PARIS (AP) — A hundred years later, their words can still pierce hearts. Fighters writing home from opposing front lines of World War I, a Chinese laborer marveling at the war’s end, a woman dreaming of reuniting with her soldier love.
At a Paris ceremony Sunday marking the centennial of the armistice ending the first global war, eight teenagers born in the 21st century read from letters and notes written on the day the bloodshed stopped, Nov. 11, 1918. They then helped French President Emmanuel Macron rekindle the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Some excerpts from the readings:
“My darling parents,
Today has been perfectly wonderful. We got news of the armistice at 9:30 this morning. I got 10 minutes to sort out a detachment for a grand parade in the square of Mons, so I got everybody I could lay hand to scrub the mud off. The streets were packed with wildly cheering civilians chucking flowers at us and carrying on like only a foreigner can. All the street and the square was a blaze of color, mostly, of course the Belgian colors red, yellow and black. Union Jacks, French flags, American flags, in fact every conceivable flag of the allies.”
–British officer Charles Neville, Royal Horse Artillery
“The war is over and in an hour we will leave. We will never have to come back here.
A light fog curls over the ground and we can clearly see the line of pits and trenches. . These elements of a frightening world and an unforgiving life.
In an hour’s time, everything will have disappeared and disappeared to the point that one might believe it never existed. How can we comprehend this?
And we who are here, who should laugh and cry out for joy, feel a heaviness in our stomachs.”
–German foot soldier and writer Erich Maria Remarque, Regiment of the XV Infantry Reserve, from the book “After”
“The sirens of the factories seemed to be sounding and cries and joyful songs ring out. The end of the war was announced.
… At 11 a.m., arms and work stopped everywhere. I wanted to see for myself how the French celebrated the armistice. In the city, there was already a sea of people: men and women, young and old, soldiers and civilians, people of all skin colors marched together, hand in hand, singing or cheering.”
–Chinese laborer Gu Xinggqing, working in a depot in the Normandy city of Rouen; tens of thousands of Chinese laborers were brought to support the war effort.
“In the parade were hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the U.S., England, Canada, France, Australia, Italy and the colonies. Each soldier had his arms full of French girls, some crying, others laughing; each girl had to kiss every soldier before she would let him pass. There is nowhere on earth I would rather be today than just where I am. …
I only hope the soldiers who died for this cause are looking down upon the world today. The whole world owes this moment of real joy to the heroes who are not here to help enjoy it.”
–American soldier Capt. Charles S. Normington, 127th Infantry, 32nd Division
“My Pierre, my darling…
As I write to you, in your distant Alsatian forest you are learning the incredible news! Here, the bells ring out wildly.
I am sick with happiness. I cannot write. I’m sobbing desperately with joy.
Never, I can never, express to you the feeling and delirious joy of this first day of armistice. The upheaval to the very depths of my being, and this incredible thought that not one more man will fall, that the immense length of the front is silent. Nothing but silence. Great tears fall, as I think that it is all over.”
–Frenchwoman Denise Bruller, in a letter addressed to her fiance Pierre Fort
“Am I dreaming? I wonder if I am. … As soon as I realize how happy I am, I think of my brother and sister, both victims of the war, and my eyes mist over.”
“More than ever I am convinced that the war is over. The weapons have been put down: they will not be picked up again. I still have much to write, but finally the whir of the shells and the whistling of the bullets are over.”
–French soldier Sergeant Major Alfred Roumiguieres, 343rd infantry regiment
“Gently, we are grateful, gently, we are grateful, oh gently.
… Nothing is eternal
Gently, we are grateful”
–Song of peace and reconciliation in the mina language of Benin, sung by Grammy award winner Angelique Kidjo in honor of colonial soldiers recruited from Africa and Asia to fight and die for European armies
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