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Belgium on Holiday: What is Armistice Day?

Credit: Belga

Armistice Day on 11 November marks the effective end of World War I and is a day to remember the millions of lives lost to a years-long conflict opposing several European countries to each other.

German and Allied forces officially signed the armistice accord at around 5:00 AM of 11 November, following days of negotiations which had seen the Germans come to the negotiating table after suffering heavy losses during the summer of 1918.

The armistice ordered belligerent parties to terminate “hostilities on the Western Front, on land and in the air, within six hours of signature,” ushering peace into Europe on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

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The document also ordered the “immediate evacuation” by German troops of invaded countries such as Belgium, France and Luxembourg “within 15 days following the signature of the armistice,” and added that German soldiers who failed to leave those territories within the given delay would be made prisoners of war.

Since the armistice was signed, several monuments erected in cities across Europe pay tribute to those who perished in the war and led to the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, meant to honour the unidentified soldiers killed during the conflict.

In Belgium, this symbolic monument lies at the foot of the Colonne du Congrès, which celebrates the creation of the Belgian constitution and which is crowned by a statue of Leopold I, the first Belgian monarch.

On Armistice Day, commemoratory events are generally organised throughout Belgium and Europe, with Belgium’s King Philippe taking part in a ceremony to commemorate the Unknown Soldier, during which a wreath to honour the fallen soldiers is placed at the foot of the tomb.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, however, certain changes are expected to have been made to preestablished events. According to the agenda of the monarchy, King Philippe will still take part in the military ceremony commemorating Armistice Day on 11 November.

The Minister for the Interior, Annelies Verlinden, Minister for Defence, Ludivine Dedonder, and Admiral Michel Hofman, Head of Defence, will also attend the ceremony at the Congress Column in Brussels, which marks the 102 anniversary of the Armistice.

In the city of Ypres, the scene of one of the costlier battles of the war as well as of the unofficial Christmas Truce between German and British soldiers, crowds of people usually attend a commemoration of Armistice Day, during which army officers’ rendition of the Last Post echoes through the Menin Gate war memorial.

This year, however, due to the coronavirus restrictions, only four people will be present at the ceremony, and the limited Commemoration can be followed via a live stream on Facebook, announced Ypres mayor Emmily Talpe.

Only one person will play the Last Post at the Menin Gate, and only four people will lay down flowers, one of which will be the mayor herself. “We will still keep quiet for a while about who the other guests are, to avoid people coming to see,” she said. “We do not want any gatherings at this stage of the pandemic.”

The commemoration will last about ten minutes, and the local police will cordon off the site to the public to make sure no one will try to attend. Additionally, the annual ‘poppy parade’ will not take place this year either.

The Brussels Times