Tuesday, 26 November 2019

A Deafening Silence

An Eye Witness Account of Armistice Day

We have been reading a biography of J. Gresham Machen by Ned Stonehouse.  Machen was a pivotal figure in warding off the capitulation to unbelief in US Presbyterian circles in the first half of last century.  It is an excellent read.

During WW1 Machen volunteered with the YMCA to go to Europe to assist and support combatants, helping relieve suffering and ward off hunger and even starvation.  At one point he describes "Armistice Day" from his perspective in the trenches.
I got some sleep on the floor of our little hovel.  Then rumors began to come in.  The armistice was said to have been agreed on at 2:10am.  Desultory firing continued but this was said to be usual even after an armistice is signed.  At four o'clock the French could be heard singing in their quarters.  When I poked my head in they said that the news was not official.  But somehow thee was a new atmosphere of hope.

With the morning light the news was confirmed.  Firing was to cease at 11 A.M.  Meanwhile there was quiet.  A strange peacefulness pervaded the  air.  The walk to the Y.M.C.A. canteen, which the night before had been hideous with the flash and roar of the guns and with the menace of arriving shells was now safe as though we were at home.

I shall never forget that morning.  Perhaps one might regret not having been (say) at Paris when the stupendous news came in.  But I do not think I regret it.  We  heard, indeed, no clamor of joyful bells, no joyful shouts, no singing of the Marsellaise.  But we heard something greater by far--in contrast with the familiar roar of war--namely the silence of that misty morning.  I think I can venture upon the paradox.  That was a silence that could really be heard.  I suppose it was the most eloquent, the most significant silence in the history of the world.  [Ned Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977) p. 284.]

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