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Voices of the Armistice: How New Zealanders reacted to peace

On November 4, 1918, Vellentine Gordon Hunter tells Battalion Headquarters that the objective has been taken. For more on Hunter's heroics, see the November 10 issue of the Listener. Photo/Alexander Turnbull Library/Hand-coloured by Harry Burgess
“I opened the window and it really did seem, just in those first few moments, that a wonderful change happened. Not in human creatures’ hearts, no, but in the air; there seemed, just for a breath of time, a silence, like a silence that comes after the last drop of rain has fallen – you know?”
Katherine Mansfield, whose brother Leslie Beauchamp was killed in the war, in London

“Peace blessed peace … the whole thing seems too big to realise and too sad to understand.”
Fanny Speedy, NZ army nurse in England

The world fit for heroes was ushered in on a wave of sluttishness, of burning, of snarling, of hating, of great rejoicing. The soldier’s job was done, the civilian mob was ready to dictate the peace, a mob infected by slogans.”
John A Lee, wounded and recovering in London

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“A most respectable-looking citizen came out of a hotel, threw his arms around me and nearly whirled me off my feet … a group of young sailors swept gaily along kissing any girl who looked willing.”
Ellen Roberts, wife of a country doctor visiting Wellington

“This information was received very quietly by the troops who appeared to take it as a matter of course and did not exhibit any signs of rejoicing beyond firing a number of enemy flares in the evening.”
Major General Sir Andrew Hamilton Russell

“In this hour, for the first time since facing the enemy, my mind allows itself to really believe that I shall see you all again.”
George Tuck, captain in 2nd Auckland, writing to his parents

"Suddenly it was all over. The nursing staff staged a little party in each ward and expected us to warm up to some pitch of enthusiasm. We couldn’t do it. We were too tired, mentally and physically, and too full of memories to let ourselves go. We remembered all those good comrades who would never return, the flower of New Zealand’s youth cut down in its prime.”
Bill McKeon in Brockenhurst Hospital

“The returned soldier is a social problem in every country today. These men lived or died, as the luck had it, without getting into war novels, talking the language of the trenches, bothering very little about their own psychology, remembering horror and fear only in the loneliness of their own sleepless nights. They were neither knights nor machine-soldiers. They were that most unknown of soldiers, the ordinary man.”
Iris Wilkinson, who wrote under the pen name Robin Hyde

“Our Captain Todd gave it to us as official news that an armistice would be signed at 11 o’clock. Half a dozen joyful souls performed a haka, but the remainder, for the most part, took it with the same stolidity as if it had been an extra picquet.”
Driver Ernest Looms

“The joy bells of the peace with Turkey rang out when we had probably 12 to 20 severe influenza cases in our region of 10,000 people. But no one had authority to stride down the street shouting ‘do not foregather, do not celebrate – death is round the corner.’ So collectively we celebrated and danced in the town hall on a warm November night and within 24 hours nearly a third of the revellers were rigoring.”
Doris Gordon, a doctor dealing with the influenza pandemic in Stratford, Taranaki

This article was first published in the November 10, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.