Eleven. In 1918, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at 11 am, was the end of what my grandfather called "the war to end all wars". In Belgium and France and England today, in cities and villages and hamlets, the citizens will gather at their local war memorials to remember. They'll go and lay their wreaths and they'll remember uncles, brothers, cousins, neighbors, strangers.
Nowhere are these ceremonies more poignant than here in Belgium. In this tiny country, the size of the US state of Maryland, are found the sites of three of the bloodiest battles in the last couple of centuries. Waterloo. Ypres.
Waterloo, where Wellington ended the reign of Napoleon.
Ypres, where nearly half a million died in Flanders fields.
Bastogne. The name rolls like thunder down the decades. More than 100,000 died there in the Ardennes winter.
They're all here, within an hour or so of my house. But we don't have to go that far to be reminded. In our village, as in every village, there is a memorial to those who died in what's called here quatorze-dix-huit (14-18). Not "the war to end all wars". Here they know better--the next one is called quarante-quarante-cinq (40-45).
Some of our neighbors are of an age to remember that one, but that's a story for another time. Today, it's quatorze-dix-huit that we remember. The war of 14-18 ended officially with the treaty of Versailles in June of 1919, but the fighting ended with a cease-fire which came into effect on the 11th of November at 11 am--the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. at 10:59 there was war. At 11:00 there was none. I often think of the soldiers who died after the cease-fire was signed but before 11 am on 11 November. That would be my luck.