When the guns fell silent at the end of World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, more than nine million service members from several nations had lost their lives, and twenty-one million more were injured. More than 100 years have passed since that day, but the contributions of those who gave their lives in World War I and conflicts that came after have not been forgotten.
That date, forever commemorated as Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, is usually marked by ceremonies as the British honor those sacrifices.
Ceremonies across the United Kingdom have been different this year because of COVID restrictions. However, members of the British Army embedded at Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) were able to participate in an Act of Remembrance on Sunday Nov. 8, 2020 at the New European Cemetery, in Djibouti City, Djibouti.
British Army Col. Hugh Baker, Director CJ5 Plans & Policy in CJTF-HOA, began the ceremony by reading the Act of Remembrance, before a two-minute silence to remember the British and Commonwealth Service personnel and civilians who gave their lives during World War I and later conflicts. The two-minute silence was then followed by the reading of the poem “In Flanders Fields” and the laying of the poppy wreath.
“Remembrance Sunday always represents such an important moment of reflection and gratitude to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in conflict to ensure the freedoms we take for granted,” said Baker. “Observing it in a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in a foreign country where personnel fell, while on an operational deployment, always gives it a particular poignancy.”
British Army Lt. Col. Craig Cudlipp, Director CJ35 Future Operations (FUOPs) and Crisis Branch CJTF-HOA, and Miss Jane Baxter, UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office were also in attendance at the event.
The New European Cemetery is the resting-place of thirteen Commonwealth personnel from three different Services killed in World War 2, from the U.K., Australia and Canada. Also laid to rest at the cemetery is a U.S. officer who volunteered to join the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940 and flew bomber missions over Europe, before being shot down in Djibouti.
Another notable service-member in the cemetery is British Army Lt. Col. H. A. Gilkes, one of only four personnel in the history of the U.K. Armed Forces to be awarded a Military Cross with three bars – each representing a subsequent award of another Military Cross, equivalent to the U.S. military Silver Star. After World War I, he studied medicine at Oxford University then joined the Colonial Medical Service. When World War II broke out, he volunteered to join the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving as a medical officer. He was killed when the aircraft in which he was travelling crashed in Djibouti.
Each grave tells a story and represents the ultimate sacrifice made to their respective nations. That sacrifice will be remembered.