Today, of course. Not, technically, the end of the war; ‘just’ what the dictionaries call ‘The cessation of hostilities’, but the difference is a matter for the politicians and not the poor bastards they sent out to die.
As a child I had a dreadfully romantic idea of the First World War, fostered by the fat illustrated volumes called ‘The Great War’ which I would pull out from my grandfather’s bookshelves, to pore over jolly pictures of gallant British and German officers meeting in ruined houses in France to play Schubert on grand pianos that had survived. Grandy, as I called him, would smile indulgently. He had been a stretcher-bearer, I think, working out of the big hospital in Salonika, and eventually a patient there after being wounded. He never talked of the war. What distresses me now is the knowledge that he must have seen and experienced the full horror of that war, but nevertheless kept on his shelves that set of books that made the whole thing out to be ‘An awfully big adventure’. Politicians have always relied on the sad fact that simple, decent people like my grandfather believe and even die for the myths they are fed.
When someone ‘important’ — the officer and poet Siegfried Sassoon, noted for his extreme bravery in battle, showed perhaps even more bravery in publicly denouncing a war that was being unnecessarily prolonged for political gain, what did the authorities do? They daren’t make a martyr by shooting him as a traitor: They declared him mad and sent him off to the loony bin.