Armistice remembrance seeks return to normalcy amid COVID-19

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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to Vice President Kamala Harris before ceremonies marking the 103rd anniversary of Armistice Day, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021 in Paris. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

YPRES – Armistice remembrances took place around the world Thursday after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out ceremonies last year to mark the end 1918 end of World War I.

Dignitaries and government leaders across the Western Front in Europe stood still and pondered the losses of millions during the four-year war, whose end harbored the seeds of an equally cruel World War II a little over two decades later.

In Paris, President Emmanuel Macron was joined by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on the Champs Elysees in a moving tribute to how France and the United States stood together shoulder to shoulder to force a retreating Germany into surrender on Nov. 11, 1918.

After a diplomatic spat over France losing a deal to sell submarines to Australia to the United States, Harris and Macron held arms in warm welcome during an open-air ceremony on a brisk sunny morning.

Other allied nations, from the United Kingdom to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, also had ceremonies and moments of silence to mark Armistice Day.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres joined national dignitaries in two minutes of silence in the U.K. pavilion at the ongoing COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Under the Menin Gate in western Belgium’s Ypres, at the heart of the Flanders Fields where hundreds of thousands perished in the war, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stood amidst the walls bearing the names of more than 54,000 fallen British and Commonwealth soldiers without known graves.

"They shall not grow old,' said De Croo, highlighting how memories endure.

Across Britain, people paused in workplaces, streets and railway stations for two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. in memory of the country’s war dead.

Parliament’s Big Ben bell, which was silenced for several years for repairs, was brought back to sound the hour with its deep bongs. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, joined hundreds of veterans for a ceremony at nearby Westminster Abbey, where she laid a cross amid red poppies, a longstanding symbol of remembrance.

The Armistice Day silence has been observed in Britain since 1919, when King George V proclaimed that “all locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

Last year, people were encouraged to mark the moment from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

World War I pitted the armies of France, the British empire, Russia and the U.S. against a German-led coalition that included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Almost 10 million soldiers died, sometimes tens of thousands on a single day.


Casert reported from Brussels. Jill Lawless contributed from London