The signing of an Armistice to end the “War to end All Wars” took place in a railway carriage in the Compiègne Forest of France on 11 November 1918. As the 100th Anniversary of that special moment fell on a Sunday, for logistical reasons, the British Embassy brought forward the date for this year’s Swiss commemoration to 10 November.
It was therefore a real pleasure to witness a gathering of about 200 representatives of the diplomatic corps, the clergy, Armed Forces associations, British Residents’ Association (BRA), local societies, schools and many members of the public in the small Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in St Martin’s churchyard, Vevey. A foggy sky, a slight chill in the air and the threat of rain did nothing to deter the high attendance. Poppies, some bought from our ever gallant Sandra Darra, were proudly paraded, as was a variety of combat and other medals worn by serving officers and those who had served their countries.
St Martin’s bells may have struck 11.00 hours a little after certain other Vevey churches to herald the start of the Two Minutes Silence. However, two F-18 jets of the Swiss Air Force braved low cloud to impress the congregation with a noisy low-level fly-by exactly on time, signifying the melding of the past and present.
The service was honoured to have the UK Ambassador, HE Mrs Jane Owen, address the audience and lead the wreath-laying. Mrs Owen recalled especially the generous role played by Switzerland during both World Wars. Whilst being a non-combatant, Switzerland had contributed the maximum of effort possible in providing humanitarian relief to the wounded and distressed victims of all nationalities involved in each of those conflicts. The Vevey/Montreux area still bears witness to that work, with many of the 136 graves in this cemetery being the final resting places of those whose wounds were too severe to enable a recovery and repatriation.
Representatives of 20 nations, as well as the Royal British Legion, RAF Association, Royal Naval Association, BRA itself, churches and local international schools, laid an impressive 29 wreaths at the foot of the Memorial Cross. In addition to those of British and Commonwealth nations, wreaths were laid by Switzerland, Ireland, France, USA, Germany, Poland, Austria, Belgium and Greece.
We, who were lucky enough to be present, shared in this truly international act of remembrance and solidarity admirably summed up in the Order of Service sheet which began with the Poppy Symbol and the touching phrase:
“All Gave Some; Some Gave All”.
Photos by Régis Pizot