What is Armistice Day and how is it commemorated in Belgium?

What is Armistice Day and how is it commemorated in Belgium?
King Philippe celebrated the 101th anniversary of the Armistice, which marks the end of World War I. 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 A.M. 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.

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 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.

Members of government, together with representatives of the Chamber and the Senate also attend the event on Monday, which marks the 101 anniversary of the Armistice and takes place at the Colonne du Congrès.

In 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, around a hundred people attended a commemoration of Armistice Day, during which army officers’ rendition of the Last Post echoed through the Menin Gate war memorial.

Additionally, municipal authorities and police units in Brussels also marked the occasion with a visit to a WWI memorial or a commemoratory parade.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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