Armistice Assembly Commemorates the Experience of Women
Girls' Division

Continuing a tradition that started last year, the Girls’ Division Armistice Assembly began with the laying of a wreath at the Boys’ Division Memorial Staircase by Head of Foundation Mr Philip Britton, Head Girl Phoebe and representatives of each year group. As the wreath party left the Great Hall, the audience of pupils, staff and guests sang ‘I Vow to Thee my Country’.

Head of Girls’ Division Mrs Kyle explained to the audience, both in the Great Hall and watching via livestream, that the assembly was a commemoration of Armistice. This word comes from two Latin words, ‘arma’ meaning ‘weapons’ and ‘sistere’ meaning ‘to stop’, and means a truce or agreement to stop fighting. She spoke about the history of Armistice, with the First World War ending at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, and the enormous loss of life: in just four years, more military personnel died than in any conflict before or since, and the estimated military and civilian deaths is estimated to be around 20 million.

The first two-minute silence to remember those who died in service of their country was held in 1919, and Mrs Kyle went on to describe how the scope of Remembrance has expanded since then to include all those who have died in conflict from the First World War to the present day.

She spoke briefly about the national Service of Remembrance held each year at the Cenotaph, and why people wear poppies at this time of year to remember those servicemen and women who perished and the families of those who lost loved ones.

Mrs Kyle said: ‘Remembrance does not glorify war, and so too the poppy is not a celebration of war. Rather, the poppy is a sign of our regard for the sacrifices made on our behalf and of our hope for a peaceful future.’

The order of service this year included the Kohima Epitaph, written at the end of the First World War by John Maxwell Edmonds. Mrs Kyle also shared a second epitaph by him, On Some Who Died Early in the Day of Battle: ‘Went the day well? We died and never knew. But, well or ill, Freedom, we died for you.’ She reminded the audience that it is important to remember those who have lost their lives in war, and show our regard for those who have fought or who are still fighting for peace today, to remember the freedom we have because of the sacrifices of others, and remember the past so that we can learn lessons for the future.

Marissa Hollinghurst then played ‘O Quam Suvais’ on the organ.

Mr Britton asked the audience to stand for the Ode of Remembrance. This was followed by the the Last Post, played by Amy Heaton, and a two-minute silence at 11 o’clock.

The silence was broken by the Reveille, and the Kohima Epitaph: ‘When you go home, tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, we gave our today.’ The School then sang ‘Jerusalem’.

Mrs Wright spoke about the difficulties of understanding the scale and impact of war, because the vast majority of people attending the Armistice Assembly are lucky to have lived lives free from the direct impact of war. She said that, while there are vast swathes of data to help us understand war, it can be helpful to zoom in and focus on a single person: to aid this, cards representing the experiences of women in war were placed on every seat in the Great Hall. These names and faces, one for each member of the audience, helped everyone to connect with the true stories of the past and gain a deeper and more meaningful insight from ‘the many, many phenomenally brave souls who fearlessly looked danger in the eye and were bold.’

As part of the assembly, she shared the story of one of these women: Edith Cavell, a highly experienced nurse. A pioneer in healthcare education, she went to train nurses in a newly built hospital in Belgium in 1913. When war was declared in 1914, she was at her family home in Norfolk, but chose to head straight back to the hospital in Belgium, feeling that it was her duty to help injured soldiers. The hospital became part of the Red Cross, which meant that they would treat the injured regardless of what side they were on. She helped 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers to escape being prisoners of war following their treatment: a highly dangerous endeavour, which sadly ended in tragedy. She and 34 others involved in those rescue missions were caught by German forces, and Edith was ultimately executed by firing squad on 12 October 1915.

Mrs Wright explained that the injustice of her death angered people across Europe, and she became a symbol of many war campaigns. A memorial to Edith still stands today outside Trafalgar Square, commemorating Edith and her act of undeniable heroism and bearing the words: ‘I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone’, an incredibly simple message that reflects her humanitarianism.

‘Edith, like the fragments of the female experience of war you hold in your hands today, should never be forgotten. We should hold on to those memories, not in a way to glorify war, but as a gentle reminder that young women just like you dared to take risks, to use their skills to help others, and were incredibly brave,’ Mrs Wright said. She encouraged the girls to remember the sacrifices of the women whose pictures appear on the cards, and asked them to commit themselves to always strive for peace.

The assembly ended with a moment of reflection led by Mrs Kyle, remembering all those who have given their lives in the hope of bringing peace and justice, those who have been injured and disabled through war, those who have lost homes and security through conflict, those who have lost loved ones, and gave thanks for those who face danger and take risks for peace. She closed by saying: ‘May we remember the sacrifice of others for our freedom, and may we too seek to bring peace wherever we can.’

Old Girls and former members of staff also attended the Remembrance assembly, and received the gift of a poppy hand-made by the Crochet Club.

Flickr album: Remembrance 2023 | Height: auto | Theme: Default | Skin: Default Skin


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