Mak Marranunggu know how to recognise the “th-d-th-d-th-d” sound signalling its approach. They say they learned how to calm the Latharr-gun from “the old people”. It’s imperative to stand very still, while announcing in the local language that one belongs to the land. Slinging some sweat in the direction of the Latharr-gun also helps, as that way it can smell that one is “from here”.
Put differently, the danger the Latharr-gun poses can be mediated by custodians only. In the context of a contested land, over which Aboriginal, mining, pastoral, and National Park interests clash, the Latharr-gun becomes a strong if dangerous ally.
The ancient origins of werewolves
Icelandic anthropologist Helena Onnudottir describes another monstrous ally: the Tröll. Human-like in appearance but larger and bit uncouth and rough, they live in caves and crevasses across Iceland and make their presence felt in a number of ways.
Like other Icelandic monsters, they are the idiom through which Icelanders know their land – and themselves. Further, as Onnudottir describes, in a situation of danger she “called on her Tröll … and the Tröll headed her call,” ensuring her safe passage.
Such ambiguity in nature, being both threatening and familiar at once, is characteristic of all monsters.
Taking monsters seriously
Monsters always take on specific cultural meanings wherever they are found. Consider ghosts, for example. They are one of the most prolific monsters, existing everywhere across time and space. And yet, they do so differently.
Ghosts in Fiji are recognisably related to other local supernatural beings and take on the same responsibilities as ancestral spirits. According to anthropologist Geir Henning Presterudstuen, they reinforce central cultural beliefs about Fijian cosmology, joining in with ancestors protecting the wellbeing of land and people. As they haunt people they also reflect the same concerns about ethnic and social relations that preoccupy the locals, such as sexual morality and maintaining racial borders.
Meanwhile ghosts in North Maluku, Indonesia, as anthropologist Nils Ole Bubandt reports, are part of the current political climate. For instance, a series of unnerving events was understood to be caused by the ghost of a woman whose husband had been killed in a conflict.
The woman had joined in herself, only to be raped, killed, and dumped in the forest. Her haunting the living echoed her own trauma and that of the conflict more widely.
The study of monsters can be a shortcut towards understanding different fears and how they manifest culturally. This is why taking other people’s monsters seriously becomes ever more urgent in these apocalyptic times of climate change, wars, inequality, terrorism, deforestation, extinction, floods, fires, and droughts.