Armistice

November 11, 1918. The newspapers tell us that to-day the signal to “cease fire” will be given. This news is called “Official,” to give us assurance in the fog of myth. Maroons will explode above the City. Then we shall know it is the end of the War. We ought to believe it, because They tell us this; They who do everything for us–who order us what to think and how to act, arrange for our potatoes, settle the coming up and the going down of the sun, and who for years have been taking away our friends to make heroes of them, and worse. They have kept the War going, but now They are going to stop it. We shall know it is stopped when the rockets burst.

Yet “The War” has become a lethargic state of mind for us. We accepted it from the beginning with green-fly, influenza, margarine, calling-up notices, and death. It is as much outside our control as the precession of the equinoxes. We believed confidently in the tumultuous first weeks of the affair that mankind could not stand that strain for more than a few months; but we have learned it is possible to habituate humanity to the long elaboration of any folly, and for men to endure uncomplainingly racking by any cruelty that is devised by society, and for women to support any grief, however senselessly caused. Folly and cruelty become accepted as normal conditions of human existence. They continue superior to criticism, which is frequent enough though seldom overheard. The bitter mockery of the satirists, and even the groans of the victims, are unnoticed by genuine patriots. There seems no reason why those signal rockets should ever burst, no reason why the mornings which waken us to face an old dread, and the nights which contract about us like the strangle of despair, should ever end. We remember the friends we have lost, and cannot see why we should not share with them, in our turn, the punishment imposed by solemn and approved dementia. Why should not the War go on till the earth in final victory turns to the moon the pock-scarred and pallid mask which the moon turns to us?

I was looking, later this morning, at Charing Cross Bridge. It was, as usual, going south to the War. More than four years ago I crossed it on a memorable journey to France. It seemed no different to-day. It was still a Via Dolorosa projecting straight and black over a chasm. While I gazed at it, my mind in the past, a rocket exploded above it. Yes, I saw a burst of black smoke. The guns had ceased?

A tug passing under the bridge began a continuous hooting. Locomotives began to answer the tug deliriously. I could hear a low muttering, the beginning of a tempest, the distant but increasing shouting of a great storm. Two men met in the thoroughfare below my outlook, waved their hats, and each cheered into the face of the other.

Out in the street a stream of men and women poured from every door, and went to swell the main cataract which had risen suddenly in full flood in the Strand. The donkey-barrow of a costermonger passed me, loaded with a blue-jacket, a flower-girl, several soldiers, and a Staff captain whose spurred boots wagged joyously over the stern of the barrow. A motor cab followed, two Australian troopers on the roof of that, with a hospital nurse, her cap awry, sitting across the knees of one of them. A girl on the kerb, continuously springing a rattle in a sort of trance, shrieked with laughter at the nurse. Lines of people with linked arms chanted and surged along, bare-headed, or with hats turned into jokes. A private car, a beautiful little saloon in which a lady was solitary, stopped near me, and the lady beckoned with a smile to a Canadian soldier who was close. He first stared in surprise at this fashionable stranger, and then got in beside her with obviously genuine alacrity. The hubbub swelled and rolled in increasing delirium. Out of the upper windows of the Hotel Cecil, a headquarters of the Air Force, a confetti of official forms fell in spasmodic clouds. I returned soon to the empty room of an office where I was likely to be alone; because, now the War was over, while listening to the jollity of Peace which had just arrived, I could not get my thoughts home from France, and what they were I cannot tell.

Taken from “Waiting for Daylight,” by H. M. Tomlinson, 1922.

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