Monday, November 11, 2013

11 November

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On 11 November 1880, Irish Australian bushranger Ned Kelly was hanged at Melbourne Gaol. His last words were “Such is life” and “Ah, well, I suppose it has come to this.”  He was aged 26 and he, his brother Dan and friends Steve hart and Joe Byrne had been outlaws for 2 years.  At the final stand at Glenrowan on 28 June 1880, where Ned and the other members of the Kelly Gang fought the police wearing home made armour, all except Ned were killed.  

Kelly Death Mask

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On 11 November 1975 the Queen’s representative in Australia, the Governor General Sir John Kerr, dismissed the elected government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and installed the leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser, as the head of a caretaker government pending an election being held. Fraser, having a majority in the Senate, had blocked the money Bills (similar to what happened to Obama recently) to force an election to capitalise on Labor's unpopularity but Whitlam refused to go to the polls.  

After Kerr had sacked Whitlam and his government, Kerr sent his Official Secretary, David Smith, to proclaim the dissolution from the front steps of Parliament House. The sacking had become known and an angry crowd was gathered at the front of Parliament House. Smith read the proclamation and concluded with the traditional words “God save the Queen.” 

Whitlam, who had been standing behind Smith, stepped forward and stated:

"Well may we say "God save the Queen", because nothing will save the Governor-General! 
The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's cur. 
They won't silence the outskirts of Parliament House, even if the inside has been silenced for a few weeks ... Maintain your rage and enthusiasm for the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day."

In the election that followed, on 13 December, Fraser’s Coalition won a record victory, with 91 seats in the House of Representatives to Labor's 36 and a 35–27 majority in the expanded Senate

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On 11 November 1918 at 5.00am, the Armistice was signed which formally ended hostilities in World War 1. It provided that fighting would cease “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”.  The delay was to enable the news to reach the many parts of the Western Front.

Although the news that fighting would cease at 11.00am was quickly spread, intense warfare continued right until the last minute . . .

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Many artillery units continued to fire on German targets to avoid having to haul away their spare ammunition. The Allies also wished to ensure that, should fighting restart, they would be in the most favourable position. Consequently there were 10,944 casualties on the last day of the war with 2,738 losing their lives.

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The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) states that their records show that 863 Commonwealth soldiers died on November 11th 1918, though this figure also includes those who died on that day but of wounds received prior to November 11th.

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The Americans took heavy casualties on the last day of the war when General John "Black Jack" Pershing, believing that the terms of the Armistice were too lenient and that the Germans had to be taught a lesson, ordered that German positions be attacked. The US Marines took over 1,100 casualties in attempting to cross the River Meuse. The 89th US Division suffered 300 casualties in capturing the town of Stenay on the morning of 11 November 1918. 

When the losses became known in the US, Congress held a hearing via a House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs that examined whether senior army commanders had acted appropriately in the last few days of the war. Pershing remained unapologetic, stating that although he knew about the timing of the Armistice, he did not trust the Germans to carry out their obligations. He therefore, as commander in chief, ordered the army to carry on as it would normally do as any “judicious commander” would have done. Pershing also pointed out that he was merely carrying out the orders of the Allies Supreme Commander, Marshall Ferdinand Foch, that were to “pursue the field greys (Germans) until the last minute”.

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Information about German casualties is more difficult to ascertain. It is believed that the last casualty of World War One was a junior German officer called Tomas who approached some Americans to tell them that the war was over and that they could have the house he and his men were just vacating. However, no one had told the Americans that the war had finished because of a communications breakdown and Tomas was shot as he approached them after 11.00am.

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Augustin Trebuchon was the last Frenchman to die when he was shot on his way to tell fellow soldiers that hot soup would be served after the ceasefire. He was killed at 10:45 am

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The last soldier from the UK to die, George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, was killed earlier that morning at around 9:30 am while scouting on the outskirts of Mons, Belgium.

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The final Canadian, and Commonwealth, soldier to die, Private George Lawrence Price, was shot and killed by a sniper just two minutes before the armistice to the north of Mons at 10:58 am, to be recognized as one of the last killed with a monument to his name.

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American Henry Gunther is generally recognised as the last soldier killed in action in World War I. He was killed 60 seconds before the armistice came into force while charging astonished German troops who were aware the Armistice was nearly upon them. 

Gunther's squad had approached a roadblock of two German machine guns in the village of Chaumont-Devant-Damvillers. Gunther got up, against the orders of his sergeant and close friend, Ernest Powell, and charged with his bayonet. The German soldiers, aware of the armistice that would take effect in one minute, tried to wave Gunther off. He kept going and fired "a shot or two". When he got too close to the machine guns, he was shot and killed instantly. 

The writer James M Cain, then a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, interviewed Gunther's comrades afterward and wrote that "Gunther brooded a great deal over his reduction in rank, and became obsessed with a determination to make good before his officers and fellow soldiers." Gunther had earlier been demoted from sergeant to private for having advised a friend to do anything to avoid being drafted.

His divisional record states “Almost as he fell, the gunfire died away and an appalling silence prevailed.”

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