The dominant message of Armistice Day and later Remembrance Day continued to stress the nobility of sacrifice of the Glorious Dead, and most people seemed to accept this. Few were willing to countenance, let alone articulate, the harsher truth. Even most critics of the war who spoke of its utter pointlessness, at the same time subscribed to the view of the dead that ‘their sacrifice had not been in vain’.

And so it is today: criticism of Remembrance Day and associated activities, which many see as glorifying acts of war, is seen by others as showing lack of respect for the dead.

1930: ‘To honour war is, of necessity, to ensure its coming in all its horrors.’
A member of the public

1932: ‘The buzzer sounds and, at our benches, we,
Stopping the lathes, two minutes silently
Mourn for the lads who fell; then turn again
To making arms for killing other men.’
Poem published in the ‘New Statesman

1930: The Parliamentary Peace Committee asked if November 11’s service could be changed to a peace and memorial service. ‘Unthinkable!’ cried the war office official. ‘We get more recruits for the army in the fortnight after the Armistice ceremony than any other time of the year.’
Alfred Salter MP, Peace Committee Chairman

1938: ‘It’s shocking that all the politicians and clergy should be pretending to pray for peace while all the time they are preparing for war.’
A member of the public


Many ex-soldiers protested in various ways at the hypocrisy of Armistice Day ceremonies

1937: ‘We have never had Peace. We have not even got Armistice. What we have now is War without the engagement of great armies and fleets. The hellish implements of slaughter pour out to the multitudes of training troops. Yet what is it 300 million Europeans want? They want Peace and comfort. Is it not worth while to make the great effort, the supreme effort on the grandest scale to prevent Armistice lapsing into actual War, and to make Armistice ripen into real Peace? These are my thoughts for Armistice Day.’
Winston Churchill (Prime Minister during the Second World War)

In 1939 the military pomp and ceremony of Armistice Day were cancelled for good.

‘What we knew and felt about war was not made only of books and films. The First War had been translated into monuments and ceremonies, and those remembrances told a different story from the soldiers’ narratives – and still do. At the Cenotaph in London, the flags, the bands, and the old men with their medals, marching, aren’t a demonstration against war; they testify to pride and sacrifice, and say that though war may be terrible, it is also great, the greatest experience most men will have. Other ceremonies do the same: the two-minute silence kept at 11.00 a.m. on Armistice Day when I was a schoolboy was full of awe; something had happened at that time that was worthy of our reverence.

‘And so, when war came, we enlisted. The conclusion is obvious: in matters of war, cautionary literature and the evidence of experience do not change many minds or alter many romantic expectations. Every new generation will respond anew to war’s great seduction – not to the uniforms and parades but to the chance to be where danger is, where men are fighting. War brings to any society its electric, exhilarating atmosphere, and young men rush to join it, however grim the stories of war they have read and accepted as the truth. Every generation, it seems, must learn its own lessons from its own war, because every war is different and is fought by different ignorant young men.’
An American remembering the 1930s.