Australasian Gazette: Armistice Day, Melbourne
This silent black-and-white newsreel clip from about 1925 shows a large crowd of people gathered on the steps of Parliament House, Melbourne for an Armistice Day ceremony. The crowd stands for two minutes silence then the 'Last Post’ is played. The clip ends with shots of Spring Street and Nicholson Street as the crowd disperses after the ceremony. Summary by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers.
Armistice Day commemorates the end of the First World War, when the Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany on 11 November 1918, bringing peace to countries around the world. Since then, further wars have been battled and Armistice Day, now known to Australians as Remembrance Day, has remained the day to honour all those who have suffered or lost their lives in all wars and conflict.
In this newsreel clip we see the commemoration ceremony of 1925, only 7 years after the end of the First World War.
The ceremony is on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne. This was the site of Australia’s Federal Parliament at the time before it moved to the nation’s capital, Canberra in 1927.
During the postwar period many Australians were directly affected by the war and so crowds for the Armistice Day commemoration were large. As the initial title card describes, these are 'impressive scenes at Parliament House’. Basic intertitles are used and the newsreel is black-and-white.
Weekly newsreels were an integral part of cinema programming in Australia before the advent of television in 1956. Not much has been recorded about the history of the Australasian Gazette newsreels but what survives is a wonderful collection of newsreels representative of the time. Being silent, the newsreels relied on intertitles to link footage together. Intertitles explained what the audience was about to see and also gave a chronological sequence to the story. Musicians often accompanied newsreel screenings.
Notes by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers
This clip shows silent black-and-white newsreel footage of an Armistice Day ceremony in Melbourne in around 1925. It shows officials and military personnel on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne (then the seat of Federal Parliament before it was moved to Canberra in 1927), and a large crowd gathered to remember those who died in the First World War. They are shown observing a period of silence at 11 am, after which a bugler plays the 'Last Post’ and soldiers present arms. The clip includes shots of Spring and Nicholson streets and the top of Bourke Street, where traffic has come to a standstill for the ceremony.
Educational value points
- The clip shows Armistice Day being observed in Melbourne around 1925 – Armistice Day marked the end of hostilities in the First World War (1914–18), when fighting on the Western Front in France ceased after more than four years of continuous warfare; Germany sought the Armistice after suffering huge losses in the preceding months, and it was signed by German and Allied representatives at Compiègne, France on 11 November 1918 and came into effect at 11 am on that day; Germany’s allies, Turkey, Belgium and Italy, had signed armistices in September and October 1918; the First World War saw the mobilisation of about 70 million people, and between 9 and 13 million died in the conflict, with as many as one-third having no known grave.
- From 1919, Australia and other Allied nations, including Britain, Canada and the USA, held ceremonies to mark Armistice Day – the ceasefire that ended First World War hostilities was made permanent with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, however most commemorations of the War’s end occur on the Armistice of 11 November 1918; after the end of the Second World War the Australian and British governments changed the name to Remembrance Day to honour those who served in both conflicts.
- The period of silence observed at 11 am during the ceremony is indicated by an intertitle – the period of silence is a tribute to those who died in the conflict; the Armistice was signed at dawn on 11 November, but was delayed until 11 am because Allied negotiators thought it symbolic to end the war at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day in the eleventh month.
- Most Australians were directly affected by the First World War, often having a family member who served; from a population of less than 5 million, 330,000 Australian men enlisted to serve overseas, of whom 61,720 died (including about 46,000 on the Western Front in France and Belgium, and 8,000 at Gallipoli) and about 156,000 were wounded, exposed to poisonous gas or taken prisoner; Australian forces also served in Egypt and Palestine, notably the Australian Light Horse; Australia suffered the highest per capita death toll of any country in the British Empire involved in the War; the War had an added significance for Australians who felt that their fledgling nation had proved itself through the conflict.
- The 'Last Post’, one of a number of bugle calls used by the military to mark the phases of the day, is played during the Armistice Day ceremony – the 'Reveille’ signalled the start of a soldier’s day, while the 'Last Post’ signalled its end; the 'Last Post’ was incorporated into funeral and memorial services as a final farewell and symbolises that the duty of the dead is over and that they can rest in peace.
- Street traffic, including trams, is shown at a standstill – the entire nation was urged to suspend activities and observe a period of silence at 11 am; over time, Armistice or Remembrance Day has been overshadowed by Anzac Day in Australia, but in 1993, on the 75th anniversary of the Armistice, interest was renewed when the remains of an unknown Australian soldier, exhumed from France, were entombed at the Australian War Memorial; in 1997, the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, formally declared 11 November Remembrance Day and asked all Australians to observe a 1-minute silence at 11 am.
- The clip is from a report featured in a newsreel – in the 1920s, Australian cinemas screened newsreels, weekly compilations of film reports, before the feature film; among them was the Australasian (earlier Australian) Gazette, from which this excerpt is taken; newsreels were a chief source of news prior to the advent of television in 1956; cinema programs usually included an international and a locally produced newsreel, each of which was around 12 minutes in length; some small theatres showed continuous newsreels and nothing else.
Education notes by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia