A German national day of mourning, Volkstrauertag has, since 1952, been observed on the Sunday closest to 16 November. In Denmark, Netherlands and Norway, the end of World War I is not commemorated as the three countries remained neutral. Denmark instead observes Flag Day on 5 September in commemoration of both living and dead soldiers who served in any conflict. In the Netherlands, 4 May is Remembrance Day.
In India there is no official Armistice Day, but the day has been marked by tributes and ceremonies in army cantonments and by memorial services in some churches. Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, marked the day in Mumbai‘s St John the Evangelist Church. Services of remembrance supported by the Indian Army have been observed at Kohima and Imphal War Cemeteries and at the Delhi War Cemetery.
Because the two ‘World Wars’ were fought while India was part of the British Empire, the idea of ‘commemoration’ was largely dismissed as an unwanted colonial relic. In July 2016, however, a campaign called India Remembers was launched to commemorate the sacrifice of Indian soldiers in various conflicts, including the First World War, with a proposal that the marigold join the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
The day chosen for the official day of remembrance was 7 December, to commemorate the centenary of a historic cavalry charge led by Indian horsemen on the German trenches on the Somme. The horses and their riders did not fare well against German machine guns, but their sacrifice was something that those who launched the campaign wished to remember as the epitome of ‘the human spirit in the face of war’.
The contradictions between the focus on ‘valour’ on the one hand, and the reality of pain, suffering, injury and death in appalling conditions, on the other, are acute. One strategy that recognises this, at least in part, is to emphasise the importance of commemoration for peace and reconciliation.
This year, the British and German governments are encouraging other countries to ring bells at the same time in the same way, expressing the reconciliation of former enemies in sound.