100 years since WW1 guns fell silent

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At 11.02am on November 11, a cacophony of joyful noise will break two minutes of silence across New Zealand, as communities mark 100 years since the end of World War 1.

In Dunedin, the bells of First Church will peal out across Queens Gardens, where city officials, service personnel, veterans, and the public will be gathered at the cenotaph for the Armistice Day service.

The assembled people will be standing alongside more than 4000 white crosses, each representing a soldier from Otago-Southland who fell in one of the many terrible battles of World War 1 – from Gallipoli to Passchendaele and the Somme.

For Dunedin RSA president Lox Kellas, it will be a doubly poignant moment, as the Armistice Day service will be his final event as organiser of RSA commemorations in the city.

“I have been the convener of Anzac Day and Armistice Day events for the past 20 years, which has been interesting and rewarding,” he said.

A highlight had been the massive turnout for the Dawn Service on Anzac Day in 2015, as World War 1 centenary events began.

“And over the years, it has been pleasing to see the growing number of young people who attend the services – the youngsters are well informed these days.”

Mr Kellas is handing on the torch to Lieutenant Commander Rob Tomlinson of HMNZS Toroa, who has served for many years in the naval reserve.

The Armistice Day service at the cenotaph, which will begin at 10.45am on November 11, marks the historic moment when the guns fell silent on the Western Front – at 11am on November 11, 1918.

Reverend Monsignor John Harrison will officiate at the service, with guest speaker Lieutenant Commander Paul Smith – commanding officer of HMNZS Toroa.

At 11am, there will be two Howitzer rounds fired by the 31 (B) Battery Group gunners at Queens Garden, with a simultaneous round fired from the Robbie Burns cannon in the Octagon.

After two minutes of silence, Dunedin people are invited to join a “roaring chorus” of noise, in recognition of the jubilation that swept the country as hostilities ended 100 years ago.

Part of the World War 1 centenary programme WW100, the nationwide roaring chorus among communities includes vintage car horns, a mine siren, songs, drumming, cheering, church bells, fire sirens and ship horns.

WW100 director Sarah Davies said it was great that so many communities and organisations were joining the campaign.

“After four years of remembrance, we can now reconnect with the sense of joy and relief that swept the country when news of the end of fighting came through,” she said.

First Church will be among many churches and cathedrals throughout New Zealand to ring bells for the occasion.

Following the Armistice Day service, there will be a chance to continue the peace celebrations at Otago Museum.

The “Otago Museum Remembers” event, which will run from 12.30pm to 2.30pm at the Museum Reserve, will include music, performances, children’s activities, Devonshire tea, food and a bring-your-own picnic.